British-style, sport-club tradition mixed with a little Canadian horse fun is the best way to describe the Wellington-Waterloo Hunter Pace event.
On a lovely September afternoon, over 30 trailers and 68 riders ascended on a pretty farm in Puslinch, eager to get their horses out on the trail. These horse people are not necessarily ‘hunters’, but they are all horse enthusiasts. The riders arrived in all sizes and shapes, as did the horses. Riders ranged in ages from 10 years and up, men and women, teens and kids, sporting the W-W Hunt insignia, neighbouring hunt club logos, or none at all. One of the largest horses was ridden by the W-W Hunt Joint-Master and Huntsman, Patricia VanEsch-Dussault riding Dutch; a tall, athletic Warmblood. The smallest pair was a little white Shetland pony, (not much bigger than a mini horse) ridden by a young girl who trotted right along with the bigger horses and looked to be every bit up to the challenge. One of the organizers shared: “Any horse with four legs is welcome. We see a wide range of breeds, including Warmbloods, retired Thoroughbreds, mixed breeds and ponies. Western horses and riders are welcome. The common theme is a love of riding outdoors.”
The Hunter Pace is just one of the various sporting and social events offered by the Wellington-Waterloo Hunt. It involves a timed ride over a pre-determined course and includes mixed terrain and various jumps. The course is ridden without the aid of hounds, but takes into consideration additional timing as if the hounds were present; thus determining the gait and pace between points. The “pace time” is pre-set by the Hunt Master; those getting closest to this time are rewarded with ribbons and prizes.
Virginia Buchanan-Smith is a long-time member, former club Honorary Secretary, former Canadian Pony Club president and a strong supporter for the W-W Hunt for over fifty years. She and her husband Jock Buchanan-Smith, a former Joint-Master seldom ride now but take great joy in seeing the sport continue and encourage and support new members getting involved. Mrs. Buchanan-Smith and long-time club member Anne Peace were active at the recent Hunter Pace event, prepping lunches for the riders to be collected as they returned from completing the course. Other guardians of the Hunter-Pace, Rose Graham and Carl Cook watched nearby and encouraged the riders as they took off and returned from the course. Mr. Cook and his wife Carol lease the boarding space for the hounds and the property owner of this particular event. The event was organized by club board member Robin Hall who spent many hours along with her team of volunteers to get the site and course ready. Announcing the riders was Paul Sherman MFH (Master of the Fox Hounds), the longest serving of the four Joint-Masters of the hunt. All are volunteers as is the entire board of directors, headed up by the club’s president, Dr. Paula Dupuy DVM.
Says Sherman: “I’ve been a W-W Hunt club member for 26 years and served as Huntsman for 12 years. I was first introduced to this sport as a Pony Club member in England. My background with horses includes stable and riding-school work. I really enjoy the sport and social aspect of the club, and it’s a great way to get be outside with horses and to be engaged in our local community. Patricia VanEsch-Dussault, our current MFH, does an exceptional job of training and working with our foxhounds.”
The W-W Hunt has been riding with hounds since 1965. They are a not-for-profit organization comprised of horse owners and riders who are dedicated to riding outside in nature. It is a group sport, called Riding to Hounds, modelled after the English-style hunting sport. The hounds are integral to the sport; they run as a pack, noses to the ground and bark and bay (called speaking) in full voice when they find the scent. The Wellington-Waterloo Hunt is a ‘drag-hunt’, where foxhounds chase after a dragged fox scent. This eliminates the live-hunting aspect of chasing down an actual fox. The hounds are guided and directed by the Huntsman who uses voice commands and a horn to direct them in the correct direction or the set trail. The Huntsman and hounds are followed by the main group of riders. The riders are guided by the Field Master; an experienced horse person who is familiar with the terrain who leads the riders over jumps and varied terrain in fast pursuit after the ‘speaking’ hounds. It is said that ‘the louder the music, the stronger the scent.’ For beginners to the sport, there is the option of ‘Hilltopping” which is managed by another Field Master and is a great option for those who do not jump or prefer a less challenging ride. As a drag hunt, there is no quarry or live animal caught, and at the end of each drag, the hounds are rewarded by finding food treats. To conclude the drag hunt, the Huntsman blows his horn to let any slower hounds, the whippers-in (experienced riding members who help control the hounds, keeping them in bounds) and other riders know that the hounds have run a successful drag hunt.
There is a dress code for members, requiring formal dress after Labour Day. Red coats for Masters and Staff (Huntsman, Whippers-In) and Gentlemen members who have been awarded hunt colours and buttons. Ladies and non-members wear black jackets with hunt colours and buttons. Guests may wear either dark jackets or tweed hacking jackets knows as ‘ratcatchers’. The red coats are a tradition, believed to derive from the 1800’s British officer uniforms, who used hunting as a means of honing their riding skills and keeping their horses fit. Some hunts have different colours; eg. In Ireland most hunts wear green instead of red.
During Spring and Fall, the W-W Hunt goes out on Wednesdays and Sundays, and welcomes new members of all riding levels, ages and guests are welcome. The club hosts events about 40 different meets at 10 different locations over the year, but this can vary. Support members (non-riders) can get involved as Road Whips (directing riders, hounds and safety detail), hound care and training, pub nights and other social events. For more information, please visit their website at www.wwhunt.ca.