LURE OF THE CHASE

 

Glenn O'Brien, an Irish American, gets a call in his Boston office about a horse from an old steeple-chasing buddy in Ireland. In need of a break from creditors and recession, he puts operations on hold and takes a flight to Shannon. He hunts the horse over the Clare countryside, gets involved in some hotly disputed bidding for him and takes on a gutsy wager which ends in a match ride to hounds through the tough country of the Burren. After the hair-raising chase he is indeed alone with hounds when they account for the fox, but he is hopelessly lost on the moors. Finding his way out becomes a quest. He finds much more than the mere path out of the moors, he discovers his roots, his woman and his true identity.

Lure of the Chase promises to be a winner. As a matter of fact once started it was difficult to put down. Chances are when you have finished you are going to want more immediately.

Horse Country. Viginia.

 

There's nothing like the lure of the couch if you have a good page turning story to read and it centers around breath taking Irish foxhunts, steeplechases intrigue and romance with a dash of history thrown in. This is Sinclair-Smith's third book and he's a man well equipped to lure readers along on a hunt.

Chronicle of the horse. Virginia.

Lure of the Chase by Michael Sinclair-Smith

LURE OF THE CHASE

 

Glenn O'Brien, an Irish American, gets a call in his Boston office about a horse from an old steeple-chasing buddy in Ireland. In need of a break from creditors and recession, he puts operations on hold and takes a flight to Shannon. He hunts the horse over the Clare countryside, gets involved in some hotly disputed bidding for him and takes on a gutsy wager which ends in a match ride to hounds through the tough country of the Burren. After the hair-raising chase he is indeed alone with hounds when they account for the fox, but he is hopelessly lost on the moors. Finding his way out becomes a quest. He finds much more than the mere path out of the moors, he discovers his roots, his woman and his true identity.

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Chapter 4 - Corofin, County Clare (page 44-50)

 

Half a mile later they turned a bend and there in the middle of the road ahead of them, was a tinker on a small cart with a tired looking donkey in the shafts. The donkey, seeing all the horses, suddenly perked up. He lifted his nose and looked out from his leather blinkers like some old shortsighted professor. The hunt slowed and then parted as the horses viewed the apparition. They snorted and jigged sideways, suspicious of the donkey who obviously only wanted to be friendly. As he passed through them he suddenly let out a deafening, cacophonous hee-haw. In an instant the orderly hunt was a shambles as the unsettled horses all spooked, and took off at a mad gallop down the road.

 

As Glenn’s mare ran past with the rest, he noticed the driver, half asleep at the reins, seemed totally unaware of the commotion his jack donkey was causing and just sat there staring straight ahead with the remains of a hand-rolled cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth.

 

Glenn started laughing at the ridiculousness of the scene and once more found it difficult to stop, as he hauled franticly at his frightened mare.

 

After a couple of miles they pulled up at the wood and waited outside while the hounds drew through it. A battered Land Rover drove up and when the door opened, three terriers jumped out followed by a scruffy figure in an old jacket, jeans and rubber boots. He stood there, hands deep in his pockets and looked towards the woods. For forty minutes the field of riders stood outside waiting for something to happen but their luck had not improved and the covert was blank like the previous one.

 

Glenn saw a flash of green as Brady, the huntsman, walked out of the covert with some young hounds trotting along behind him. He came over to the master and shook his head despondently. The man in the rubber boots went up to them both and had some quiet words with them. He pointed across the field and gestured as if emphasizing a point. The master and Brady spoke and obviously came to some decision, for Brady put his horn to his lips and blew a note. Within minutes the remaining hounds, obviously disinterested, left the covert and came out and gathered around him. Once more, he counted them and when satisfied he had them all he took off at a trot down the road.

 

Glenn pulled up his collar as the dark ominous clouds raced across the steel-coloured sky and dropped a cold shower of rain on them

 

"Well it doesn’t look too good. Mind you, with the temperature dropping we still might get a late afternoon fox," said Liam.

 

The master came over to them. "We’re not giving up yet. We’re going to try and find a fox that has been killing some lambs down the road away."

 

After five miles Brady pulled up outside the ruins of an old mansion house. Its tumbledown walls crawled with thick twisted ivy vines where time and nature had taken over. The hounds needed no coaxing and disappeared into the undergrowth in a flash. Brady walked his horse in amongst the ruins and coaxed his hounds on. "Get in there boys, sort ‘im out," he urged. The wind was growing stronger now and the large trees in the grounds groaned as they bent to the fierce gusts.

