I have a passion for all things horse related.
I started taking riding lessons when I was 9 years old at Becky Brown School of Horsemanship and instantly became hooked. I rode competitively throughout middle school and high school but decided I needed to take a break for college so I could focus on my engineering degree. About a year after returning to Dallas and working full time, I began taking lessons with Becky again and found my adoration for horses as strong as ever.
So when we visited Blackberry Farm in Tennessee in 2015 and learned about their fox hunting event weekends, I knew I just HAD to do it. Over two years later, in January of 2018, my dream came true.
We started the weekend off with an educational hunt seminar, led by the Tennessee Valley Hunt’s (TVH) Master Huntsman, Ryan Johnsey, and Blackerry Farm’s Barn Manager, Carla Hawkinson.
During the seminar, they educated us on the history of fox hunting and made us fall in love with the art of the hunt before we’d even heard a hound cry. We watched an iconic video on fox hunting and I found myself tearing up as I watched it, overwhelmed with a sense of awe, amazement and love for a sport I knew so little about. Carla finished off the seminar by presenting each of us with a small colorful plastic dinosaur and instructed us to carry it in our pockets during the hunt. If we started to take ourselves too seriously, we must only remind ourselves that we have a plastic dinosaur in our pockets to bring us back into perspective. I think maybe I need to hand out a few of these to my coworkers as well!
The fox hunting weekends are usually paired with another form of hunting as an additional activity. The weekend we selected happened to be partnered with falconry. This is another sport which has always fascinated me and that I have been eager to learn more about.The next morning we bundled up and headed to the main house for our falconry lesson, where members of the Hunt Club joined us as well. The lesson lasted several hours and I can’t remember ever being that cold in my entire life — but it was SO worth it. The falcons and hawks were some of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen and the relationship between the master falconers and their birds was fascinating. We hunted pigeons and squirrels with some of the hawks and I learned that pigeons are much faster and squirrels much smarter than I ever realized, not a single animal lost their life that day (I know many of you are happy)! As soon as we finished the lesson, we were shuttled back up to the main house where a fabulous hunt brunch awaited us. We feasted on incredible food such as rabbit stew, beet salad, BBQ parfaits and a PB&J macaroon the size of my palm that was TO DIE FOR. We got the chance to talk more with the Hunt Club members during the meal and became fast friends. We laughed and joked as if we had known them for ages, making the excitement and anticipation of the hunt the next day even higher.
The day of the hunt we ate an incredible brunch at Blackberry and then bundled up to get ready for the afternoon adventures. Carla picked us up and we drove an hour outside of town to a dock parking lot on a lake. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty and quiet, but within 30 minutes it was bustling with activity as the members of TVH pulled in with their trucks and trailers and began suiting up–this was an activity arranged for both themselves and their horses.
Before I knew it, I was mounting my horse, Skyy, and holding a glass of port in my hand as we toasted the start of the hunt.
I quickly downed the glass of port and then within moments we were off! The next four hours were some of the most adrenaline-rushing, exhilarating and incredible hours of my life. We galloped after the hounds, laughed, jumped fallen trees and drank stiff drinks from flasks. There were moments where I had no control at all, and yet I couldn’t help but smile and press my horse further forward. Every turn we made, every log we jumped, every cry of a hound made the joy within me rise and the smile on my face widen.
Before I knew it, the hunt was over and I found myself longing for the hunt to last forever. We finished the day with a potluck meal spread out on a folding table in the parking lot. I shook hands, hugged and thanked my newfound friends for the ride of my life. We knew we weren’t saying goodbye forever though. It was clear to everyone there that a love for the hunt now filled my heart and I was hooked on something that hopefully would become a tradition in my own life.
I don’t know when I will be able to go back again, but I know that one day, I will. Until then, I will cherish the photos and memories I have, and meditate on the words of Carla Hawkinson:
No poem or painting can ever express those moments on the plain. They will tug on my heart in my old age, remind me of who I am, of all I ever wanted to be. When I can no longer ride, when fleeting red foxes are only ruby memories in my mind, I will ride there again. It is mine forever. Good night. Good friends.