I can't say whether Tejon Hounds is just a particularly mellow group, or if fox hunters in general are that relaxed and kind. I hope the people we rode with are typical of the sport's participants. Before we started, everyone gathered around to listen to introductions and to find their field master. Louisiana and I took our place behind Annabelle, our leader for the day. We were joined by Annabelle's son, Noah, and another couple. The husband was riding a green bean with only 30 days under saddle.
The hounds were released and the first and second fields were out of sight within minutes. I tucked Sydney right behind Annabelle's mare and kept his nose planted there for the better part of an hour (with her permission, of course). He was quite high, but with a lot of rocking of the reins, I was able to keep him between a jig and a walk. To my knowledge, he's never done anything like this before! If you'll remember, I've only felt comfortable riding him in the open just this past month or so. Do you remember the first time I tried to ride around our neighborhood? It took an hour of circling to go less than half a mile.
We came to several gates that Annabelle opened and closed while we passed through calmly. After we had walked for the better part of the hour, the group decided that everyone was safe enough to handle trotting. We were in wide open, flat fields that were covered with squirrel holes and random rocks. We trot where we felt safe and came back to the walk when the footing was questionable. Sydney never once bobbled.
As we continued to search for the main field, we chatted and enjoyed the completely beautiful day. The sky was brilliantly blue without a cloud in the sky. Little by little we increased the speed of the trot until we were moving along at a pretty good clip. While Sydney wasn't soft, he was keeping it together. With strong pulley halts, I was able to keep behind Annabelle's horse or tucked behind Louisiana and Speedy.
At some point near the end of the first hour, Sydney took that one deep breath I was looking for, and dropped his head. We took the lead. His walk was enormous, covering a huge amount of distance at each stride. Although the field master generally takes the lead, in this case, with both fresh and green horses, the group was fine with arranging the horses in the least stressful way.
As we approached our first hill, we came to a muddy stretch where water had seeped from underground pipes which feed random water troughs for the grazing cattle. It was only about two feet wide, but the group paused, not sure how deep it was or how boggy it might be underfoot. Sydney paused a fraction of a second before he boldly marched through and landed safely on the other side. The rest of the horses followed. I was quite proud of him!
The hill in front of us was quite steep and maybe 150 yards to the top. The group decide to spread out along the bottom and canter or gallop to the top. Given its steepness, I knew that as long as I just hung on, I would be able to stop Sydney as we crested the top. We all started at a slow trot and let the horses build into a gallop. With the first canter stride, I was laughing in delight. Sydney powered up the hill with obvious enjoyment. And with no difficulty, I was I able to pull up into a walk at the top where we stopped for a breather and a couple of photos.
We finally came to a fence with no gate, so we opted to start making our way back. We wound around on the flat top of a small gorge only later realizing it was headed away from our destination. Without a thought, the group dropped down into the gorge and popped up on the other side. I was a bit more cautious and found a more gradual descent, but Sydney handled the steepness with ease. In front of us was one more steep hill, but it wasn't very long. This is probably where I made my only real mistake of the day.
Having enjoyed the gallops so much, I really let him go up this one. Noah's pony came rocketing alongside us, and the "race" was on. Both Noah and I pulled our horses up at the top safely, but Sydney's brain had had its fill. He was higher than ever. What I hadn't realized was that the climb was headed directly toward "home."
Continued tomorrow …