Grallagh Harriers in Moyvilla

Foxhunting in Ireland

Grallagh Harriers
Moyvilla January 2015
Galway

 It was a promising start to the morning as the heavy showers abated. Two  of Coopers Hill horses and riders were to hunt at the Moyvilla meet. It is  popular meet every season, as it brings out the best in the Huntsman and  Master David Burke. I guess everyone has their favourite meet for their own  reasons. I am still forming opinions on which hunt on our card is best but,  Moyvilla would be among my favourites.

Grallagh Harriers
The field

As we drove up to the meet, the skies were clearing nicely with the air  temperature considerably cooler than previous days. Coopers Hill had a  first time hunt participant from North America, a Canadian to be more  precise. Andrea Ypma, was exceptionally excited to be part of the foot  followers. She had just arrived in Ireland two days previously for three  long weeks of immersing herself in the Irish Hunting culture with us at  Coopers Hill Livery. The wall builder was tasked with the very  important job of escorting Andrea to all the finest places to watch the  fox bolt and view some of the horses jump walls.

When all the pleasantries and New Years greetings were bid to each and every member, followers and staff, the Master then made for the first cover. It was no more than 200 yards from the parking area. The hounds were putting in a good effort at Tommy Ford’s covert.
The master pushed the hounds to find, encouraging them to do their level best. There was no result even with all the extra persuasion. Nothing to bolt in this covert. The next option was to move on and head to a new covert about a mile away heading north east to the Moyvilla castle, negotiating an upward jump out on to the road landing in the grass margin before gingerly moving onto the asphalt. All riders and horses got out onto the road and a nice hack ensued to the turn into Ray Bohan’s and onto the Moyvilla castle covert.

The hounds were screaming inside the covert there was a considerable amount of tongue. We suspected there was more than one fox in the covert. The foxes set inside, out of view, but now moving by the sound of the direction of the hounds tongue. It’s a brace hollered one of the riders. The hounds were about to split. The shout of “leave it” was promptly verbalised in order to prevent what seemed like an inevitability, a split pack, and this shout kept the pack together on the most favourable scent. The fox then bolted. Pandemonium ensued and the hounds were off, quick on his tail. “Come along“was the call of the moment, uttered by more than one of the field and by the master. I suspected the field was seeing the action unfold from the bluff on the north side of the castle as the fox first headed west to the railway lines of the Dublin Galway train. The master played a blinder in turning the fox east and preventing him from crossing tracks and ending our chase. The fox doubled back heading east and later west again. Fearing the wrath of the master and his hounds in pursuit, the fox promptly made a swift swing north east to avoid the pack. This very healthy, quick Charlie with the hounds in toe was making good sport of the chase with stone walls coming into view in rapid succession. Wall after wall at a full gallop the field was getting strung out. I was in the field giving chase when there was a stopper at one of the walls.

Seamus ISH foxhunting
Seamus, 17.2 ISH, foxhunting

  Heels down, I burst through on my ISH, Seamus, and helped the field     continue; only taking a check at a sharp bend and steading at walls in     order to hit the sweet spot when traversing the obstacles of Moyvilla       country. The fox by now had turned north east and ran from Paddy         Fords farm yard back to the covert in Tommy Ford’s field where the         Master marked the den that Charlie entered. I was astonished with the   speed of the hounds and fox. I was in awe of the masters skills in           preventing the fox from putting the field and hounds in danger by           turning Charlie back from the train tracks, bravo Master Burke.
Once marked, Master Burke gathered all his hounds, took a headcount and congratulated some of his hounds by name. Preacher and Prancer were praised. Not even an hour in and we had some fantastic sport. The day was panning out to be one for the record books.

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Darcy foxhunting with the Grallagh Harriers

We again jumped out onto the road and headed back to the castle. Within ten minutes the hounds had bolted the second fox which had returned to the covert after the brace earlier. This time we chased hard but this fox did not turn back from the railway tracks. Charlie headed for a covert the far side of the railway tracks in Hughie Higgen’s covert. It seemed only like minutes before the hounds found again. Another brace, calls from both sides of the covert. One of the calls would allow for more sport. The master was on to the better call, but our progress was hampered by young cattle getting involved in the proceedings so care had to be foremost in our minds. We had to walk until we were clear of the herd. The hounds were swiftly on the way and out of sight by now on to the next covert about three hundred yards away with six walls to be negotiated, each one stronger than the next. I had hardly time to catch my breath. The record books will tout this day, a day full of sport for huntsman hound and field. This was a glorious and exciting day for one and all, with hardly a moment to catch up and socialise with friends in the field as we were constantly on the move. We were off again, drops, hedges, ploughed fields, mud and rock, it didn’t matter. Some shoes were lost but still hunting- bulls in fields, wire fences- there was nothing to stop these hounds this day.
The hounds found again near Sean Keane’s and quickly chased for the Derrydonnell forest. There was a national road between both points and there was no way to cut the hounds off. Master Burke was on Charlie’s tail and he did his best to prevent any harm coming to the hounds and road users alike. The pace of this hunt was frantic, everyone was all a bustle to give chase. We had jumped five or six strong double and triple wide stone walls. Horses were failing under the strain as they had to negotiate a nice four foot drop from the main road into the forestry property in order to give chase. Master Burke explained; “I am not about to spend the afternoon in the woods I have called the pack off Charlie. There is more sport to be had elsewhere. “

