Big Mama loved to jump! She always knew exactly what she was doing, and I have to say, I never saw her refuse a fence (not jump it). She could pace herself and find the “just right” spot to rock back on her hind legs and spring into the air. She made it look easy.
But Big Mama on the hunt field was a different matter. It was all about staying with the pack and not letting the first several horses get too far in front of her. On the hunt field, Big Mama was completely in control; her rider, just a passenger. Even though we fitted her in a rubber Pelham bit, two reins to this bridle with a curb chain under her chin, the rider had little hope of having the upper hand.
Thanksgiving Day was always a big deal. Riders from horse farms in the Montgomery County area gathered at the big field in Gwynedd Valley off of Gypsy Hill Road for a drag hunt. In other words, someone (almost always Jack Trainor’s nephew Roger) went on ahead on a very sensible horse and had a long lead with some sort of bag that had the scent of fox. Roger dragged this scent before the foxhounds were unleashed and the hunt began. We never hunted live fox here, although they still do in Unionville, Pennsylvania, and I would imagine, in many places like Virginia and England.
The horses were always perfectly turned out, often braided for this event. The riders looked handsome in their riding coats, canary yellow vests, breeches, and shiny high boots made from the softest leather. Old timers and novices joined a crowd of more than fifty for this event followed by a breakfast (really brunch) at All Around Farm. Our riders were close enough to ride to the field where this hunt started and ride back to the stable after it was finished.
On one particular Thanksgiving hunt, Richard Fennelly (the stable manager and very Irish) needed a horse. So I offered Big Mama. Off they went, Richard with his stirrup leathers adjusted higher than normal for him because he was so tall and Mama was a little horse (“Big” came from her width, not her height!). There must have been more than a dozen riders from All Around. It was grand to see them jog off. We drove down the road and saw the start. Jack, wearing a bright red coat as the huntmaster, tooting a horn and leading the way.
When our riders returned to the stable, they were all laughing and chattering. “What’s so funny?” I queried.
“Ask Richard!” Jennifer said in spurts of giggles.
“It seems that Big Mama has a mind of her own. I tried to get her to slow down,” he said in his Irish accent, “but she was exhausting me. So I stopped pulling on the reins, and I realized that she only went a wee bit faster and my arms could relax.”
“Tell her the rest,” Jen said with a funny look on her face.
“Yes,” Jessie sputtered. “Tell Dormouse about how you broke the rule about everyone following single file when we jump a fence.”
“W-e-l-l, you see we were riding to a coop and Mama decided she wanted to canter alongside this beautiful grey gelding. I couldn’t get her to slow down. So I tipped my hat to the lady riding the big grey and said ‘It looks like we’re going to be jumping the next fence together, Ma’am.’ She looked as white as a ghost. I’m not sure she understood what was going to happen. But she jumped the coop and Mama and I sailed over the three-rail fence. We were in the air at exactly the same time and landed together. Then Mama picked up a little speed to catch up with the horses in the very front.”
I just shook my head. Big Mama had a mind of her own! She was like a little freight train on the hunt field. Maybe Richard was right. Just throw the reins at her, lean a little forward, grab mane, and go!”