I guess it’s time to dust off this long-neglected blog, since I have some horsey news that’s longer than a 2-line Facebook status. It will probably fall back into neglect after this, but here’s the scoop.
For those who aren’t familiar with the latest news about my equine family, I unfortunately had to retire Crossbo last year after an injury. He is adjusting well to his new life as a pasture ornament.
After missing most of last hunt season, I found a new partner in late March. Unite Us, aka Zak, is a 2002 model chestnut TB gelding. He’s also called my Walmart horse, because the seller in Tennessee graciously offered to save me many miles of driving by meeting me in a Walmart parking lot in southern KY.
Due to the timing, Zak and I didn’t hunt much last season. I took him out for the last hunt in March, which didn’t see much action. He didn’t get much opportunity to prove himself, except for demonstrating that he knew what hounds were and that it was perfectly okay for them to run underneath him, which is essential for a hunt horse.
Zak came with a very glowing recommendation, with one minor caveat. He hadn’t been doing much jumping lately, due to his previous owner’s concern about her own knees. Since he seemed to possess every other quality necessary in a hunt horse, the uncertainty about jumping seemed minor, as it should be easy for him to pick that up.
As I don’t have any real jumps at home, we spent the summer just hacking around, hopping over an occasional log, but mainly just getting to know each other. A couple of weeks ago, we met some friends at Masterson Station park to hop over some slightly bigger things. Zak’s attitude was basically “Geez Dad, it’s about time! What took you so friggin long?”
It occurred to me later that we hadn’t jumped any coops, which was an unfortunate oversight since that’s what most of our hunt jumps are. So I was still going to go into hunt season with a little bit of uncertainty.
This afternoon looked like a good time for our debut. The weather was nice. I knew that most of my gang of most trusted hunt buddies would be there, to provide whatever support Zak and I might need. Unfortunately, I was supposed to be on call for work, and having a new boss who is determined to absolutely destroy any shred of positive morale that might still exist in our department meant that things would get very ugly if any problems arose during the part of the afternoon when I would be unreachable. I finally decided I just had to take that risk. (To eliminate that suspense, I’ll go ahead and say there were no messages on my pager when I returned to my truck at the end of the hunt).
The hunt moved fairly slowly for a while, as we were training young hounds. It was really a nice pace for introducing a new horse, but I was hoping to take at least one jump, and for a while it looked like we might not jump at all.
Finally, after about an hour and a half, we saw the huntsman hop over a coop. And not just any coop, but the infamous ESPN coop. My friends still call it that, ten years after I got dumped on my head trying to jump it in front of an ESPN camera crew. It’s not really a bad jump, but I felt just a twinge of superstition about it being the first jump that I would take in the hunt field on a new horse, especially since we hadn’t even been blessed yet.
If Zak was at all aware of my slight lack of confidence, he didn’t let it bother him at all as he sailed cleanly over the coop. Somebody ahead of me said “I knew you were over when I heard ‘GOOD BOY ZAK!'” I said “Yeah, that seemed more appropriate than ‘Holy Shit! I’m still alive'”.
At the next coop, the person behind me said Zak cleared it with plenty of room. Even better, a friend in front turned around to watch and said “SNAZ-ZY! Those knees just snapped right up!” As this comment was coming from one of the best horse-people I know, it really meant a lot.
We had one minor booboo as he refused the next jump, which was more my fault than his. I just didn’t give him a good approach. On the second attempt, he jumped it nicely. We were on a run at that point, and the delay at the jump meant the field had left us far behind. I had been warned that Zak was not an extremely fast horse, which is not really a serious flaw in a hunt horse because there are not many times when a horse has to hit his top speed. But with the field out of sight, this seemed like a good time to see just what Zak had under the hood. I let him go, and my GPS clocked us at 26 mph as we caught up with the field. That’s not exceptionally fast (I’ve clocked Crossbo at 31), but it’s not shabby, and it’s really about as fast as a horse ever needs to go.
So I think he really is zakly what I need, and I know today’s fun was also zakly what I needed to boost my spirits.