I feel like I was just writing about the start of hunter pace season and now, just like that, it’s over.
We began the season with Old Chatham Hunt Club. A month later we began weekly paces with Wethersfield, Landsmankill Trail Association, Millbrook Pony Club, Locust Hill, and ended it with Rombout.
It was my biggest hope and desire to make it to all six of these which are part of the Hudson Valley Pace Series…and with the help of some amazing friends I did it!
The end of hunter pace season is bittersweet. On one end hunter pace season is the biggest thing I’ve been looking forward to this year. I loved the camping too, but they were mostly spontaneous. This was a season I have been planning for since last fall. On the other end hunter pace season takes a lot of time and work. I have to be much more diligent about keeping my horses fit enough for the work; should be fun…but with my schedule, two horses, and no arena it is not easy.
I work 12-13 hour shifts, drive an hour each way, and my shifts are overnight. I still have to do farm chores, get sleep, and I certainly can’t work them at midnight so I am forced to switch my schedule back and forth; my body often has trouble making the transition. On top of that I have to play with the weather forecast to make sure I’m not riding on the slippery wet grass and clay.
The days of the paces are often eaten up by the event. We rise early and get an early start…we like having our afternoons and we prefer to ride before the ground gets too trampled. The paces are about 1.5 hours drive each way and it’s usually mid-late afternoon by the time we arrive home. After cleaning up the day is mostly gone.
The paces themselves were very enjoyable but several things in my life have been put on the backburner. Now that I have Sundays back I might just sleep in and clean my house!
Before we put away the season here’s a FULL recap of how it went!
#1: OLD CHATHAM HUNT CLUB 09/13/2020
Tiger and I kicked off the Hudson Valley Hunter Pace Series on 9/13/2020 with Old Chatham Hunt Club. This was the first pace of the season and they were pioneering this new world during COVID rules. We had to register days prior and were assigned a time down to the very minute as well as a wristband showing we submitted our COVID waivers. The wristband was pointless and the assigned time was stressful but it all went without a hitch, so they did a fabulous job. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and offered some of the best views of the entire series. For 8.8 miles we wound through the forest and cantered across vast meadows overlooking the mountains beyond. This pace was heavy in uphill climbs and lighter on the jumps. There were several natural jumps low enough for Tiger and I but there were many A-frame jumps that were simply too large for me to fell comfortable tackling. If I could have changed anything I would want them to add a smaller option next to the tall A-frames. Overall we had a wonderful time and came in 11th of the hunt division (of 22 teams).
#2 :Wethersfield Hunter Pace 10/11/2020
Wethersfield put on one of the easiest to register hunter paces of the season. Everything was electronic. We paid, registered, and signed all of our waivers entirely online. Unfortunately there were hiccups and one of the people running the event really seemed to be overwhelmed. She couldn’t get our names right, she lost our emails, lost information that we had already submitted. What I liked a lot, however, was the timers took whoever came to the start first and spaced us out by 3 minutes.
The pace itself was beautiful! The course was 7.7 miles long; we wound along cornfields, through forests, and wandered through a lovely garden with statues. The photo jump was in a wide open lawn on the estate’s property. The first photo jump was downhill at a strange angle but we figured it out. We were lucky because as we continued we came across a few more photo jump opportunities with lots of choices for our skill level. It was a nice cross country field with excellent footing.
I also began using my helmet cam for these paces. It only has 75 minutes of battery life but I tried to piece together some nice clips. My usage of the camera improved throughout the season.
#3: Landsmankill Trail Association 10/18/2020
This year was my third time riding this hunter pace. The first time I rode my trainer’s quarter horse, Chance. I brought Blade last year. This year I wanted to bring Nahe as it was our first hunter pace together. I knew this pace consisted of more natural and inviting jumps. They were usually lower in height and easier for me to be brave over.
Unfortunately as you might have learned I have a bad streak with this pace. The first time I hit a tree after a stone wall. Last year Blade dumped me in a field, and this year I hit another tree going over a narrow but tiny jump within the first 20 minutes. I am extremely lucky not to have been seriously injured and I got back on to finish an otherwise great 8.4 mile ride.
