I’d never heard of a Hunter Pace until I moved to Massachusetts. (Is it not a New Hampshire thing? I don’t know.) But everyone here seems to be loading up their horses to spend the day galloping through the woods and over natural obstacles. Of course, once I found out that it wasn’t a super terrifying cross-country course, I
bugged the crap out of my friend until she had an open trailer spot made it a mission to make sure Ax and I went on one. As much as I love showing and its preparations, any chance I get to take Ax out of the ring and into the woods, I’ll take it—especially if jumping is involved.
This one worked out perfectly because: 1) my friend had room to bring us, and 2) it was a good way to get away from schooling for finals. So we loaded up the morning of and headed down to Connecticut having no clue what to expect.
After signing in and tacking up (while being dragged all over the place because grass) we were pointed toward the start line down the road. In the time it took us to walk to the starting point my on-the-buckle, steady horse went missing because Ax jigged and varied between pulling my arms out of their sockets and spooking at nothing (and would continue to do so for the first fifteen minutes of the ride).
The trails were marked with a combination of orange tape, paper plates, and arrow signs pointing us in various directions. It started off pretty easy with a loop around a small pond, where we lost some time and mostly walked because of Ax’s antics, and then went into the woods that had some long, flat trotting paths that lead onto a dirt road perfect for cantering. So perfect that we cantered right past the marker telling us to turn into a field full of jumps.
The majority of the fences were some sort of fence held up by barrels or standards and all around 2′ or 2’3″. Because Ax was being a bit of a spazz and I’m a huge chicken who was determined to not fall off my horse, we started off by trotting over the teeny-tiny vertical, a little pile of broken tree limbs, and a ribbed pipe hung on construction barrels. Once he started to settle we went over a few of the scarier and slightly bigger jumps—a high-low fence-type thing that was in line with a barrel stuck under a wooden saw horse, a halved culvert pipe under saw horses with plastic playhouse roofs on top, another low fence-panel thing, a picket fence, and a triple combination that were all a few strides apart.
After the jump field,the trail led back into the woods basically for the rest of that half of the ride. Most of it was flat and smooth, so we were able to make up some of the time we spent jumping before we reached the halfway mark back where the trailers were parked. When we got to the checkpoint we had been out for about 40 minutes and Ax was feeling pretty good. He had settled nicely and was acting like his normal lazy self, but he still felt like he had enough energy left to finish the ride. We grabbed some water during our three-minute hold and then headed back out down the other end of the road.
The second half of the ride ended up taking us much longer than expected. It went toward some power lines, into the woods, and back out on a long trail heading straight toward the lines with a bunch of low fences. From there we followed the markers back into the woods and up the biggest, steepest hill I think I’ve ever pointed a horse at—like, we almost didn’t make it up. That seemed to take up the rest of Ax’s energy and both of the horses were puffing when we reached the top, not that I blamed them, so we spent the next ten minutes walking and letting them catch their breath.
This is where we
got a little lost lost the most time. One of the markers had a little map drawn on a paper plate that basically showed a weird criss-crossing loop with a few two-ways that would eventually put us right back out to where we were, unfortunately some of the markers had fallen down on the trail so figuring out where to go was difficult. We passed a few other teams who said we were headed the right way, so we knew we weren’t entirely lost, and somehow made it back to the map. Because we had a hard time finding where to go, we stayed at a walk the whole time to make sure we didn’t miss any markers on the way which cost us a lot of time. The rest of the trail was pretty rocky and uneven—Ax had a nasty trip at one point—so we were restricted to walking for the sake of my clutzy horse.
The trail eventually led to the back of the same field we parked in with five jumps set along the edge—a panel with the hunt club’s logo on it, a gate, and three slightly larger verticals (the second of which I thought looked huge, but now that I see photos it really wasn’t that big). After our long walk and with how tired Ax felt, I would have thought that he would refuse at least one but he went over them all without hesitation (yay!) and rounded to corner toward the finish line.
We guessed (based on the timestamp of our iPhone photos) that our time was a little under two hours and that the whole thing was seven-ish miles long. The optimum time for our division was an hour and twenty-six minutes—AKA much faster than we went, and we were in the division that was “go at your own pace and pick your jumps”—so we definitely didn’t place, but Ax and I went home tired and happy. And ready to go on our next one!