I was 53 years young when I began to foxhunt in November 2002, when I first capped with the Rolling Rock Hunt (PA). It was the beginning of my third childhood so to speak. My two daughters were off to college and I wasn't quite ready to make a bucket list. I had taken some riding lessons when I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech, so I knew the basics. I had been an avid bicycler, so balance wasn't a problem, but hanging on over the rivers and through the woods reminded me that the earth can rise up to smite you.
Choby with Rolling Rock huntsman Sam Clifton at the hunt stables.
Fortunately, I found a steady 16.2hh Thoroughbred/draft cross that tolerated me until I was able to figure out how to ride in the rough terrain around Ligonier, PA. Maybe it was his blind eye that kept Steady Eddie from seeing how sloppy I was in the saddle. I actually thought that I had broken the falling-off record for the Spillwine parties, but another guy took that top dishonor from me. When I finally started using a grab strap for jumping, Eddie was willing to take the leap of my faith.
Choby and Eddie. Photo by Jeffrey James Photography.
Using a grab strap to stabilize me in the saddle gave me a huge boost in confidence. Hunts were now more of an adrenaline rush instead of my past moments of terror. I highly recommend the strap for beginners of all ages. It also reduces the risk of serious injuries by keeping the upper body from hitting the ground first.
Along the way, I began to realize the rich heritage of the sport in America. As a reenactor of George Washington, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how following the hounds in chase contributed to his riding abilities. Knowing that I never came close to Washington's skill level, I nonetheless tried to portray a mounted George in parades and tea parties. What a hoot!
Choby as George Washington. Photo by Debbie Brehun.
Eventually, I wanted to make a rider's eye video from the saddle, but my daughter noted that holding on with one hand wasn't such a good idea, so she gave me a GoPro camera for Christmas. I made two DVD movies of the Rolling Rock activities, adding music to the second one. I will cherish these videos long after my hunting days are over, but not while I can make even more video memories.
From the beginning, I kept notes on my fixture cards, and before I knew it 15 seasons and 350 hunts had transpired. I can't even begin to count all of the new friends I made along the way. I owe much to the past and present Masters of the Rolling Rock Hunt for allowing me to participate in America's earliest organized sport. I am especially proud to have been a participant in some of the 100 years' tradition of fox hunting with Rolling Rock in Ligonier, PA.