Foxhunting in Ireland
The Grallagh Harriers

Coopers Hill was having the day of their lives. I couldn’t imagine that it could get any better. We traversed the national route and we went back to Jim Dwyers, the last property on the way to the wood and the first back to the covert on the other side of the road. We found again and the field gave chase, jumping wall after wall until a loud cry “hold hard.” The cry was reinforced by other members in the field. Something must be wrong! The secretary jumped from her horse and hurried back to a fallen rider. I stopped to gather up the horses of the riders that had dismounted. There were three responders which hinted that this was a serious incident. A rider had crashed to the ground and was not moving. What we all fear. A seasoned rider, we all respected, just go it a little wrong at a wall with a hedge covering the high stone structure. Minutes stretched out, and seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t see any movement from the fallen rider. Your mind can not help but worry and be thankful all at the same time that it wasn’t yourself lying there. Finally, I saw the rider’s lower arm rise up a little from the ground. Thank the lord. The responders seemed less concerned as the minutes passed from that point on, the rider stood up after a few more moments with some support from members of the field. At this point the Master thought it prudent to call it a day, a very good decision.

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Andrea, our guest for the next three weeks, who was taking the National Geographic quality shots, rode the fallen rider’s horse home. Not the usual way to introduce a guest to hunting, but it was a reminder for Andrea that hunting in Ireland is very different to hunting in New York and for the most part, North America. A great day, a tough day and but for the grace of god, a day we can all remember, bar one member. Later on that day even the fallen rider began to recollect this marvellous day. It would have been a shame for the fallen rider if that hunt was a lost memory. What a fantastic master we the Grallagh harriers have. Sincere thanks to master David Burke and his staff who gave the field and followers a great days’ sport.

The art of matching rider to a horse!

Midnight
Midnight 16hh experienced hireling

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How do you match a rider you have never met with a horse that will take care of them out hunting?

The only way to answer that question is to go back to the start and how the animal was gentled into riding and jumping. That’s the key.

It takes a number of years to get a horse hunting right. Anyone who hunts knows that you can get pullers, stoppers and downright cranky horses. You know the ones, the ones that kick bite and buck. An odd buck of joy is fine, but the buck that is directed towards the riders dismount is coming from a horse that wasn’t respected and won’t give respect.
So how do we at Coopers Hill know all this about horses and their varying attitude?
Well I, James Tonery, am the son of a lifelong horseman who himself comes from a horsey family. Our family’s horse knowledge goes back centuries with working horses, carting, ploughing and training the odd local derby race horse or point to pointer. NO we never had the money to compete with the group one winners but we could compete locally. To that end we held our own and from that notoriety we were known as good people to manage and turn out a horse. We have been given awards from the Prevention of cruelty to animals and have won many rosettes at shows with ponies and horses in hand.

Down through the years the locals have brought very difficult animals to out yard for BREAKING. But we like to turn that philosophy on its head. We like to say we gentle and respect the animal and allow them the time to come to the conclusion that it is ok to accept the bit, its ok to be brushed, its no problem to have your feet lifted up to be saddled and eventually mounted. Some animals accept sooner than others simply because some trust sooner than others. The manner in which this is done determines the product or the horse you are going to mount for your days hunting.
No we are not sprout eating, peace pipe smoking tree huggers. We are as hardy as the next hunts man. But to get a horse right requires time, patients a gentle hand and respect. That’s how to get a horse on your side a horse that will give you his last effort and to even reach further down and give you what’s not there to give but will give it anyway. You all know what I mean that extra effort when it’s needed.
So a rider comes to the yard and doesn’t know any horse from Adam. They would have no confidence in the horses’ abilities. They may fear the prospect of hiring an animal that they are not used to, one that they have never laid eyes on before. How can you get the rider to overcome the fear? Well education, simply education. When a rider comes to Coopers Hill to hunt the first thing they do is go on a hack. The first hack is traversing Galway city to the beach to give the rider an idea of how well mannered and schooled the horses are in traffic. It also gives the rider time to get used to the animals nuances. It offers me an opportunity to also gauge how the rider reacts and copes with a horse they have never ridden before. The roads to the beach are busy, full of heavy, noisy traffic. There are many obstacles to pass before we arrive at the beach. Road works, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, trains and even an army firing range all have to be dealt with. Most people we have visiting us have only ever ridden in the safe, controlled environment of a barn, trails on a private property or show arenas. While our horses are immune to all these distractions, it is useful for me to observe the riders, & to assess how they deal with a situation they, more than likely, have never been placed into.
The next scheduled event is popping some poles in the arena. This gives me, the person hiring out the horse, the opportunity to see how the rider approaches a fence and how they cope with the jump on that particular horse. It is at this stage you make your mind up about the suitability of horse to rider. You just get a feel for it. I guess this is the art of knowing which horse suits and in your head if it does not, selecting one that will suit that particular rider. A mount of different abilities more suited to that rider may be selected, perhaps an animal with a slower movement and steadier jump. One not so poppy may suit one rider but not another. Now the riders will know they can jump on the selected animal and how the horse will behave in stressful environments.
Finally to get the rider to see what the animal can really do they are taken on a cross country course prior to their days’ hunting with over fifty fences. None of the fences are the same, from manmade to natural features, drops, water jumps, up turned boats.

By the end of this, the confidence should be through the roof for the rider. They will have successfully navigated a challenging cross country course with their hired mount. Hopefully by now the rider has bonded with the horse, trusts in its abilities and feels safe with that horse.
Next, it’s time to hunt.
So to answer your question how do we fit the hireling to the rider, by educating the rider and having the patience to have the horse right before they come. Simple really!!
All you need for the recipe to be a success is time, patience and lots of hard work.