When Molly asked me to write a bit for her blog about my hunting kit, or what I like to wear and use when I ride, we shared a laugh. Laughed because I’m known, whether for better or worse, as The Naked Foxhunter. I wish I could blame someone else for saddling me with such a dignified nom-de plum, but, alas, I did it to myself when I titled the first article I had published “The Naked Foxhunter’s Wild Nevada Adventure”. I flew out west to ride in a ghost town in the middle of no where Nevada, and the airlines lost my luggage. So, I did the trip wearing other people’s underwear, breeches, helmet, etc.
I am born and raised in Tennessee, and I live in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I’m used to riding up steep ridges in thick covert (i.e. woods), picking my way through rocks and clay mud. I have been foxhunting for many seasons and was a Master (MFH) of the local foxhunt for about 7 years. I’ve had many mounts, but I love the handy, large ponies. In the foxhunting field, pretty is as pretty does. And the breed doesn’t matter as long as they can do the job.
My main hunt horse is an Amish bred large pony that we think is a Morgan Standardbred cross. Phillip had only pulled a cart until he was excommunicated from the Amish faith at age 6. He has done every job in the hunt field. He jumps anything, whips-in, leads groups over jumps and will begrudgingly go in the middle of the Hunt Field. Although, he suffers through being behind a bunch of horses with much whining and not-very-Amish-like cussing.
I’ve ridden all over the country, but this past spring I went with a group of friends to foxhunt our way across the country. We traveled 10,000 miles in 30 days with about 20 horses between the 12 of us. We rode on the Kansas Prairie, which was described as looking like “if the moon grew grass”. Then we rode in the hot desert of New Mexico (we actually parked right where the filmed the TV series Breaking Bad). The most fun ride was riding up and down the extinct volcanos in between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. From there we drove to California where we could see the Pacific Ocean and rode in impossibly beautiful country that looked like it was faked inside photoshop.
We then turned back east and rode in the high Sierra Mountains outside of Reno, which had the best footing (eroded granite) of all the places we rode. We rode in the rolling sand hills of central Nebraska, which I thought was an odd name since I never saw any sand there. We turned back west to ride in the front range of the Rockies south of Denver, which had signs warning about the bubonic plague infesting the fleas of the entire area. Nice. Finally, we went north to ride in eastern Montana on the edge of the bad lands with its eroded soil and dramatic cliffs and ravines.
I took a year to plan for the trip, and I spent a long time planning out what I should bring. Foxhunts have a particular dress code, even the number and type of buttons on the coats are dictated. So, I had to bring clothes that were not only correct but also for the varying weather I was going to encounter. I brought three hunt coats of different thickness on the trip. The one I most loved was a very thick, heavy weigh wool melton that is only comfortable if it’s as cold as Antarctica or Nebraska in April.
All of my coats are specially tailored since I carry a large, 300mm zoom lens camera with me on every hunt I ride on. I shove the camera down the front of my coat for safety when I’m not taking photos. My coats are all tailored across the chest to fit the large camera, dubbed Dolly Parton since it improves my profile greatly. Taking the camera in with the coat to the tailor raises some eyes, let me tell you. I have to be able to get the camera out of my coat, take the photo, and shove it back down my coat all with one hand (the other hand being full of the reins). I’ve jumped over 4 feet and crashed several times with the camera, but it has only come out of the coat once to clock my chin when I had an epic crash that ended up shredding coat into tatters. So usually, it’s pretty safe inside the coat.
In the hunt field you wear stock ties, so I had several white ties with me. I like to use the men’s length of 6 foot for ties because I suck at tying the proper knot. The extra fabric lets me hide the fact that my knot is terribly done. Shh – don’t tell anyone.
I would say that the only part of my hunting kit that I am really persnickety about are my gloves. I hate the usual riding-style gloves that fit tight over the wrist and have super thin leather. I need to be able to work a glove on or off with my teeth so I can work the camera or my flask. Not only do I ride with double reins, but with the hunt whip and 4-foot thong that are also in my hands I just don’t have the extra digits to devote to taking off a glove. I want something thick for when I have to hold onto barbwire while I cut it off my horse’s shoe and a good wind break for those crazy days when the wind blows a hurricane. My favorite are the goat leather gloves that you can buy at a hardware store.
Tack wise I always ride with a neck strap in addition to my breast plate because when you gallop through prairie dog holes, and the occasional pony-swallowing badger hole, you need to hold on with both hands. I put two fingers of one hand through the neck strap and two fingers of the other hand on the breastplate to cover myself if I start to tip off on either side. I also grab the neck strap when I climb steep ridges to save my back and when over a particularly scary jump that I don’t want to get launched over sans pony.
Any item in my hunting kit must be dress-code correct and practical for those long hours in the saddle while in every kind of weather. And if it gives me a profile reminiscent of Dolly Parton, I won’t complain!
I blogged the trip for The Chronicle of the Horse as well as a print article in UnTacked this summer. If you search Naked Foxhunter on their website you’ll find the articles. http://www.chronofhorse.com/search?q=naked+foxhunter