End of the season... and what that means for your hunter!
March, 2022 marked the end of my 39th consecutive season of hunting. I have bred horses that I hunted for their entire careers. I have hunted all over the world, whipped-in to great huntsmen and most recently judged MFHA Performance Hound Trials. My husband, Grosvenor Merle-Smith and I have been Masters at numerous hunts and he hunted hounds for 25 years. My daughter, Nicolette Merle-Smith, is a professional event rider who has hunted for almost 30 seasons and her husband, Joel, was recently made a Master at the Keswick Hunt Club in Virginia.
I believe I know how to keep my horses hunting happily into their teens.
I am a believer in giving our hunters a break after hunting is over in March. Our hunters have gone hard all season starting in August, so they do deserve some time off. I find that many folks just keep pushing along never giving their horse(s) a break, but I've found it will only shorten the career of their good hunter.
Our experienced hunters will get 10 to 12 weeks off. They will get a thorough going over by our vet/chiropractor/acupuncturist who will document and treat the aches and pains. I will be given a list of exercises/stretches to alleviate the tightness in their bodies. A few might need a joint or two injected, but as I have my hunters adjusted fairly regularly, they stay pretty sound. We regularly use a PEMF (Pulse Electro Magnetic Force) Pulse machine to keep everyone (horses and humans) tuned up and free from pain.
We will pull shoes on the horses that can handle it. They are turned out on good grass, being blanketed until the weather doesn't drop below 55-60F. If they have ended the season a little thin, we continue graining until their coats bloom. It's best to get weight gain in the spring when the grass is growing well. In the summer heat, horses suffer a bit and may struggle to put on enough weight. We don't just turn out our horses and look the other way for their two months' time off.
The first year hunters typically will get less time off as they didn't get hunted as hard as the more experienced horses. They usually hunt only about once a fortnight. We will treat them like the older hunters, but they won't get as much time off as they will be in a fitness program to build up their muscle mass and to be jumping by the time cub hunting begins August 1st.
SO IT STARTS:
Mid June to early July, we will start trail riding 4 to 5 times a week at a walk; adding some ring work a couple of those days After several weeks we will add trotting to their regime out on the trails. We are lucky as we have access to thousands of acres, so being able to exercise our horses on varied terrain is a bonus. During this time because of the heat, humidity and flies, our hunters will spend the day under fans in the barn to keep them from stomping at the flies and wrecking their feet. We turn them out with fly sheets overnight.
In early August, one of the packs we subscribe to in Virginia invites members to come hunting. We use these hunts to acclimate our young hunters to hounds, riding in a group and all things fox hunting. It is a small. private pack, so we are able to do some great training without having loads of chaos.
Rosemarie Merle-Smith, ex-MFH, Tennessee Valley Hunt Club