Fun hunter paces, on the other hand, don't care what the rider looks like or what tack the horse is wearing. They are typically fundraisers for the hunt club, so the hunt club wants to attract lots of people to give them money. There are three divisions: optimum (or hunt), junior, and pleasure (or sometimes western). The optimum division tends to run more like a competitive hunter pace, and the junior division may as well, but the pleasure division is designed for teams that don't jump or who ride in western tack. The course is the same for all divisions (except for go-arounds for jumps) and the fastest time does not usually win. Instead, an optimum time is either set by the hunt and kept a secret or calculated based on the course times from that day (usually some kind of average).
We've probably done 6-8 of these fun hunter paces over the years, and particularly last year, I really enjoyed them because the courses are usually 5-8 miles over gorgeous private hunt land and the hunt serves a nice lunch after the ride. Most are reasonably close to where I board Nimo and I loved being able to go to a competition, check in, get a ride time, ride, be done in about an hour, have lunch, and head home.
This year, the fall hunter pace series in northern Virginia expanded a little, and I think there were eight different hunter paces offered between mid-September and the end of October. A friend and I partnered for the series and hoped to do as many as we could - not really for points or placings (at least for me, I think my friend might be a bit more competitive!) - but more for the fun of it. Of course, the challenge was fitting in regular conditioning work with the hunter paces, because 5 or 6 miles is really not enough of a ride to keep Nimo in shape, even if there are lots of hills and we trot most of it.
Anyway, I had to miss the first one because of Gemma's birthday, but we picked up the second one, which was hosted by the Bull Run Hunt. I had very much enjoyed Bull Run Hunt's hunter pace last year, and this year, the location was at a place near and dear to my heart - the Locust Hill Preserve (just south of Culpeper).
The very first trail ride I ever did with Nimo (off-property) was at the Locust Hill Preserve. I met three other ladies there from the now defunct Nokesville Horse Society and we rode for about 2 hours over this basically untouched property. I forget how many thousands of acres it was, but it was an amazing experience. I had the chance to ride there one more time before the lady I knew there (who was also the caretaker) retired and moved away. So, I was excited to be riding there again.
|Not the Locust Hill Preserve. Rather I had the presence of mind to get a picture of the morning mist before bringing Nimo in. Can you guess which horse he is?:)|
As our time approached, we tacked up and got on to walk the horses around for a few minutes. Then we checked in with the starter, who said they were behind by 20+ minutes. So we walked around some more and then discovered that the starter had a different philosophy about start times than we did. We thought we would ride based on an assigned time and he thought we would ride whenever he could work us in.
Anyway, once we figured that out, we got in line to wait for our time. As recently as earlier this year, Nimo would have not been super happy to be at an event, be significantly delayed going out on course, and then stand around for 20 minutes. But that day, he stood completely calmly quite close to the start line while team after team went out in front of him. Finally, about two minutes before our start time, he started to get quite alert and let me know he was ready to go!
We started the course a little before 11, I think. By then, the temperature was pretty warm and the humidity was on its way up. We discussed our pace a little as we walked a bit to warm the horses up. The course was only six miles, but the sun felt like it was beating on me and I would soon be fried like chicken.
We opted for a middle-of-the-road approach. We didn't go as fast as the horses were willing to go, but we did do quite a bit of trotting. We felt like our pace was pretty good and the only other teams that we passed or were passed by were competing in the optimum division. Funnily enough, we kept leapfrogging our position with one of those teams, primarily because they were going so fast that they kept missing turns on the course.
This particular course was what I would consider easy, with mostly gentle hills, so the course designer had apparently decided to challenge us in a different way - by inserting seemingly random turns every so often. If we had been going at a faster pace, we may have missed some of the turns too, but the pace we did set was just right so that we weren't dawdling, but we could plan for turns too.
Near the end of the course, one of the teams behind us wanted to pass and requested permission from well behind us. We knew they were there because they had been behind us for awhile, "resting" their horses from a gallop through part of the course. We also knew they would want to pass at some point, so when they asked, it wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise was how calm our horses were when we asked them to pull off the trail and stand quietly while a group of three horses cantered past.
I have to admit that I'd been feeling tired that day and had kind of wanted to get out of the ride somehow to rest, but it was at that moment that I was reminded of one of the reasons hunter paces are such a valuable addition to our schedule. They really allow opportunities to work with horses on passing and being passed at speed and without the additional pressure of dealing with a full 25-mile ride. And aside from one bad experience with poorly behaved riders last year, I've always been pretty happy with the way other teams communicate when we are out on the course.
Our horses finished the course at a trot. They were sweating a bit, which was to be expected because of the heat and humidity, but we did 6 miles in 50 minutes. Which is pretty fast for us:) And it was kind of cool to have been moving out at such a good pace without it feeling like a stretch. As it turns out, the optimum time for the division was an hour and 5 minutes, so we finished 15 minutes ahead of that and didn't place. But I was pretty happy with the way Nimo started the ride, the way he behaved during the ride, and the way he finished. So I called it a success, and after a nice lunch involving delicious sandwiches, yummy desserts, and cold watermelon, we headed back home.