October went by in a flash, which given how much it seemed to drag while I wasn’t drinking feels a strange outcome! I was feeling a bit forlorn about not having any hunting on the horizon (my glass half-broken attitude had me convinced that my legs would fall off if I didn’t go out again) so I brightened considerably when I looked up the hireling place I’d recently tried out, on Facebook, and saw an ad for the Hursley Hambledon newcomers meet. Half an hour later, and I’d booked the lovely hireling I’d tried out, and was thanking the gods of impulsive decisions that my tweed jacket, shirt and tie hadn’t gone into storage when the decorators had come in to blitz the walls in September.
This was my first time hunting without having a chum to ride with, but having had such a brilliant introduction with the yard I hired from to go out with the Fitzwilliam last season, I was at least happy that I’d have company from the staff at Plantation Hirelings. And I did – and another newcomer too, and in amazing news, WE JUMPED!
I’d secretly hoped that I might try jumping out this year, but the actual feeling of it – wow. There was one point when we popped over some rails, and then galloped up a hill in a field, that I felt as though the heroines of every pony book I read as a girl was smiling down on me. I wrote up the day for the Countryside Alliance’s newcomers meet competition and in completely thrilling news, I was one of the winners, which definitely made up for the five minutes where I completely lost my brakes and, erm, accidentally ended up leading the entire hunt up a hill while I galloped a circle to try and slow down. The shame.
Buoyed up by the day, I’ve rounded up my friend The Solicitor to come out with me on another outing (her first!) which means the equal joy of introducing her to Anna Bowen’s hilarious blog, Ask Aunt Annie. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about hunting but been a bit terrified, this has to be your first stop. It lifts my spirits no end – not least because they’re generally shaking with laughter. I wish I’d known about it last year when I was frenziedly inhaling every article I could find on hunting etiquette and panicking about the fact my gloves weren’t made of actual string (I’m still vague on this bit to be honest).
Back in London, I’ve been carrying on my evening jumping lessons with The Solicitor, and recently celebrated the joyous return of my friend The Trainee, who had been off games all summer while she worked her ass off in her new job. We celebrated with, you guessed it, a jumping lesson (I swear we do flatwork too…sometimes!) and our eyebrows went through the roof on being assigned two extremely smart horses instead of our usual beloved cobs.
Mine was Rebel, a grey of such divine looks that he should be much more self-satisfied than he is. Visitors to the stables usually leave with face ache from their jaws hanging open at his beauty, while his mane is usually becomingly crimped from being plaited for competitions all the time.
I’ve had a couple of outings on the stable dreamboats, but none for months. I felt the responsibility of not breaking Rebel with my inferior un-competition level riding for a good 10 minutes until I finally got it together and did something other than just anxiously sitting on him. Having got used to riding a few specific horses – one who likes to take off from the next county, and the others who don’t bother until the pole is actually touching their whiskers – I did a lot of over-anticipating what Rebel was going to do, to say nothing of being awed by riding something bigger. By the end of the lesson, I felt both incredibly lucky, and humbled – for such a talented horse, he was the kindest nanny.
I went on to ride him again, and while my bug-eyed sense of worship has yet to disappear, I feel like I’m getting a bit more used to riding something quite so snazzy, and both he and our incredible instructor Célia are making me more confident – even my drunk uncle approach lines are getting better! I’ve also done a couple of smaller jump classes to work on those approaches, rather than worrying about the height. Everything that I’d been learning in my evening lessons (and the incredibly useful monthly evening ringcraft clinics with glorious piebald Mr Darcy) came together, and as the stables’ old hand, Joe, and I pinged around everything, I felt like we were a team working beautifully – and I grinned like a lunatic accordingly. I got the Tube home, half-asleep, dreaming of my beautiful grey ride and I floating above the clouds.
So what’s next? Hunting with The Solicitor, of course, and The Trainee and I have just signed up to an introduction to eventing course at the stables – flatwork, here we come!