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Pets Large & Small

Fox Hunting

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw
Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

(11/2012) While referred to as fox hunting, this sport would more aptly be called fox chasing. While some hunt groups do actually catch foxes, the majority of hunt activities do not catch foxes, and in most instances donŐt want to catch a fox. Rather the purpose is to ride about the countryside without having to follow a set trail and leaving an element of surprise as to where one might end up. The speed and height of the fences encountered on the hunt is usually determined by the group of fox hunters rather than the fox. Certain hunt groups have a reputation for being more reckless than others and it is almost unanimously agreed on that the fastest, most prestigious, and craziest hunts are in Ireland and Middleburg, Virginia. Not only is it required that the rider be skilled but an experienced and talented horse with good speed and jumping ability is also essential.

While I am not an avid fox hunter I have gone on a couple of hunts. Non-horse people may think that all horse people are the same, but among horse people the participants of different disciplines of riding have different reputations. For example, Western riders will say that dressage and hunter equitation people can be stuck up, spoiled, wealthy and arrogant. Event riders and fox hunters are thought to be reckless and crazy. I am an event rider who occasionally dabbles in fox hunting and I can say that the reputation is well deserved.

Anyone who has looked at old prints of fox hunting scenes may have noted the number of horses painted without riders, or with riders being dragged behind a galloping horse. My house is decorated with fox hunting prints. Above my kitchen sink I have a print with a rider being dragged behind his horse. In the dining room, there is a print in which a horse is seen running off through the field while his rider climbs out of the creek. Yet another print shows a horse flipping over a fence and the rider getting catapulted over the horse's head. This depiction is quite accurate. In fact in both eventing and fox hunting riders fall frequently enough that they have a language code with many synonyms for falling off as well as phrases to down play the severity of the fall. Unplanned dismount, parted company, went separate ways, and got dumped, are only a few of the numerous phrases to say ŇI fell off.Ó

If a rider says her horse was Ňa bit looky at the fence and we parted company leaving me in the drink but it was just a little spill,Ó it means the horse spooked at the fence, the rider fell off, landing in some water, but was only minimally injured. Now everyone who rides horses long enough is going to fall, but what makes eventers and fox hunters crazy is that after they fall, even if they broke an arm or a leg, if they are conscious, they usually attempt to get back on and finish their ride. While fox hunts haven't started to keep an ambulance on the premises during a hunt, events generally have an ambulance or two parked in the middle of the cross country course. It is there not in case it is required but rather for when it is needed.

Fox hunting has a tradition of offering alcohol prior to the ride. It is not uncommon to see Bloody Marys or wine being passed around prior to the hunt. During the hunt, flasks with madeira, sherry, whiskey, or other alcohol are passed around to Ňkeep out the coldÓ or as I like to think keep people from having rational thoughts about what they are about to jump (i.e. large stone walls, fences, giant muddy ditches). The alcohol also helps to deaden the pain of the injuries that are incurred while foxhunting, hence why a full flask is part of traditional fox hunting attire.

Most recently I decided to go fox hunting. Having no desire to die or get seriously injured I checked around with various clients about the reputations of local hunts. After thorough investigation I selected one that had a welcoming group of members and the reputation for being low key. I arrived that morning in appropriate hunt attire. For while I believe one is more likely to fall off fox hunting than an eventer is likely to fall riding cross country, one has to wear a fancy show coat to fox hunt rather than a polo shirt, body armor, and an air vest, as is frequently worn by eventers. As I was tying my stock tie and putting on my jacket, wine was being freely enjoyed by several members of the hunt. I decided to pass on the wine as I thought abstinence would improve my odds of not falling.

We started off at a trot and quickly moved up to a canter with my 4 year old horse behaving himself and remaining calm and jumping the fences in a civilized manner. He was doing very well until he got a little looky at one fence and I toppled off the side. While self-assessment is not my strong suit, I declared myself fine, got back on, and finished the ride. As we continued we encountered another rider who had parted company from her horse. Unfortunately her horse had run off after dumping her, leaving her wandering the woods in search of him. While she had her cell phone with her, she did not know how to use it. After a brief instruction, the horseless rider was left to her quest while the rest of us moved on. Only a couple other falls and one lamed horse were visible during the rest of the ride. As we got back to the trailer, I realized I the arm I fell on was feeling quite sore, and the rest of me felt rather battered. I also realized I was spattered with mud on my clothes. However, as is typical of eventers and foxhunters, I found myself shrugging off my injuries, saying how much fun the experience was and how I couldn't wait for the next one.

Editor’s note: Kim was the last to submit her article for this edition of the paper... apparently typing with one hand proved rather difficult - remember that
 ‘sore’ arm of hers? It was broken. Yes, she is a true Event rider!

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw