Michael writes about his experience taking groups of American fox hunters, to the Dunraven Arms and Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, Ireland.
Enjoy the thrill, spills and laughter of Irish foxhunting in counties Clare, Limerick and Galway. Read about the hunts, the people, the horses and the countryside they rode over and all the calamitous happenings that ensued.
It makes hilarious reading from the almost inevitable late arrival at the meet, to the equally inevitable booze up afterwards. There can be no doubts whatever that anyone, either from America or Britain who has been fortunate enough to have had an 'Irish Week' will enjoy this book immensely, Spending a lot of time laughing out loud."
Horse and Hound. England.
I read this book on the train and became the most unpopular man in the carriage. I suppose there is nothing more annoying than traveling to London with a stupid man in the corner who is giggling fatuously or roaring out loud. This is a very funny book.
Michael Sinclair-Smith has created a foxhunters dream come true bedtime story.
Spur. Virginia, USA.
Being an avid foxhunter myself for 27 years this book was certainly a delight. A must for all libraries.
The Corinthian. Toronto, Canada.
DONG!... I awoke with a start. DONG!...DONG!... The whole room vibrated and my water glass jiggled slowly across the bedside table. Trying to blot out the deafening noise, I buried my head under the pillow and winced. DONG!... The 300- hundred- year- old cathedral bell,used to announce the time and summon the parishioners from miles around, was just too effective, across the road from my bedroom.DONG!...DONG!...DONG! At last the vibration ceased and silence descended as it does in the aftermath of an explosion. Slowly taking the pillow off my head, I realized it was time to get up. I smiled to myself, recollecting Jasper's words at breakfast on the previous day. On awakening, he too had heard the bells tolling and had counted. Expecting them to end at the seventh hour, he thought he had overslept at 8, was worried at 9, was rushing around at 10, was horrified at 11, was furious at me at 12, was confused at 13 and was struck by the insane humour of it all at 14, when at that point he sheepishly realized he was hearing the daily call to mass, not the tolling of the time.
I carefully laid out a complete set of hunting clothes and quickly bathed. After twenty years of hunting, I still get a great kick out of dressing on a hunting morning. It has become a well-established ritual: Standing in front of a large mirror; pulling on my breeches and tucking them carefully into long socks so as to eliminate any creases around the knees: shaking in a lot of talcum powder to ease the chafing effect of four hours in the saddle; buttoning up a long-tailed Tattersall check shirt; choosing a strong gold tiepin from my leather stud box; carefully tying a spotless white stock; pulling on long shiny top boots with hooked boot pulls and finally slowly buttoning up my leather waistcoat.
Now the adrenaline slowly seeps into my system and the butterflies start fluttering in my stomach. "How wonderful to be alive and to be here in Ireland doing this" I think.
I went downstairs and soon everyone was there, excited and raring to go. We devoured massive breakfasts, gathered our possessions and got on our way. We headed for Cawley's Pub, a roadside inn at Craughwell near Galway, where the famous Galway Blazers were meeting.
Inside, we ordered a round of drinks in lieu of the traditional stirrup cup. Rory and Sean,two members of the Blazers, were already sitting there. They shared a cottage at Lough Cutra Castle near Gort and made us feel welcome immediately. Both were great fun and friendly and, within minutes, had everyone laughing at their repartee and stories.
Slowly the pub filled up with hunting folk rubbing their hands from the cold and shouldering their way through to the bar. Then Doug Sloan, a fellow Canadian from Toronto, came in, followed by Warren Harrover and Randy Rouse, both Masters from Virginia. The great thing about Ireland is that it attracts the true hunters from all over the world. Every year they return to their Irish Mecca to experience the thrill, danger, excitement and camaraderie that is created in its hunting field.
It never seems that a whole year has passed since we last saw each other, for Warren will often start a conversation by saying, "Hello, you long bugger. Have you heard this one?" and carry on with a hilarious story or joke as if we had never left the bar since the year before.
The Galway County is a little stiff and starchy, and some of its young lady members who hunt seem to have been born unable to smile. However, the Hunt is extremely well run and has an excellent rapport with the farmers because of an established practice of re-building immediately during the Hunt any walls that are knocked down. Two or three wall builders follow the field precisely for that purpose.
We left the pub at eleven and there was my great friend, Michael Dillon, with his pretty daughter, Geraldine, each holding five horses.
"Welcome back. It's lovely to see you all," he grinned warmly. Getting horses from Michael is an absolute joy. His hirelings are always immaculate - clipped, braided, hooves oiled and dressed in clean, high-quality tack. Not only that: They are fit, will gallop on, jump anything you put them at and will be there at the end of a hard hunt.
We mounted and trotted down the road after the hounds. I was on a big bay horse about 17 hands high, with Donna beside me on an enormous Grey draft horse and Rory and Sean behind us. Donna, trying to look the efficient master, was very stiff in the saddle, attempting to create a good impression and put on a brave face in front of our Irish friends.
But she was obviously very apprehensive and nervous. Rory, noticing her nervousness, winked broadly and remarked loudly to Sean: "Isn't that the same big grey that gets so worked up in the hunting field? The one that reared and went over backwards last week? I hear it broke that American visitor's back."
"To be sure it is, Rory, but then Michael Dillon needs the money desperately. That's why the brute's out. The truth is, though, he normally settles down after he's taken a couple of flips."
