Ann/Bayard & Gretchen/Crazy Legs, Thanksgiving 1972 or 73 or 74? Painting by Ann Getsinger
Nov 26, ‘13
My Last Hunt
A Thanksgiving tradition in the area where I grew up was the Thanksgiving Day Fox Hunt.
It may still be a tradition but I haven’t heard if it still continues to this day. I somehow doubt it when I think back to how much of the available land for foxes and for hunting foxes on horseback with a pack of dogs was farm land that has now been taken over by urban sprawl.
I don’t recall the name of the organization of Fox Hunters but it was a big deal in my county at the time and centered in Litchfield, CT. The organization had permission to ride to the hounds over much farm land in the area. To see hunters on horses streaking over open fields following a pack of dogs in hunting season was a common occurrence. I’d pull my car to the side of the road to follow them with my eyes and quite often, I wasn’t the only one who’d stopped to watch.
Once a year, the Fox Hunting organization threw a huge party for the landowners, appropriately known as The Landowners Dinner. I went to many as I was related to a landowner; the party was a blast.
Once a year, on Thanksgiving Day, anyone who had a horse was invited to ride in the Thanksgiving Day hunt; I rode in several of those events. On My Last Hunt, I rode with my sister, Ann.
It was a gala social event for people who had horses and wanted to ride. It wasn’t for the fox, it was for a thrilling ride with like-minded people.
I loved the sounds, the sights, the smells – the adventure of it all. Hearing the rhythmic hoof beats of 50 or more horses going down the road is music to my ears; hearing those 50 or more horses snorting or farting or whinnying only adds to the pleasure. Seeing horses tossing their heads, or acting out or calmly trotting down the road is a beautiful thing to see, for me.
On this Thanksgiving Day of My Last Hunt, the weather was mild & sunny, like an early day in spring.
The ‘uniform’ for the Thanksgiving Day Hunt was: white shirt with cravat held down by a large safety pin, preferably black riding jacket, black safety helmet, cream colored jodhpurs and black, highly polished boots. The horses were groomed to the enth for this public appearance and also had a braided mane and tail; the purpose of this was to make mane and tail less apt to pick up burrs and other debris in the woods and it also looked good — dressy.
I was soon grateful for the safety pin. After the hounds were blessed at the little church on the Bethlehem Green and we were riding down the road toward the woods, a fat-assed, eye-rolling , ears back horse backed up into my horse who quickly dodged to the left and I was dumped onto the road. As I fell, the seam in my jodphurs split from waist band to knee, leaving a wide and gaping hole in my attire. I leapt to my feet, secured my horse, re-mounted and then quickly fixed the seam with my trusty safety pin, stuffed the cravat into my pocket and rode on.
When we got to the opening of the woods we let the horses out into a gallop on a wide and generous trail. There were a few small stone walls we jumped and then into a clearing where we stalled for about a half hour while the hounds cast about for the scent of fox urine the master of the hounds had previously distributed on a trail only known to him. There was much socializing and calming eager horses who wanted to run, not wait and not stand still. One of my friends was there with her 2 sisters. Two of the sisters had large flasks that contained brandy and the third sister had just brought the bottle. Mr Boston’s Blackberry Brandy. We all partook quite a few times from one passed flask or the bottle in that half hour.
The rest of the ride is somewhat of a blur in my mind. I know it was fun and no one got badly hurt. I know that to this day when I encounter one or other of the sisters we remember that day and the Blackberry Brandy. I recall that there were moments of exhilaration, galloping through the woods and fields, jumping over small fences or wide muddy areas and then there were other moments where we waited for more signals from the hounds and while we waited, passed the flask. I know that during one of those exhilarating gallops my hand was badly scratched from some branches or bramble. At one of those places where we stopped to wait, I bandaged the wound with my cravat.
In a few hours we were miles away from home and heading into a valley with wide-open spaces. My horse refused the jump to access that valley and I saw his refusal as Wisdom and a sign that it was time to turn around and head for home.
Which was a long and slow ride. I took the highway and didn’t back-track through the woods. My horse was tired and so was I. I was also as drunk as a lord. I dismounted and walked with my horse. I sang and I talked to him. I was as drunk as a lord and as happy as a clam. We got home around 4pm. I was sober by then and my horse was less tired. I brushed him down, unbraided his mane and tail, gave him water, grain and hay and then went into the house for Thanksgiving dinner with my then-family just as the sun was going down.
My former mother-in-law took a photo of my sister and me minutes before we set off to join the Hunt on that day. I’m grateful that she did and grateful to my sister for her rendering and for giving me this beautiful memento that I’ve enjoyed for all these years. For all the Thanksgivings I’ve celebrated, this one stands out to me as one of the best.
I wish to all a blessed and peaceful day of Thanksgiving.