 

Suddenly the hairs on Glenn’s neck tingled as a hound opened, and let out a loud howl from the depth of the brambles. There was a higher pitched howl as another spoke and confirmed.

 

"This looks promising," said Liam quietly from beside him.

 

Glances were passed from one member of the hunt to the next and smiles of anticipation appeared as more and more hounds scented the fox and joined in. Their music sporadically picking up and dying down as the fox circled through the thick undergrowth. He was reluctant to leave and twice Glenn saw his tan figure dart across breaks in the brambles, followed quickly by the hounds that shook the gorse in their passing.

 

"They are gaining on him, he should break any moment," said Liam, as the cry of the hounds grew in intensity.

 

When the fox did break, it was right by Glenn. He came silently out of the brush, stopped for a moment, and gazed at Glenn with his hazel eyes. Glenn stared at him and for a moment it seemed time stood still and there was just he and the fox in the world. Then with a lithe movement he was across the road like a shadow and away over the field behind them.

 

Gone awayyyyy, gone awayyyyy," yelled the man next to Glenn. The huntsman, hearing the halloa, came out of the ruins at a trot. "Which way did he go?" he asked holding up his hunting horn ready to blow.

"Right there," said Glenn pointing. 


Jim Brady put his horn to his lips and blew the "away." 


Da dada da da da dada da da da dada da daaaa, the shrill note of the horn rang out. 


The sound of the hounds intensified reaching a crescendo as they broke from the undergrowth in a mass of movement and dashed across the road in pursuit. Brady pulled hard at his agitated horse and waited for the last hound to cross, then followed it over the stone wall and down into the field.

 

"Hold on to your hat, we’re off," said Liam as he spurred his young horse forward over the wall after the huntsman. Glenn’s brown mare followed, but again she hesitated and jumped short.

 

Glenn gave her a kick and within a few strides he drew alongside Liam as they galloped together across the pasture towards the far side of the field. As the next wall got closer Glenn felt his mare hesitate once more. "Come on Ballyvaughn," he growled as he urged her on and gave out more rein. Although the two horses took off together and cleared the wall, Liam’s young horse landed far ahead of Ballyvaughn. Glenn gave her a slap with his crop and came alongside Liam once more.

 

"She’s still jumping short," said Glenn as they galloped along. 


"It’s Dolan’s doing. She thinks she’s going to get hit in the mouth at every jump," said Liam.

 

They raced on towards another wall that was overgrown with brambles forming a hedge over six feet high. Brady, leading the field by twenty yards, pushed ahead on his big bay gelding and launched through the top branches. Suddenly, from behind, a young boy who was out of control on a scrawny, thoroughbred pony overtook Glenn and the other front runners. He approached the hedge at full speed, then refused and abruptly pulled across in front of the approaching riders. There was not room to manoeuvre and with a thump and a yell he collided broadside with a woman on a spotted horse and they all went down together in the mud.

 

Liam, safely off to the side, gave his horse a crack with the crop and it exploded through the brambles ahead of Glenn. Because the hedge was so high, Glenn’s mare had to decide whether to refuse or stand back. Glenn gave her lots of rein and a slap with his crop and she decided to stand back and put in a big one. For the first time, Glenn felt the ability in the mare as she stretched out and landed freely the other side. "What about those two?" shouted Glenn, motioning behind him.

 

"This is not America. Here it’s every man for himself when hounds are running," replied Liam.

They galloped up a grass hill and slowed at the crest to see where the hounds were. Glenn had a look around and quickly counted the seventeen remaining riders. Dolan was right behind him and he caught Glenn’s eye. "You don’t have to look for me Yank, just watch out for yourself," he snarled.

 

"Quiet!" said the young whip standing in his stirrups. He pointed to the left. "There they are."

Glenn, ready to spit back a retort, took his gaze away from Dolan and looked into the valley. The bunched pack of hounds was running across a marshy area below, the fox just visible two fields ahead.

