Liz and Maximus. Photo by William Cross-Bermingham

Liz and her trusty steed Maximus. Photo by William Cross-Bermingham

I’m the kind of person who loves to try new things. I think it’s in the space where I scare myself that I grow the most – particularly when it comes to horses.

Last year, was all about pushing my limits after a years-long hiatus from riding. I galloped a racehorse, rode my first endurance race through the mountains in Utah and completed the Mongol Derby. Those experiences introduced me to a whole wide world of equestrianism I didn’t even know existed. I realized I’d been insulated – my horse repertoire consisted of growing up with Pony Club, riding the odd dressage test and competing in a few combined training horse trials.

So, now I’m keen on trying everything out there to do with horses and my latest tick on the equestrian bucket list was riding to hounds. Last November on a sunny day that reached 15 degrees, I got to ride in the invitational hunt with the Hamilton Hunt Club near Caledonia, Ontario. This is a special hunt the club puts on for newbies to try the sport and over 40 riders came out to see what it was all about.

One of the club’s members, Corey LeClair, loaned me his lovely Percheron x Morgan named Maximus – a black gelding – a true knight’s horse, he looked like belonged on an episode of Game of Thrones. We gathered at the meet and after a stirrup cup (a gulp of sherry to toast the meet and ease your nerves) we were off.

The hounds and the master of foxhounds pulled ahead of the larger group and Maximus pulled and pranced. We had to stay behind the fieldmaster, the person who knows the land and leads the larger group, keeping them safe from hazards like fence wire and holes.

After a few more minutes, we heard a blast of the horn and the call of the hounds. They’d caught a scent! We pushed our horses into a controlled gallop and travelled down a hill, jumped over a small ditch and galloped up another hill. Travelling at speed in a group, in an open field for the first time was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. We slowed to a walk as the hounds continued to search for the scent they’d now lost.

The most challenging thing to me was riding at speed alongside the hounds. Hunt rules dictate you must always give the hounds the right of way (for their safety and yours) and this can get tricky at a gallop when both horse and hound are excited and not paying attention.

I learned quickly that hunting is a stop and go sport. It’s short bursts of speed, followed by walking, waiting, and sipping from a whiskey flask while the hounds try to find the scent again. I was worried it would be too fast and too scary for my tastes, but this wasn’t the case. For the most part, we rode at a controlled pace and any jumps we encountered had a ride around option.

After about five hours of chasing scents that led nowhere (except to two sightings of a coyote), the group of us packed it in and rode back to the farm for a lunch and social.

One of the whippers-in, Andrea Dreger, told me that for her, hunting was a great alternative to showing, especially for adult amateur riders who like a bit of a challenge, but also want to socialize

“I didn’t like being on display and all that,” she said of showing. “But I liked the idea of setting goals and getting better, so hunting was perfect for me. You get the adrenaline, you get lots of riding and you get the camaraderie.”

Check out the March/April issue of Horse Canada magazine for more details.

Here is some GoPro footage of my latest adventure!