The LKTA pace is a fun one and most years has the best lunch offerings. Unfortunately COVID ruined that lunch for us. Registering was easy enough…we bought tickets through Eventbrite and emailed the forms. The times were first come first served which made arrival and tacking up much less stressful. The people are always so kind and friendly and make you feel at home.
The biggest need for improvement for this pace is the trail management. Year after year we all lose the trail a few times. The markers are faded and hard to see. Some have fallen from their trees. Many times we were jumping and simultaneously looking for where we are supposed to go. The trails have mediocre footing. The jumps have quite a bit of rot. The trail/jumps give the impression that they were maintained once long ago but have been unattended for a while yet the price of the pace continues to rise.
#4: Millbrook Pony Club at Wethersfield 10/25/2020
I really enjoyed our ride at Wethersfield so I didn’t mind riding it all over again. I’m told that the pace is usually different but due to COVID it was identical to the pace we had ridden two weeks before…only run by a different group.
The ride itself was lovely. I really like the views, the jumps, the terrain. There’s a little bit of everything offered at this pace. We even jumped boats (a canoe and a rowboat)! This pace was opened up to two days in order to spread out the riders. Unfortunately our favorite photographer opted not to attend since it was two days. The photographer that did show up charged far too much for me to purchase the photos to share; they were nearly 7-8x what I normally pay and not the same quality photos. You can still view the photos for yourself at https://michaelgallitellimetrolandphoto.pixieset.com/millbrookponyclubhunterpacewethersfield/. We did, however, get photos on our phone and I have improved helmet footage.
As far as improvement goes, this was possibly the most COVID paranoid group. The other paces have run smoothly with us being masked on the ground and volunteers wearing masks. But there were volunteers. Everyone socially distanced well and it all worked out fine. This hunter pace, however, was a complete free for all. No timers. No people at the checkpoints. Nobody. Management wise it was a bit of a crapshoot.
Other paces had ways of accepting documents and payment virtually. I was explained that was not possible since this was a non-profit group…yet there are plenty of ways a non-profit can take electronic funds and having worked for the post office I don’t place a lot of weight on my papers getting there on time for the deadline.
The checkpoint was not manned and I know from watching it first-hand that people didn’t honor the 3-minute hold. The group ahead of us pulled into the checkpoint and left in less than 60 seconds.
Finally I don’t place a whole lot of weight in the results. The course was identical to Wethersfield which had an optimal hunt time of 1:32. Millbrook’s optimal time was 1:05. When I asked about it I was given a rather defensive response that a pair of 50-year olds were the pace-setters and that the footing was optimal. First, I’m not sure what their age has to do with any of it. Second, the ground was in poorer condition after the Wethersfield pace and two days of trampling. Third, to shave off a full thirty minutes? That’s impressive for driving a car let alone riding horses the optimal time of 1:05 puts the pace at over 7 miles per hour…definitely not unheard of or unfair but at that pace I wonder if the “50 year olds” took any jumps or gave their horses breaks. It’s not really my place to say and we schooled some fences anyway so we didn’t plan to be competitive; it was just a little shocking to see such a huge difference in times.
#5: Locust Hill Farm 11/01/2020
Locust Hill Farm may be the most sough after hunter pace in the series. The pace is well run, the farm is beautiful and meticulously maintained, and the jumps are highly decorated. There is so much thought put into each and every jump, I don’t believe they have a single plain jump. In fact, the “plain” jump was decorated with feed bags and Tiger thought it was the scariest jump of them all!
This beautiful pace covers 9.9 miles and boy did we feel them! We wound back and forth and cantered along the powerlines. We jumped across wide open fields and through the woods. We also had three beautifully chosen photo jumps and for once they were closer to the beginning of the race before the horses and riders are too sweaty and tired.
I almost had to pull Tiger up from this pace. At the start of it he was fresh and even started bucking…which is atypical for him. Aside from the bucks and head tossing he moved forward with no issue. I got off at our water complex to check his boots and body. I rubbed his body down and palpated; no heat or swelling, no obvious issues. He kicked out once more after that and it was 100% in protest of having to wait and watch my friend complete a combination. He also become more agitated when we saw a lot of people and their horses. Once we got enough distance and it was just Becky and I he was more himself. I followed up with him that night and the day after and he was still completely sound and normal. I rode him at home and confirmed he was just fine. The boy had some attitude and perhaps his tummy was bothering him despite pre-emptively giving him some magnesium and omeprazole.