 

Brady let out a whoop, and spurred his horse forward, down the hill after them. The phalanx of riders behind him jockeyed for position as they approached a boundary stone wall. "Watch out for the drop," called Liam as his horse leapt forward over it. Glenn brought up his feet and slid way back into the cantle of his saddle as his mare jumped boldly and dropped down six feet into the field beyond. She collected herself and bounded forward effortlessly. Glenn heard a yell behind and looked over his shoulder. A heavy bay horse was down on its nose and its rider, a red-haired farmer, was on the ground.

 

He looked across at Liam. "Every man for himself," he yelled. Liam tightened his lips and nodded as they galloped along a cart track. They passed through a gateway into a field where a herd of young steers were grazing. The steers raised their heads and immediately started to run.

 

"Easy now, give them room," yelled Hennessy as he wrestled his horse down to a trot and then a reluctant walk. The steers ran into the corner of the field and turned around. They stood there snorting, loudly, their breath steam-like in the cool air. They were stiff-legged and staring, ready for instant flight as the riders approached the wall.

 

Brady and Hennessy, up ahead, jumped over safely. As the next flight of riders, including Liam, Glenn and a woman, trotted up to the wall to follow them, the spooked steers took off and stampeded along the wall towards them.

The woman on Glenn’s right, with a steer running broadside to her, pulled to the left in front of Glenn. Glenn tried to pull up, but Ballyvaughn, who had been enjoying a free rein, ignored his pull and put in an enormous leap over the rump of the women’s horse and the stone wall beyond.

 

"Jesus!" exclaimed Glenn as they landed safely the other side. He galloped after the huntsman and master and in a few seconds, Liam was up with him again. "We lost a few at that one," he yelled with a grin. "You were lucky. Jasus, that mare of yours has some jump in her," he added, with a look of admiration.

 

"Doesn’t she. I couldn’t stop her, she just wanted to go."

 

"Well you must be doing something right."

 

They carried on at an easy gallop across the grass towards a wall on the far side. As they got closer, they saw a single strand of wire ran along the top of it. "This way," said the Master, as he veered off and headed towards a cluster of decrepit red brick buildings sitting in a stand of leafless trees. The gateway was blocked with two rusty corrugated metal sheets standing on their edge. They jumped these and splashed through a pool of knee-deep, brown, stinking, liquid manure, and clattered into the farmyard.


All around them lay abandoned machinery, rusty rolls of barbed wire, plastic bags and every kind of junk imaginable. In a matter of seconds, a dog ran at them in a frenzy of barking, chickens scattered and a ginger cat ran up a tree. Then they were through and out the other side.

 

They crossed another field and saw ahead of them a high grey cement block wall with cars and trucks passing by on the road the other side. They headed for it and pulled up at a metal gate. Liam leaned down and yanked at a chain. He shook his head. "The fooking thing’s locked," he said in disgust as he let go of the padlock. "You’re going to have to jump into the road. Take it at an angle. It could be slippery," he cautioned.

 

Sean and Paddy jumped, then Glenn followed. With a vivid picture of his fall in the last hunt, he made sure his nose was over his left knee as the mare jumped. She curled over and landed as sure-footed as a cat. She took a few short strides as she steadied herself. Then Liam’s young thoroughbred landed and slithered along side them.

 

"Keep going," said Liam as they set off down the road with a loud clattering of metal shoes. There was a yell from behind and when Glenn looked over his shoulder, he saw one of the young boys go down onto the road as his horse’s feet skidded out from under him. Then they were out of sight as Liam and he rounded a corner. "God, we would never gallop on the roads like this in the States," he said as they tore along. He could feel, distinctly, the concussion of the hard surface coming up through his horse.

 

As they edged up alongside Hennessey, the master, he turned his head. "Well now, you’re doing very well and getting the best out of her." He gasped catching his breath. "That was a dirty trick that Dolan played on you. He’s not representative of the rest of us. I have me money on you, and I hope you win."

 

"I’ll give it my best."

 

"Well you feel free to go up front with the hounds, don’t worry about me," he caught his breath again. You just go and stay with them." He winked and gave an exaggerated nod as Dolan galloped up behind them.

 

Ahead of them, Brady pulled off onto a verge and jumped into a field. Moments later Glenn and the surviving riders did likewise. They were just in time to see a tail hound disappear over the brow of the slope ahead of them. En masse, they urged their horses forward. They topped the high ground and looked down. Before them was an awe-inspiring view of fields of different hues from the bright green of sheep cropped pasture to the faded brown of neglected hay, crisscrossed by stone walls and hedges as far as their eyes could see.

