Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Here you will find reviews of, selections from, and commentaries concerning books, many of which don't even appear on Amazon's radar. But what goldmines for the literate foxhunter!

The Hillmen

cumbria2

Foxhunters and foxhounds in Cumbria have been hunting the fox from time immemorial in the magnificent Lake District on the English-Scottish border. It is a hard and dangerous place for hounds and humans alike—climbing borrans (stone piles), crags (cliffs), and crossing the scree beds (fallen stone from the crags). It’s country that would ruin a horse the first time out, and so the hunting is on foot. Dangerous and exhausting enough to fill the Cumbrians with pride and feelings of purity for their special brand of hunting.

We don’t turn out in scarlet,
We are more at home in tweeds;
We have no aristocratic hounds
Or blood three figure steeds:
Our home is in the up-lands
Where the Great Creator spills
His richest browns and purples
On our everlasting hills

Riding a Point-to-Point

irish steeplechase

We are all lined up at the starting-post in the nearest thing to a straight line that a troublesome bay horse will allow. His green-clad rider is fighting desperately to prevent the brute from savaging every other fairly-well-behaved entrant in the race. Soon "Away you go! And good luck to you!" is heard as the flag drops; and the Starter sends a further God-speed to our thundering hooves with the merry notes of a "Gone Away" on his hunting horn.

The first fence looks like a strip of dark green canvas stretched between two groups of people. With a railing of human beings lining its approach on left and right, horses seem distracted, and treat the fence rather carelessly. Luckily it is only a simple gorse-built affair; though the horse on the left refuses it.

Flinging it behind, horses race away with renewed fury. The chestnut in front is setting a terrific pace. His rider endeavours to get him settled down, but with little success, and he leads over the first bank like a Derby winner. People are no longer crowding the fences and horses have less to distract them at their work. An open ditch yawns malevolently, but the pace affords scant opportunity for an examination of its width. A bank looms in front, and if that chestnut leads us to it at this pace some of us will see the inside view of an ambulance. Every stride makes it grow bigger. The chestnut's at it he's over; bay beside him crashes—went too close and hit his knees two horses out of it already. "Hey! Don't ride me in on top of him! Pull over!"

Running Commentary on a Point-to-Point

irish ptp

Will yis stop pushing behind there or you'll land me into the ditch. Can you see the horses, Mary Ellen? They're down at the starting post; and I'll be down in this drain if yis don't quit shoving. Haven't you the whole country for a grand-stand, and why must you all crowd me off this one bit of a bank? There's lashings of room for all, if yis id have a bit of —. Oh, be the lord Harry! They're off! There's the hunting horn. Can you hear it, Mary Ellen? Great God, how the sound of it warms my old heart.

What a wonderful start! There's The Holy Terror lying third with our wee Jamesy riding him. Can you see his green jacket, Mary Ellen? They're coming to the first jump. God be with the day when I could show them boys how to ride a Point-to-Point: but these old rheumatics—these old rheumatics! Now they're at it. They're over. Wee Jamesy's there, Mary darling, and going like a Trojan. Now they're coming to the first bank. Jamesy's dropped back to fourth. That's what I like to see! Holding his horse together: just what his father would have done. Leave the pace-making to someone else.

The Key to the Quarter Pole

Book Review by Norman Fine

key to the quarter pole.crop.williamsThe Key to the Quarter Pole, Robin Traywick Williams, Dementi Milestone Publishing, VA, 2019, Soft Cover, 278 pages, $16.00A person who writes about horses and people has first to really know both subjects, then bring to the project a compelling way with words. Robin Traywick Williams delivers it all in The Key to the Quarter Pole. She’s a horsewoman and a foxhunter, and for six years was chairman of the Racing Commission for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Plus, she’s been a feature writer for the Richmond Times Dispatch and a statewide finalist for UPI’s Journalist of the Year. She has several books to her credit, and this one is terrific—a page-turning novel filled with a variety of characters who inhabit that most exclusive inner sanctum of the horse world—the backstretch of the racetrack.

Louisa Ferncliff is one. She’s been beat up by a life with horses, but though her body is failing, she motors on with a will of steel. She knows very well that if she doesn’t take over the care and welfare of deserving racehorses, they will be raced and ruined. It happens all around the backstretch, but there are certain horses that she can’t let that happen to—especially the ones that give so much and expect so little. The principal object of her ministrations is Alice’s Restaurant, a horse with a fragile knee and a dubious future, who you’ll be rooting for every step of his tortuous way.