Poor Donna! As intended, she took it all in and her face was a picture. She almost had apoplexy right on the spot, while those who were in on the joke looked away and tried to stifle their laughter. My conscience got the better of me and I reassured her quietly that the horse was fine and that she would have no problems with him.
The area we were in was very bleak and uncharacteristic of Limerick County, with small stunted trees that grew leaning away from the prevailing winds. Scenting conditions were not good and it took us nearly an hour to put up a fox. Then came the welcome holler echoing across the countryside, and we were away with the creak of saddles and clatter of metal shoes on rocks.
The Galway County or, as they are known, the Blazers, is a super Hunt to be with if you like to see hounds work. There is no more inspiring sight than multi-coloured black, tan and white hounds streaming away from you across the emerald-green turf through a patch-work of grey stone walls that stretch as far as the eye can see.
There is something exhilarating about galloping down on a large unmarked stone wall, picking your spot, spurring your horse and sailing over. Do this for a day, and you get intoxicated - it is sheer heaven! The beginning of the run normally sorts out the cautious and the timid, and you rapidly learn who not to follow.
Unfortunately, every year at some time in the hunt, I unintentionally get behind a person who suffers chronically from de-acceleration at jumps. He de-accelerates more and more until he virtually stops at the obstacle, then, hanging onto the horse's mouth, jumps with a hollow back. If you are unlucky enough to be behind him, you almost land on top of him, as Michael's horses are all bold jumpers and like to gallop on.
It was very interesting to see my group change their style of riding from the pretty seat to the survival one. This occurs because we often encounter surprise drop jumps and unless you are constantly gripping with your knees, which is tiring, the rider who leans forward in the American hunter seat can disappear very quickly over the neck of his horse.
The survival seat I use is a normal easy forward seat position with a light grip of my knees and my weight on my stirrups. If, when jumping a wall or hedge, I see a drop on the other side at the height of the parabola, I let my horse fall away from me in front, allowing the reins to run through my fingers -to the buckle if necessary! As the horse lands and gathers, I bring my weight forward in a fluid movement, draw in the reins and pick up the horse's rhythm as he strides out. That is, in theory. Often, depending on the take-off or landing, who cuts me off, who fell on the other side,or numerous other problems, I can be anywhere between my horse's tail and ears if I'm lucky, or, if not, on the ground next to him.
Our lone fox was going well and, by changing direction constantly, he would lose the hounds for a spell as they overran the scent, then off we would go again. I looked around to see that most of my group were holding up well, although Donna and Simon were both far back, tiptoeing through the broken-down walls, their faces pale and set.
My horse was a big galloper with a great jump in him, and was really enjoying himself. A large solid wall appeared in front of us, four feet high; I picked up speed and pushed him on. Suddenly, from my left appeared Mr. De-acceleration and, true to form, began slowing up immediately in front of me. Frantically, I pulled on the reins and, at the last moment, just managed stop my horse from jumping on top of him. We ended up crammed against the wall in a refusal. There is a beautifully expressive Anglo-Saxon word one can use at times like that, and I used it loudly and with feeling. Hearing the displeasure in my voice, my horse decided to remedy the situation and sprang over the jump from a standstill. I dismounted over its neck, landed on my feet still grasping the reins, and, all in one motion, was pulled back into the saddle again. To this day, I still wonder how I did it.
A few walls later, I picked a spot next to a slightly-open metal gate and spurred on my horse. But, as we started to take off, I noticed there was a ditch before the wall filled up with old, rotting straw. My horse sank down to a depth of two feet and I thought all was lost. But, with an enormous effort, and an explosive grunt, my horse scraped over, toppling a few stones in doing so. Marvin, who was riding behind me, saw what had happened and started to pull up. Suddenly I heard a loud b-o-i-n-g! as his horse spotted the slightly-open gate, veered to the side and ran into and through it. Fortunately, neither horse nor rider was hurt and, almost weeping with nervous laughter, we carried on to the next wall where, unfortunately, Mr. De-acceleration was up to his usual tricks. He slowed down in front of me again but, luckily, this time off to one side. My horse hesitated too, so I gave it a crack of the whip and roared in my deepest voice, "Git over there!"
De-acceleration's horse, hearing my angry growl, put in a magnificent jump and the rider, caught by surprise, almost rolled off backwards. By the time he had composed himself and looked around to see who had yelled, I was staring off into space with complete angelic innocence. It was obvious that his bad jumping was well known, for one of the members gave me a big wink and smile as she cantered by.
At day's end, after a super hunt, we returned our horses to Michael Dillon and drove to Paddy Burke's restaurant on the main Galway Ennis road. We had a pleasant seafood meal, then drove to Lough Cutra Castle in Gort. Everyone there was smartly dressed in lounge suits and cocktail dresses, and we looked slightly out of place in grubby hunting clothes and dirty boots. Rory was a gracious host, however, and made us extremely welcome. He had about three dozen open bottles of wine neatly lined up on a spotless white Irish linen tablecloth. With the wine were plates of assorted cheeses and pates.
After being served a glass of wine, we joined the party. We all got on famously with everyone but, after a couple of hours, the rest of my group succumbed to fatigue and decided to go home. By then, I had my second wind so, giving them my car keys, I said I would see them later. At three in the morning a taxi came to fetch me.
Whenever I see Rory, he always reminds me about the time I came for a drink after a hunt and left six hours later. Despite this imposition on his hospitality, we are still the greatest of friends.