Young countryside writer Georgie Archer reviews Christmas Eve and Boxing Day with the Golden Valley Hunt (GVH): I had been looking forward to the GVH Christmas Eve meet for ages, especially as I couldn’t go out the previous Saturday due to having no transport at the last minute. There were other reasons too: it was at a pub and so the food was bound to be good and I was taking my mum’s horse Bugsy (an ex-gypsy ‘Thoroughcob’ – he is a thoroughbred stuck inside a cob’s body). As far as we know, it was his first time out and my mum hopes to hunt him in the future so as this meet was nice, fairly flat and not too far away from the trailer it seemed the ideal one to start at.
Arriving tinsel clad at the meet we encountered the first snort-worthy (Bugsy’s favourite defence against anything scary) thing – quadbikes. He was rather startled by the noise they made and the speed at which they moved, but he soon pulled himself together and walked bravely past them to the car park of The Boat Inn, Whitney-on-Wye. As everyone arrived, we took in the wonderful and wacky sights that were people’s Christmas outfits. As Bugsy is hogged I could only decorate his tail and brow band, but others had Christmassy hats fixed on to the horses’ bridles, tinsel adorning manes, bridles, hunting whips and riding hats, silver beads hanging from beautiful plaits and much more. Only the hounds were not dressed up, but that wouldn’t be very practical. One horse seemed terrified of all the decorations and stood rooted to the floor in shock! The food was great; plenty of sausage rolls, mince pies and chocolates to fill us up ready for the day ahead.
We set off, jingling and sparkling as we went trotting up the road. Bug was excited and insisted on being at the front, not wanting to miss any of the action. He calmed down after the first stop but thoroughly enjoyed the first canter, ending up with me having to use a conveniently placed bottom for brakes. The field had a great few hours and only had to listen to minimal snorting – obviously he decided hunting wasn’t too scary after all. We spent a lot of time in wooded areas which he coped with well, thankfully, as he has the tendency to trip over his big hooves when he is not concentrating. As you can probably imagine, uneven ground peppered with roots and branches is not ideal terrain for a horse like him!
We left after a few hours as Bugsy finally tired (during a canter that involved a hill) and I didn’t want to push him as he is not currently particularly fit. I knew vaguely where we were as I frequently walk the dog with my family around Whitney woods, so a group of us left and found our way back with ease. Bugsy found his last reserves of energy and managed to power walk all the way home (he doesn’t like to walk slowly, or trot slowly for that matter). He also found a few snorts when I used my Nomad (a portable pressure washer that I put hot water in at home to allow it to cool to the optimum temperature by the time I return to the trailer) as it makes a funny sound. His previously clean white legs were brown once more. The silver tinsel had stayed in his tail, which was still mostly white, with a brown end, giving it the dip-dyed look. He likes to keep up with current fashions! He gleefully found a haynet waiting for him in the trailer and proceeded to stuff his face for the next few hours, broken only by having to get off the trailer and move to the hay in his stable.
After a food and festivity-filled Christmas Day I woke on Boxing Day still hoping for some snow and looking forward to taking my own horse, Murray, out for a day gallivanting around the countryside of Hay-on-Wye. I got up earlier than I usually would before a meet as, yet again; I had plenty of tinsel to attach to Murray somehow. He, unlike Bug, isn’t hogged, so I had to make the most of his mane!
I plaited his mane and forelock ready for their decorations and got cracking. He wasn’t particularly bothered by the tinsel as it dangled over his neck and back, and I put hundreds of plaiting bands in to secure it, in an attempt to keep it fixed for the entire day. I used a whole length of brilliantly gold tinsel just on his mane (getting only a little bit carried away) so had to do his forelock with silver, which he didn’t mind. I was going to plait and adorn his tail too, but I ran out of time as I had spent too much time doubling back up his mane with the gold tinsel. It will have to wait until next Christmas! Or the Pony Club fancy dress rally next week…
We arrived at the meet by the clock tower in Hay-on-Wye to an already large crowd of both humans and horses. The atmosphere was jolly and festive – despite the persistent drizzle, the mood was bright. Murray, as usual, stood perfectly still as others cavorted around him. He does, however, try to steal food and drink that is being offered. His motives are predictable! The hounds lapped up the attention from the people around them. Children smiled happily and stroked the horses and hounds, the latter perhaps taking the newfound friendships a little fast as some went straight in for a kiss, before trying to steal yet more food. The joy in the little bubble of harmony and festive fun that settled in the heart of Hay was ever present and unstoppable.
Finally, after filling our pockets with Celebrations and eating sausage rolls and yet more mince pies, listening to Catherine’s (Joint Master) speech about how we would be hunting within the law and hoping everyone had a good Christmas, we set off; trotting up the road, fuelled by the applause of the crowd that lined the street and the hope of snow – the grey clouds that lined the sky certainly gave us hope but the rain that came from them dampened our spirits slightly. It was going to be a wet, cold day.
We normally go up onto Hay Bluff from the town centre, but due to the weather conditions and already present snow on the hill we stuck to woods and other lower land to try and stay warmer and drier. It continued to rain, not heavily, but persistently. Thick woollen hunting coats kept us mostly dry, but we were cold. When several people left and we moved into Cefn Hill woods, the rain became heavier and the temperature dropped – allowing snow to form. My Christmas wish granted. We were freezing and wet, but the snow made us smile, even when we looked like snowmen we had so much stuck on us due to the blizzard. The trees did little to shelter us…
The day ended earlier than usual so we hacked back to the trailers wet and cold. Gradually the snow turned back into rain and our snowman outfits washed off, leaving us looking like bedraggled creatures. Our Field Master, Catherine Carleton-Smith, has a battery-powered gilet that has different warmth settings so I’m sure she was warm all day! I need one of those! It will have to wait until next season… My jacket did quite well considering the weather and I only had a few leaks at the seams. Everything was filthy and Murray was soaking, although his tinsel didn’t fall out at all – hundreds of plaiting bands obviously did the trick! Murray clambered, dripping with muddy water, into the trailer with a warm rug on and a haynet to munch from. I got in the car and put my heated seat on, as well as blasting hot air from every vent. It still took until I had a hot shower to warm up (although sprawling in front of the kitchen fire for two hours really helped!)