Yet another possibility for Tiger’s demeanor is the weather. He was unclipped and the week prior had been very cold. He wore a medium weight blanket the whole week so I almost wonder if he was irritated by this as well. The combination of everything could have been enough to make him so pissy.
Registering for Locust Hill was easy and the times were pre-set but they didn’t appear to be quite as rigid as Old Chatham. We still met our start time to the minute. They only held us 2 minutes between teams (there were 99 teams I believe). The sheer amount of horses and only 2 minutes apart is what I believe led to Tiger’s terrible temperament that day.
In fact, I believe my only critique for this pace was the sheer numbers and timing. At the trailer it didn’t feel like that many people (we leave as soon as we finish). It was fun, and would have been my favorite pace if there was less congestion and my mount behaved more civilized.
#6: Rombout Fox Hounds 11/08/2020
Since Tiger was getting weary of hunter paces I decided to tag Nahe in to finish up our season. Last year Tiger and I had a miserable time at Rombout and I wanted to finish strong. Nahe was slightly out of shape but did fine at LKTA and managed several long rides in the summer. He was never out of work completely but his demands were lower the past couple of weeks. The week prior to Rombout I began focusing on him and let Tiger have some time off.
Nahe is also unclipped. The forecast was going to be above 70°F…almost unheard of in November! All of the horses, even the ones with clips were sweating a lot. We took a lot of walking breaks and I went to the pace not expecting to take many (if any) jumps. Having fun and keeping my horse happy and healthy was far more important.
Rombout is the true finale of the Hudson Valley Hunter Pace Series. It is by far the most difficult extending 9.7 tough miles over several steep inclines and technical jumps. There were many drop fences…Many combinations…and many jumps that were simply too large for me to consider. Even the photo jumps were pretty technical…one a drop stone wall and the other a raised. The first jump looked big and I looked at it. Being honest Nahe skirted tothe right and jumped the bush. Looking at my face in the photos you’ll see I recognized my blunder and laughed it off. He was such a great boy. We took the second jump better, not perfect, but better. I’m certainly proud of how we did.
In a one minute stretch of helmet cam footage we had passed or jumped 12 jumps….a combination with only 1,2,or 3 strides apart from each other. I didn’t ask Nahe to do them all but he did all the jumps I pointed him at. He had a blast even though he was very tired at the end.
When we finished Nahe still had some gas but we were sufficiently tired and ready to be done. It was bittersweet.
The best part? We placed 2nd in the hill toppers division! All season we competed in the hunt and were always slow. Knowing we were going to be slower on this day we entered hill toppers and we managed to place 2nd! I have to say it a couple times because it was such a nice surprise!
COVID-19 really had the potential to spoil our fun this fall. Thankfully the wonderful people who organize these events did what was necessary to make the magic happen and the show go on. We signed COVID waivers, we pre registered, we wore masks on the ground, we took home bagged lunches as opposed to a fun get-together afterward. We arrived, rode, and left promptly.
I don’t like to pre-register. They take your money knowing that things happen in the horse world and you can’t often get your money back. A flat tire, a missing shoe, a sudden lameness. A partner suddenly can’t go and you need a teammate. Bad weather that isn’t bad enough to cancel but bad enough to not want to put yourself and your horse (and your tack) through the misery (or jump during the bad weather).
The Hudson Valley Pace Series is a fabulous concept. Six paces, each in different (mostly) locations and managed differently. They have different rules different management. They are untied by the series. You have the opportunity to win prized by competing in a certain number of paces. You have the opportunity to win prizes for earning the most points through the whole series. Six is a nice number. It’s a small number and doesn’t over-exhaust your or the horse.
If I would change something about the series itself I’d bring back day-of registrations as soon as possible (I understand the COVID issue). I would also have a more coordinated approach to registration. The pace series could establish a more unified registration/payment/coggins/waiver to help alleviate the hassle of the registration process. It was exhausting keeping up with everything every week. I also have noticed several clerical errors so more attention to detail would be better.