Drag hunting with the East Clare Farmers

I am writing this note with a deep sadness. The sadness is two-fold, I am sad that the hunt season has come to a close and sad also that the season was so poor. When I say poor I’m saying it from the point of view of sport. The hounds that I chase, Grallagh Harrier hounds, had more than enough sport, constantly on the go chasing fox, picking up scent, lots of cry and many bolting foxes. But the chase was hampered with the deluge of rain that came from the heavens. No God would send such volumes of rain on any huntsman; there must be bigger forces at work here. Maybe global warming, that phenomena we huntsmen hear so much about is the real perpetrator of our anguish. It is truly hampering our sport and distorting the usual weather systems.
The second reason for my desponadncy is because for the whole season October to March I hunted on open ground three times. The rest of the hunting was done in forestry where the hounds could have plenty of sport. To say I was annoyed and frustrated is an understatement but to be fair you could not expect to enter farmer’s land when most of the land in our region was under a few inches of water.

Regardless, this season I have a lot to be joyous about my hunt jointly nominated me for being the best subscriber, bringing many newcomers to the sport from the US and many other parts.
Hunting is in my blood, it really is! The night before the hunt my mind is filled with what kind of country we will travel on and what sort of obstacles we will encounter not to mention how many foxes we can bolt and how long the hounds will take chase for. With all this running around in my head I can barely sleep. The following morning I am up before the cock crows. Honestly, the whole atmosphere, the hounds, their smell, the scent of the fox as you pass over its den, the horn and its many trumpeting calls. All of it even the cuts, the bruises, the strong walls, the tricky drops, the chase at speed – all lends itself to moments of sheer ecstasy that is the hunt. When it all heats up into a crescendo of cries from hounds, horn blowing, thundering hooves, it is then that life can get no better. It is amazing to watch the hounds find scent and leg there way over walls and burrow through hedge and gates to get on that magical scent. Without exception it is nature at its best.
I was denied this experience may times this past season because the weather did not play its part. It was a major frustration. So I turned my attention to drag hunting and I was kindly invited to a drag meet by the East Clare Farmers and in particular Roddy Kelly. Master Kelly is a very warm and welcoming man and to be fair to him and his cohorts they have always boasted the merits of the drag hunt. To me it is not hunting for there is no terrier man, very little horn antics and the scent is predestined by a lead rider. But I cannot continue without giving credit where credit is due.
The hunt commenced from a small village on the outskirts of Oranmore a place called Gurrane on the 9th of March at 1 pm. It is the homestead of Master Roddy Kelly and his farming neighbours. The relationship he has with his neighbours is amazing, but when you witness how this operation is conducted you can see that there is genuine respectful atmosphere from all parties’ farmers and huntsmen alike. Even in these difficult stormy and very wet conditions the farmers allowed the hunt onto their land. To say the least I was astonished that this could even be possible. The scent was laid out and the hounds followed. To be fair to the men marking the ground, one rider being Roddys’ son, they marked it in areas that had sure footing. All but one wall that is. Once the scent was laid the hounds followed and in quick pursuit the huntsmen and the rest of the field.
Some of the field jumped better than others and most were sorted out on the first wall a sticky wicket indeed. The ground was pasty on the take-off and landing. A very good rider took a heavy fall, both man and beast hit the ground but none the worse for wear and nothing that a little washing powder wouldn’t cure. Not ideal for the first jump. But this jump was necessary to get to the terrain that had the cleaner jumps. Then like a shot from a gun, wall after wall came into view, one as strong and as daunting as the next if not more so. I had a young horse, a good jumper. My companions were Tom an eleven year old on a cracking 14.2 Connemara cross called Dancer, and Emmet also came from Coopers Hill yard riding the magnificent Mr. Midnight complete with moustache. I’m not talking about the rider, rather the horse who had the moustache. All good mounts and all faced separate challenges… a pony on such big walls, a heavy cob, Emmets mount, not much speed there and me on a young horse.
Emmet fell behind quickly on the big heavy horse while Tom and I flew along on the young horse and quick pony. Coming up shortly were the drops. These were substantial obstacles and hand-picked by the lead rider. I seriously thought the guy marking the ground was having a laugh. A large crowd of people gathered at this four foot drop, oh, did I mention there was a 2’- 3’wall in front of the drop. I looked back as we all negotiated this obstacle very well. Riding ahead of the 11 year old and shouting back to see how he was doing – always the retort was, “I’m fine.” Then an option ahead “Tom will I take the big jump, a 4’wall with a foot of hedge above that, or the small one, a 2’6 “ wall. The cry from young Tom was loud and assured, “the big one!” Over we went the pony giving it an extra bit to be sure of clearance and Tom got a little smack in the face for his ambition. Everyone was still mounted and we pulled up to gather the field and we all chatted about the mad run we were just on. We all felt like some of the walls were selected by a man slightly hell bent on killing himself. The joys of the drag are that you can go jump as big as you want or not.
Master Kelly and the men that laid the scent were there for the jumping challenge on a certain mission to weed the men from the mice. My word the drops were steep and unforgiving as the ground quickened and sloped away on landing. The pace was unyielding and there were many people around with cameras to take that quality shot. A brief departure from what I am writing to let everyone know that when you see a crowd of people ahead of you with cameras and iPhone you can rest assured that the next obstacle is one for the record books. You see the locals know where to go to get the best shots and where most riders part company with the animal they have taken with them for the day. There were squeals and cries of “oh no!” from many of the riders but the one that was mostly used as people parted with their mount was “oh sh1t!” This was the case for poor Emmet as we finished our last run, the second last run of the day. Poor Emmet just getting back into the riding scene, took a spill on the second last wall on the second last run. I felt it prudent to excuse ourselves after doing so well with the young horse and our young rider and of course Emmets fall after one of the infamous drops of the day claimed him. In hindsight it was a very blind drop. I did a second take as I went over it and he was right after me. Poor guy did so well all day and had to fall off at the second last wall (wall and drop combined) of that run. He was asked to pay for the real estate he was taking home with him. Lots of laughs ensued and there were many smiling faces including Emmet’s. They don’t let you away with much over here in Galway if you get it all wrong, no matter how long you were riding. He smeared himself with lots of mud, real estate, as he rolled during his fall. Thankfully there were no injuries and everyone had a good laugh.
I finally got some sport and the hounds had less then I on this outing, a role reversal from the previous months. The drag picked all the good ground and walls that were on offer throughout Master Kellys’ neighbours land. Coopers Hill Livery had a wonderful afternoon of sport even if the hounds did not, but all in all horses and riders got plenty of experience and exercise in an otherwise dull season. My opinion of drag hunting has taken on a whole new perspective, one of respect and gratitude for a great day out.
Thank you East Clare Farmers.