Not interested in the competitiveness and stress of showing, but still like the pomp and circumstance of getting dressed up and taking your horse out?
Why not give fox hunting a whirl?
Fox hunting, aka riding to hounds (as many hunts no longer chase live animals, and instead follow a pre determined drag scent) is the perfect equestrian activity for fall. The leaves are turning, the scenery is pretty and the air has a bit of chill.
I tried it for the first time last year and brought my GoPro along for the ride. I borrowed a horse (a Percheron/Morgan cross named Maximus who looked like he belonged on Game of Thrones set) and set off on a sunny day in November.
Despite getting dolled up with stock ties, jackets and tall boots, riders aren’t afraid of getting dirty and roughing it. We traversed streams, muddy farmer’s fields and knocked our helmets on low hanging branches.
One of the whippers-in (a member of the hunt club who helps control the hounds) told me that she’s gotten stuck in areas and had to lay her jacket over a page wire fence and jump her horse out of her predicament.
It may sound extreme, but fox hunting is as extreme as the rider wants it to be – the group is divided into ‘fields’ – with the riders looking for a good gallop and some jumping up at the front, while the riders wanting a more sedate adventure hang out at the back and can stick to just walking and trotting.
It’s a lot of stops and starts as the hounds probe the ground with their snouts for a scent, but when they catch one and start babbling, the ensuing chase is worth the wait. And there’s whiskey in flasks to ward off the chill and the aches of being in the saddle for five or six hours.
When you return to the farm where the hunt started, there’s a hot lunch with wine and beer waiting for everyone.
It’s a social, non-competitive atmosphere that’s a little more thrilling than your average hack. As the hunts gather to start their season, it’s an activity worth trying this fall.