OM14_Golden-Valley-Opening-Georgie Archer won our Young Countryside Writer competition in 2012 and writes about her experience with the Golden Valley Hunt on Opening Meet day: After the first few Autumn hunting meets I had been to, plaiting for the opening meet was a shock to the system. Luckily Winter hunting starts later so I still had more time in bed than on an autumn hunting morning! Anyway, I mucked out, plaited, cleaned and tacked up Murray ready for the journey to Cabalva, where our meet was taking place. 

Upon arrival, I unloaded Murray, attached my saddle bag (an irritating but essential bag that contains my food stash for the day – consisting mainly of chocolate – too much to fit in my pockets!) and set off up the lane to the meet, following the crowd of horses and people. Murray of course couldn’t resist expressing his excitement, in the form of spooking at the most terrifying, carnivorous, yet rather tiny, tree. It did seem unnecessary, but then this is Murray – he doesn’t like to let me fall asleep! After his terrifying experience going down the drive to the house, in front of which we were meeting, he settled down to have a snooze to conserve energy before the exercise to come, despite the hounds running around and excited horses prancing about nearby. The only thing that awoke him from his meditative state was whenever someone came by offering me sausage rolls (by far the most frequently offered food item at meets and my favourite – I lost count of how many I ate, but then I could hardly refuse the kind offerings, could I?), port, fruit cake and many other things. He seemed to have forgotten that he had already had an hour in the field and a tasty breakfast and was intent on eating anything that came within his reach at the meet.

I chatted with many people who I hadn’t seen since the previous season. Jo Holland, the lady who owned Murray before the people we bought him from, some people I had never met before and others who I had seen frequently since last season over the summer and out autumn hunting. After a brief but informative speech from Catherine, our Field Master, we set off, a speeding mass of horse and hound, up the drive, over the main road and up onto the hills through farm and common land. Conversations continued between groups and pairs as we cantered up hills, trotted along roads and down tracks. The field split into a jumping and non-jumping group as there was an option of going through some woods and fields with jumps in for those who wanted to. I went with that group, which turned out to be great fun. We re-joined the rest of the field but then split to line a hedgerow and wait for the excitement to continue. I was sent to fetch the rest of the field, a short trot down the road, and brought them back in time to follow Catherine up a grassy track. The one thing I dislike about hunting is the fact that I have a fairly large horse; this is not a good asset when you are cantering through a woody area with low hanging branches that seemed obsessed with the idea of knocking you off or injuring you in some way!

Once on top of the hill Jo and I decided it was ‘chocolate o’clock’ but, as is always the case, as soon as we opened the wrappers, we set off again. Consequently, the next canter was an interesting one, with me having even less control than normal and unable to bridge my reins due to the chocolate bar grasped with one hand! Once I had finished the snack and put the wrapper in my pocket, I managed to slow the pace down a bit, although Murray wasn’t being particularly helpful as in my absence he had managed to choose a path with quite a few bushes in the way, which he proceeded to jump. The next track we went along had quite a few gates in it, some of which I got off to do. On our way back up it I jumped one of them instead (then got off to open it, which defeated the point really, but it was fun).

After several more chocolate, chicken nugget and mini sausage stops my stashes were out, although they had lasted quite well. My boots were now disgustingly filthy as there had been a huge and very muddy and wet puddle by one of the gates I had done later on, which I had unknowingly jumped off into, causing mud to splash up my boots and legs. We had travelled a long way and the day was coming to an end as the horses, hounds and people began to tire and the sun crept back down towards the horizon. We then had to get back to where we had started, which involved a long but enjoyable and leg-stretching (for the horses) walk back along the roads.

I arrived back at the trailer finally, after leaving George, the Master of Hounds, and a few others on quad bikes looking for Monty – a hound who had disappeared off into somebody’s garden very close to where the hunt lorry was parked. After untacking and giving lots of treats to Murray, I loaded him and packed up, ready to head home. My mum had arrived and hitched back up to the trailer, so we were ready to get going. We drove home, with me eating the scone that mum had brought for me. It was dark when we arrived at our house, so Murray went straight to bed with cosy blue pyjamas on, his dinner and a full haynet. I went to bed shortly after eating too, tired but looking forward to hunting on Tuesday, as it’s half term!

Thanks to Georgie’s mum, Julie, for the pics.