By Neil Lucas. Photos by JJ. Kaplan
On a cool and crisp December morning, I attended (not participated in) one of Traders Point Hunt Club’s (TPHC) many winter hunts. For those of you not familiar with the TPHC, it is a registered fox hunt located on Hunt Club Road that is dedicated to the sport of fox hunting (although they do not hunt live foxes).
Naturally, I was dazzled and amazed at the majesty and beauty of the hunt. To see over 25 hounds and over 30 riders galloping through the farmland west of Zionsville and to hear the sounds of the Huntsman’s horn on a cool December morning is quite an experience; just look at JJ Kaplan’s marvelous photos. The Walter Mitty in me imagined what an adrenaline rush it must be to participate in this incredible sport with the horses and hounds traveling through woods at nearly 40 miles an hour.
After the hunt, I spoke with Tom Santelli, President of the TPHC, about the hunt, TPHC and what it would take to realize my inner Walter Mitty and actually participate in the hunt. I assumed, incorrectly, that it would be impossible because it surely must require years of riding experience. To my surprise, Tom said that with two to three lessons a week for about six months, I could be ready to ride with the hounds for next year’s hunt.
I explained I have almost no experience on a horse, and I’m not exactly a young man (57
years old). Not to worry, Tom assured me that it was possible. Tom said that he has ridden with a man who was 92 and a woman who was in her 80s (jumping four strand barbwire fences).
Pat Righter started hunting in 1973 at the very young age of 36. She is one of two Masters of the Foxhounds (MFH), actively rides in the hunt and holds the important role on staff as a “Whip or Whipper-In” (a person during the hunt whose function is to assist the huntsman and direct the hounds).
Later on, I spoke to another member of TPHC, Kris Crossley, who confirmed that he did in fact begin riding in the hunt in his 40s after taking lessons for six months with no prior riding experience. Kris was “encouraged” by his wife Gloria who had ridden from an early age, and he now loves the hunt. Importantly, each new member is assigned a “sponsor” for their rookie year to help guide them and explain the intricacies of the hunt.
Won’t I be required to buy a horse immediately? ‘Not necessarily’ was Tom’s response. Surprisingly, you can actually rent or lease a horse for the hunt season. Eventually you may want to own your own horse. Tom said the cost of horses that are ridden in the hunt can vary wildly. Some horses cost as little as a few hundred dollars while some are tens of thousands of dollars.
The great thing about the TPHC is that for a reasonable monthly fee, they will board your horse on the grounds. Being a member of TPHC gives you not only the privilege of riding in the hunt but also access to an indoor riding arena and the trails of the Wild Air Farms Hunt property throughout the year.
As I spoke to Tom and several other members of the TPHC, their focus is surely on the hunts, but almost equally important to them is the terrific social atmosphere of the TPHC. As my wife and I can attest by our attendance at the TPHC’s “Cropper Party” last winter, TPHC members are a warm and welcoming group of comrades who love horses, hunting and having fun.
Throughout the year, the club has social events such as the Murder Mystery Ride, the Hunt Ball, the Blessing of the Hounds, the Croppers Party, a New Year’s Day party after a hunt and summer rides through the hunt territory. In the summer, you can join Tom (President), Pat Righter (MFH Master of the Foxhounds) and Jason O’Neal (Huntsman) and other members as they walk the hounds through the Wild Air Farms and work on training the young hounds for the next year’s hunt.
The hunt is made up of three groups of riders based on experience and riding ability. The novices who are called the “Chasers” normally ride in the rear of the hunt. As you gain experience, you can move up to the “Hilltoppers” and eventually join the “Field.” During a hunt, each group has a leader to oversee the group. If your dream is to have one of those snazzy red coats that bring such dignity and eloquence to the hunt which is called receiving your “colors”, you must ride in at least 25 hunts, participate in trail clearing and territory development and host one of the events and a tailgate or two.
I asked Tom what it is like to be in the hunt. He said one of the great things about it is that your mind is totally committed to the hunt. Unlike at the golf course or many other sports, there is no time for cell phone conversations or multitasking.
In addition, Tom noted that he enjoys the fact that every hunt is different. Changes in wind direction, ground and weather conditions or the mood of his horse can have a major effect on each hunt. But most of all, Tom loves the rush of adrenaline he gets when the Huntsman blows the horn, the hounds are in full chase mode and he is surrounded by a pack of horses sprinting at full gallop across the field or when he’s about to ask his horse to take an exceptionally difficult jump.
As I discovered, age, money and experience are not the huge barriers to participating in the hunt that I once imagined. If you have ever dreamed of seeing yourself upon a horse riding in the hunt, contact Tom Santelli or another member of the TPHC, and they will be happy to talk to you about making your dream come to life.