Memories: Recalling My Thanksgiving Hunt Mornings
Thirty minutes early was a bit too late.
The first year my family attended the Blessing of the Hounds at Hobby Field on Thanksgiving morning, we assumed a 9:30 a.m. arrival for a 10 a.m. blessing would be adequate.
But anyone who is a regular goer to the event — the official start to the Moore County foxhunting season — knows the drill.
An hour before the blessing, more than 100 cars, trucks and tailgaters already line either side of Youngs Road, and the walk to the main action is at least half a mile.
Rule No. 1: You should probably disregard the usual social protocol of being “fashionably late.”
I was 11 years old when I caught my first glimpse of the horses and hounds.
The huntsman, whippers in and 16 couple, or 32, hounds lead a parade that has in the past included 100 equestrian participants.
A rhythmic four-beat tempo of equine hooves generates a melody of clips and clops that rings out from the Youngs Road pavement.
Horses prance proudly past the onlookers, necks arched and muscles tensed — the sleek Thoroughbred, the towering Percheron, a tiny pony standing hardly three feet in height at the withers.
Riders are decked out in tailored wool coats — red for hunt staff, black for field riders — and tall boots that have been spit-shined and polished with military-style vigor.
My 11-year-old self gazed in awe at the spectacle. I was hooked.
I’ve had the good fortune of riding in the hunt four times since.
My Thanksgiving hunt mornings would begin in the dark at 6:30 a.m. An outside chill of around 30 degrees greeted me as I trudged to the car, armed with black jacket, white turtleneck, stock tie, stock pin, black gloves, black velvet helmet, handwarmers, hairnet, black boot polish and an old rag, riding pants, boots, granola bar, my arms and legs … what was I forgetting?
After an ultra-strength grooming session for my mount — including a minimum of 10 minutes scrubbing manure-stained white legs with bleach — and a final touch-up to my boots, I would stand in front of Mel Wyatt for a final inspection.
Her eyes ran the length of my outfit, mentally checking off items in her head, I’m sure.
“Good,” she said, with a satisfactory nod.
With that, Foxtrack Training Center’s posse of horses and riders — one year there were 15 of us — hacked across the Walthour-Moss Foundation to Hobby Field and take a place in the Youngs Road procession.
The crowd gathered could be almost a thousand strong. Cheers and clapping and cries of “Happy Thanksgiving!” sounded from either side.
As cameras pointed in my direction, an adrenaline rush flowed through me and deposited an automatic beaming smile on my face. I felt like a total celebrity.
Once the local Episcopal priest blessed rider, horse and hound and all voiced a collective “Amen!” the chase — albeit a drag hunt — was on.
The first flight’s return to Hobby at hunt’s end was easily my favorite moment. Horses jigged in anticipation of the coming rush. “Easy there,” coaxed several riders, stroking the nervous animals’ necks.
As the hounds bayed incessantly, the huntsman would suddenly take off toward the final in-and-out — and the field followed at the same frantic pace.
It’s three strides between the two fences, I thought. Steady, and hold for three.
As we approached the first obstacle, however, I could tell the horse underneath me had other ideas. Probably reading my mind and laughing in my face.
My mount launched in the air a stride early, and I jammed my heels down and grabbed his mane for dear life. He put two monstrous strides in the middle, soared over the second jump, and galloped away.
One thing you learn quickly about riding first flight in the Thanksgiving Day hunt is that if the horse in front of you ain’t stopping for nothing, your horse ain’t stopping for nothing.
That’s pretty much the norm. It’s expected.
Flying across that field, the crowd a blur, the wind whipping back in riders’ faces and equine brakes borderline not functional — I, along with several of my friends, treasure these memories.
I’m thankful for the storied Thanksgiving Day foxhunt and the Blessing of the Hounds.
I’m confident many Moore County residents, equestrian and non-equestrian alike, can echo that sentiment.
Contact Sarah Brown at email@example.com.
More like this story
- A Thanksgiving Blessing: Foggy Opening Meet Draws Record Crowd
- 'It's Kind of Unreal': MCH Huntsman Finds His Niche in Sandhills
- Large Crowd Braves Weather For 'Blessing of the Hounds'
- A Thanksgiving Tradition: Opening Meet of the Moore County Hounds
- A Thanksgiving Tradition: The Blessing of the Hounds