At the end of my last instalment, summer was drawing to a close.  Dudley and & I had made great in-roads to a new partnership together.  We’d had a 3 months together, lots of time spent in flatwork and pole work lessons and we’d managed a show or 2 together and tackled jumping in a way I didn’t think I’d ever do again.

With the posh shampoo’s put to one side and the showing kit, it was time to look ahead to continuing our relationship.  I was really ready to get out hunting with him as soon as I could, after all this was the very reason I wanted a horse again last year…

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If you read that last blog ‘Adventures’ my last sentence made reference to how different would Dudley be out hunting compared to how he’d be with me in everything else we’d done.  At home he’s ridden in a pretty straight forward loose ring lozenge snaffle.  He’s super easy out hacking or schooling in it and I can competitively jump him in that too with no bother.  He had never once hotted up or gave me a reason to think he needed anything more at home.  When he came to me he came with a 2 ring/universal type bit too that his old owner used to hunt him in.  Just a little bit of leverage really, but still a lozenge mouth.  I used that when he initially came home and then I switched him to the snaffle after a couple of weeks of him being at home after making sure I was comfortable to ride him in something like that.

However horses can change, and frequently do, when they are in a hunting environment.  They can be more excitable and less keen to listen to you at times!  So I put him back in the universal for our first couple of trips hunting.  Thankfully (in some respects) Autumn hunting means much much smaller fields and is a great place to bring a young horse or a new partnership like ours and test the waters….

Dudley did change!

He certainly came alive and was clearly happy to be back out with the hounds near by.  The disadvantage to my height and weight is that a biggish horse like Dudley doesn’t always remember you are on top!  He’s never once been nasty or naughty, he’s just keen and much stronger than at home.  I’m afraid I’m very much of the opinion that slightly over bitting a horse for hunting until you are comfortable that he’s remember who is on top and learns to relax into our twice weekly hunting routine, is the way forward.  So that’s what I did and since then I’m much happier with the brakes!   We’re about 5 weeks into our season and he’s slowly relaxing into it.  Actually much of the issue relates to not wanting to be apart from Moose, but as Moose very much has a role to play as a Field Master’s horse and I want Dudley to be independent of him so I enjoy my day wherever I am, I’m afraid he’s had to learn to take this on board too.   He’s settling on that front too and that should continue to improve as the field of riders out with us grows when the main season kicks in as he’ll have less and less visual connection to Moose.   It’s inevitable that 2 horses who live together and hacking a fair amount of time together and are the only horses on the farm will always want to be together.  Managing that is important and Tony and I wanted this from day one.  As a result we have no issue with them hacking solo from each other and they both readily load and go off without each other too.  So building on that to cope with the days they are hunting together or competing together is necessary too in our eyes, so there’s been a few times where I’ve gone off as part of the Trail Laying team to keep him focused on me.

As the main season approaches Tony and I decided to go to a Hedge Hopping Clinic nearby, just over the border in Dorset actually.  I jumped at the chance (pardon the pun) as I’d seen a friend do the same course last year and I thought that would be a nice option for both baby Moose and then for Dudley and I to keep growing together.  We live in an area where there are actually quite a few of these hunting/hedge hopping clinics, some include some proper stonking hedges.  Real bruisers of hedges.  However as our main hunt country really doesn’t have anything that taxing in it we opted for a clinic that better suited our direct needs.  Dud’s was getting a bit hairy so we clipped him one evening (good as gold) and we were ready to go…

I’ve said before to people that hedge jumping seems pretty bloody serious to me.  I only jumped my first hedge earlier this year on Tiny and squealed like a piglet removed from his mother as I went into it and over it (before giggling like a complete fool on landing).  For some reason in my life I’ve not come across them.  I don’t think there was ever one in my junior days doing Hunter Trials or Cross Country events.  So the older I got and the more I heard from people out hunting talking about hedges the more I had this mythical feeling about them!  I know as a photographer if I’m shooting one, then that’s what people buy, even if they aren’t very big and there are bigger rails and logs they’ve jumped, the hedge picture is the one that normally gets bought.

That Sunday morning at Princes Place I was a bit nervous, but I was content with Dudley’s ability to get me from A to B.  He’d proven it in showjumping and working hunter classes and even if I was an utter pleb on approach he’d get me to the other side.  Honest chap that he is.   We’d also hired a local XC venue a few weeks before and had a pop around some basic things there one morning in the rain.

Our instructor was pretty no-nonsense too, much like Gaynor who we’d done our flat & pole work lessons with.  I mean she wasn’t screaming at me, but she’d quickly sussed out the capabilities of horse and rider and knew there was nothing we couldn’t tackle if she sent us down a certain line of fences.

I loved it.  I mean there were times I was heading to a fence thinking ‘oh god oh god oh god’, but there is something really satisfying about a horse taking you to a fence willingly (not tanking), locking on and getting the other side.  We didn’t jump anything big, there were plenty of options where I could have done, but I stuck to my comfort zone and had a ball.  It pee’d down (hello autumn) and I’d forgotten my proper gloves so I was wearing my £5 overgrown kids ones I have for hacking, so towards the end of the session I had no grip and very soggy reins, but it didn’t matter.  We’d jumped a few hedges and a few little ditches and a random selection of timber too.

As we wandered back to the trailer I felt really pleased.  I’d set a few demons to one side and I felt more ready for a season of hunting too.  We’ve decided to go back and do another clinic at the same place in early October too, hopefully I’ll build on that first session and be of more assistance to my lovely horse too.  I might even do some of the bigger stuff.  Who knows.

Oh and I REALLY REALLY need to ditch the showjumping seat and adopt a more centered self preservation hunting seat!!!


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Until next time…

Rachel xx

Grateful thanks to Tanzy Lee for the photos.  I pull some AMAZING faces!