Friday 17th of January 2020
The Hedge Hopper

Men in pink, hairy hedges & leaps of faith

The team chasing season finished on a high, with the Harley Hedgehoppers coming 3rd at the Grafton Intermediate. The team consisted of Sarah Holmes on Alan, Harry Wallace on John the Grey, myself on Otto and Neil Gittens on Harry, writes artist Sophie Harden.

3rd Grafton Team Chase

3rd Grafton Team Chase

The boys weren’t best pleased to be wearing the pink gear kindly provided by Harley Equestrian. All horses were going well until we lost Neil to the last hedge, of which he attempted to take at an angle, but ended up having a little lie down on it. Everyone came home in one piece and it was time to put a bit of education back into the horses to make sure they understood when hunting came around it wouldn’t be a race to the first hedge!

The hunting season started with some extremes, rock hard ground and an extended summer that seemed like it would never end. I certainly have never seen wasps buzzing around on the last day of autumn hunting and the beginning of hunting proved nerve racking when inspecting tendons after taking on some bigger country.

 

Grafton Team Chase

Grafton Team Chase

The first day I had was the week after most opening meets with the Pytchley at Winwick Grange, I was kindly invited by good friend and Pytchley subscriber Lottie Pember.  Winwick is a lovely estate, which hosts the team chase we spun round a month before. The day was a great kick off to what was to become a season of touring.

Hounds worked hard on laid trails around the estate, with Rowan Cope providing the field with some entertainment across the manicured grounds, giving us all a chance to get our eye in.  Later on, we moved towards West Haddon and over towards Crick with the daunting hum of the M1 in the background. Here the hedges got a hairier, rails more rustic and throw in a couple of gates and I was back to the raw hunting country I am used to.

It was some feat to stay with our Field Master, at one stage Rowan disappeared over a hedge where you couldn’t see him land or canter away. A few confused and worried faces looked around for another option or a lead, this included five masters from the Taunton Vale who were a visiting Stag Party.

However, no options revealed themselves and one by one we all followed like lemmings awaiting our fate on the other side. The hedge grew as Otto and I gained on it, with brambles poking vertically out of a hefty blackthorn base. With a groan of effort and a leap of faith we landed safely over the other side, both with our eyes closed.

 

 

sophie harden

The next morning Otto trotted up sound. It is always the fear at the beginning of the season of going too hard too soon especially when jumping hedges on hard ground. It is imperative to make sure all legs are thoroughly checked for blackthorns as their poisonous nature can be game over for the season.

I had a few local days hunting, visiting the Bicester, Warwickshire and having a day back at home with the South Shropshire on my Mother’s youngster. The next further a field day took my sister and I up to the Quorn, one of the oldest and most notorious packs in the country.

We were both looking forward to visiting, whilst also a bit nervous about not knowing a soul. The meet was at a farm near Queniborough and everyone was very welcoming and luckily a couple of familiar faces appeared out of the woodwork.

sophie Sophie

The day threw up some challenging country consisting of hedges, metal gates off the road, wire, sheets of corrugated roofing propped up against fencing and tricky upright rails.

Following the legendary Field Master Joss Hanbury, a fantastic horseman with a very relaxed and precise way of going, was no mean feat and saw us both having our first falls of the season and donations to the tumblers club.

I was bought down on a lip of a ditch after taking ‘a long one’ at a hedge and Sarah managed to be flung about 4 meters after Alan thought he was being left behind through a gate… Miraculously, both of us had our horses bought back to us and were given a leg back up by a Household Cavalry Officer going by the name of Authur. Some service!

The hounds found scenting hard early on with a few short hunts, but once the temperature dropped we hit some grass and by God they flew. Sarah was hacking back to the lorry having lost a shoe, with a serious case of FOMO when she heard hounds screaming off. They ran straight for a good couple of miles over expansive grassland, with nothing to jump but wooden gates along the way.

The hounds then checked (stopped to pick up the trail again), I turned to reminisce about the hunt with my neighbour, but was taken aback to be talking to Sarah. Hounds ended back up at the Kennels and we took the kind offer of a lift back to our lorry by one of the Masters, James Mossman and his wife.

When visiting, there are a few key things that will go a long way. Introduce yourself to the Field Master and say goodnight when leaving, open a gate or offer to close one if there isn’t a designated gate shutter.  Try not ride at the front, make sure that you are courteous to subscribers of the pack you are visiting and hang back especially for the first part of the day until they get to know your capabilities of crossing country.

The Pytchley hounds had been coughing, but not all was lost as the Wynnstay hounds came to visit at Welford, the most Northern patch of the Pytchley country. I went with a gang of good friends from the Warwickshire Hunt – Ginny Gilmore whose boyfriend, Chris Woodward is Kennel Huntsman for the Wynnstay, Livs Forsyth and James Hill. 

sophie harden

The first trail led hounds around an area of vast open farmland where they hunted quickly and straight from the meet, with noses down and giving a great sound in full cry.

The next trail moved us further North where we hit some classic, untouched country right on the border of the Fernie Hunt, jumping from grass to grass over hedges with ditches in front and behind, rusty old metal gates and full up rails. A bit of carnage stretched out behind, with a few laying victim to the ditches, a near rotational at a gate and countless empty saddles.

We gathered after a good half hour hunt grinning from ear to ear with all of our horses managing to stay clear of any collisions or misfortune. I stayed out until hounds went home and again kindly got a lift back to my trailer. Otto certainly deserved his hot bubble bath and solarium, provided by the fabulous facilities at Culworth Grounds, as he had worked hard and jumped like a stag all day.

Christmas loomed and the diary was filling up with commissions proving that finding the time for hunting was becoming tricky. The end of December was less hunting packed, although a lovely pre-Christmas, Cottesmore Tuesday provided a welcomed break from the studio. Thankfully all Christmas orders were fulfilled and the festive break gave me a breather to get planning for January.

For a chance to look at Sophie’s recent work go to www.sophieharden.co.uk  

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