 

Despite the rain, the footing was still fairly firm and the horses were able to stretch out as they tore after the hounds in the distance. The walls and hedges came fast and furious at them as the fox ran into the wind. Glenn noticed that even though the field of riders was thinning out from the pace, Ballyvaughn was unaffected and just coming into her own. No longer in fear of getting hit in the mouth, she was standing back at every jump and extending far the other side as she got all the rein she wanted. Glenn felt intoxicated by the chase. He laughed without reason and found it difficult to stop as exhilaration put a trace of hysteria in his laugh.

 

Liam recognized the emotion in Glenn. "This is what it’s all about, there’s nothing like it," he shouted over the sound of the wind. "Until you have chased after a free running fox you don’t know what excitement is."

 

The hounds ahead of them were screaming away, not showing any signs of slacking as they kept up a furious pace. Glenn grinned at Liam as they galloped side by side. Mud flew up and all around them was the sound of the horses inhaling and exhaling and the muffled pounding of their hooves. As the miles passed, the pace increasingly took its toll and horse after horse dropped out as they tired, pulled up or fell.

 

"Easy lads there’s a river ahead," hollered Brady, as he saw the pack ahead of him lose their forward thrust and split up.

Glenn looked to see who remained. He counted eight riders. Dolan was there and his big horse was still looking good. Liam’s young horse was showing signs of wear and was all lathered up. Hennessy’s horse was beat and looked as if he would not go much further. Aside from Dolan’s bay, the four best looking horses were Glenn’s mare, a farmer on a big grey, the young whip’s blood horse and Brady’s mount.

 

The river was swollen by the previous day’s rain and its dark waters flowed quickly by. The hounds cast around them looking for scent of the missing fox. Then the lead hound ran down the bank plunged into the water and swam across. He dragged himself up the slope the other side and, nose down, worked his way along it. He stopped and his tail started to switch from side to side.

 

Liam pointed at the hound. "Look at the way he’s feathering, he’s onto him. The hound moved on again and his stern moved quicker. He zigged, zagged; then, confident that he was onto the fox, he bounded on and let out a loud cry. Immediately the other hounds plunged into the water and swam across towards him. They joined in on the hunt and were off running.

 

"Follow me," said Brady as he took off along the bank. They came to a stone humpback bridge with a parapet on both sides and a high, spiked wrought iron gate blocking their entry. The young whip jumped off and tried to open it but a rusty padlock and chain secured it. He wrenched at it but it would not give. "The fooking thing is locked," he said in exasperation, giving it a kick.

 

"Out the way Sean, I’m going to try getting over the side," Brady said. He put his horse at an angle to the wall and gave it a hard slap with his whip. The horse jumped off the bank and over the parapet and onto the surface of the narrow bridge. Dolan was on his tail but he got left behind in the saddle and caused the bay to pull up just beyond the parapet. The grey horse following them hit the bay’s rump with his nose and failed to get a good foothold with his back legs. Losing his momentum he hung there for a moment then fell backwards off the bridge into the water with an almighty splash.

 

"Jesus Christ!" said Glenn, as horse and rider disappeared under the fast flowing water. They surfaced on the other side of the bridge and drifted downstream. Liam rode along the edge for some yards then jumped off his horse and ran down the bank. "Grab hold of my whip," he shouted, wrapping the thong around his hand and throwing the horn-handled whip toward the swimmer.

 

The farmer grabbed at it and held tight as Liam took the weight and pulled him towards the side. He reached the bank and lay there for some moments trying to get his breath. "Jasus, that water is fooking cold, I thought I was a goner there for a moment." He pulled himself out of the water. Go on lads, I’m alright."

Sean, the young whip, ran back to his horse and untied him from the metal gate.

 

Liam looked at Glenn. "I’m going to help him with his horse. Mine’s knackered anyway. It’s up to you whether you want to try that bridge yourself. You don’t have to kill yourself for my thousand."

 

A chill ran through Glenn’s body and he knew he had to try the jump whatever happened.

 

Sean faced his horse at the wall three times, but each time the horse pulled out at the last second, and refused to jump.

Glenn could feel the excitement in his mare and she was spinning around. "Let me have a go," he said with unaccustomed irritation in his voice.

 

As Sean pulled out of the way, Glenn faced the mare at the bridge at a 45-degree angle. He gave her a squeeze and urged her forward.

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