Last week I woke to an eiderdown covering of snow laying silently across the valley. Thankfully it had not frozen enough to prevent the wagon making it to the gallops so I could work this week’s runners. Some of my jockeys are winter maidens, having started working at the yard earlier this year missing out on the worst of Bingley Moor’s extremities. They had never experienced the delights of the snow-covered gallop.
Ice balls thrown up by cantering hooves can hurt if they hit you in the face so anyone following in the string was warned to spread out as we cantered up or risk a pelting. It was exhilarating, the racehorses loved it. The riders didn’t. Those with goggles on were soon pulling them down halfway up, clearing a mud splattered view only to duck the random ice balls. It takes a certain knack to avoid the harshest kick back. A cowboy bandana is useful and two pairs of goggles. Let’s hope the race horses relish such sumptuous winter conditions when they return to the race track shortly.
I went out hunting with the Pendle on my five-year-old Irish hunter last week. It was a popular meet which had attracted visitors from the Holcombe - a neighbouring harrier pack from Lancashire - and also the Bedale, all there to enjoy trailing across the wonderful estate of Halton West near Gisburn. We are lucky to have three spectacular estates in our hunt country - Halton West, Coniston and Broughton - well maintained estate’s still in their entirety whose owners welcome us every season as their forefathers have done before them. Halton estate is owned by Charlie Yorke; whose grandfather Jock was a legendary Pendle Master.
I ended up whipping in as scent was patchy and an extra hand looked like being appreciated. My young horse was thrown in at the deep end having enjoyed some stress-free days learning his job in the field up until then. We were slightly unprepared for standing patiently amidst 18.5 couples of lively hounds - hounds are counted in pairs and an odd number is always taken out hence the half measure. Kicking a hound is the fastest way to get sent home in shame and my hunter was not blessed with much in the way of tolerance when he first arrived in the yard last year. Fortunately, he rose to the challenge, was impeccably behaved with hounds and settled happily to the task. After nearly five hours in the saddle covering miles and jumping many fences, getting on and off to open more gates than I care to remember, my slight frame was about ready to drop whilst hunter was still raring to go. Dusk was beginning to fall and my war wounds were playing merry hell. The painkillers had worn off bringing back that familiar feeling of hot needles being plunged deep under my skin but it needed more than that to dampen my spirits as I drove home in the dark.
Anyone who understands hounds will tell you there is little to beat a good day’s hunting. Following such fast, nimble creatures on a trail is exhilarating. Raw moorland wind smacks at your cheeks as if to remind you how alive you are. Thorny branches grab at your clothes as you dodge through thick forests. The pursuit of hounds across wild Yorkshire countryside is nature at its most breath-taking. Listen closely and you can almost hear the footfalls of hounds and rider’s centuries past, galloping the same path.
I have however got ridiculously out of practise at the exertions of whipping in to a swift harrier pack and barely managed to throw dinner together before falling asleep as soon as I sat down next to the log fire still dressed in my hunting attire. Training racehorses is a doddle in comparison.