New Year’s Eve may be the traditional end of year celebration for many but I’ve always preferred to look ahead to the coming year. I can’t think of a better way than a day out on the hunting field so on New Year’s Day we filled the wagon up and joined the Pendle at Coniston Hall, home of the Bannister family.
It’s always a popular meet and a sociable occasion. Felix was out on his little grey pony, I was whipping in on my hunter and Tris was on a race horse. There was plenty of children out. My eight-year-old son had decided he was going to start jumping. I presumed he meant at home, but not wanting to lose face in front of his nine-year-old friend Tallulah he decided to attempt his first ever hunt jump, which happened to be a stone wall. Considering he’s only ever popped a small pole once at home, after being bribed £2 to do it, he did extremely well to stay aboard keeping tight hold of his neck strap as his game little pony bounded over it. I was very proud of him.
It was fortunate the hunt photographer Nick Gill happened to be stood at the fence and the irreplaceable moment was caught on camera.; a circumstance I was hugely grateful for later as I missed the whole event. Whilst whipping in I’d trotted down a steep icy road to bring some hounds back and my hunter slipped and landed hard on the concrete. My head obviously took the impact as the next thing I knew was someone was sat next to me asking for an air ambulance on their mobile. I lay on the wet ground trying to recollect the situation. I certainly didn’t need an ambulance. Nothing was hurt. I staggered up and tried to walk back to my horse but couldn’t quite manage to steer my legs in the right direction.
“I just need some time before I get back on” I said. With that I was marched back to the hall and in to the care of Mrs Bannister – a most experienced hand at coping with the hunting wounded. She did not bother my sopping wet breeches would mark her chair and sat me down in the kitchen with a hot cup of sweet tea.
Slowly my memory returned. I half expected my friend Tom to walk in and tease me mercilessly for having a fall, as he usually did, but then I suddenly remembered. He was no longer there to tease me, to find the funny in everything or to cheer up Mrs B as she busied herself organising tea for the hunting fraternity. His death may have been 18 months ago but to me, for those few moments sat in his family kitchen, it felt like I was going through his loss for the first time. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I quickly darted out the back door to avoid causing a fuss. It was the last thing Mrs B needed to be dealing with.
I pulled myself together and had cheered up by the time the rest of my brood returned to the wagon with big smiles. Felix was very pleased with himself. I was sorry to have missed his big event but will soon have a photo on my kitchen wall courtesy of Nick.
Tomorrow we look forward to the Yorkshire Area Point to Point at Sheriff Hutton. There are 130 entries from nationwide, pony racing starts at 11.15am with the first of six races at 12pm. Entry is £10pp. Last year £14,000 was raised for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. The course is 10 miles north of York and the postcode is YO60 7TN. It will be a great day out.