Fox hunting is a unique sport that is still practiced in Ireland today as a means of pest control and fun for hunt club riders. According to Wikipedia, “Fox hunting originated in the 16th century in the form which was practiced legally until 2005 in Great Britain, but it also takes place all over the world, including in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, and the United States” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_hunting). The hunt takes most of a day and often has varying terrain, from fields to forest, fences to jump and small rivers to cross. Both youths and adults enjoy the cross country riding as a chance to practice their riding skill and train their horses. I’ve been told that local farmers will sometimes call the hunt club when they have a pesky fox in their fields as foxes often kill chickens and have even been known to harm small cattle and sheep from time to time.
Recently while out for a drive, my husband and I came across a hunt in progress. We slowly pulled the car off to the side of the road as a group of approximately 50-75 horses with riders came trotting towards us congregating in front of a gate beside the road just ahead of us. After a few minutes of watching we drove on passing more riders as we went until we came upon the huntsmen in their bright red coats, white pants and black riding helmets. One of the men blew a horn and several hounds came bounding out of the bushes to our left, a few minutes later more hounds appeared. We didn’t stay long enough to see whether they actually caught a fox or not, but it looked as though all the riders were enjoying themselves despite the wind and rain. I didn’t notice very many other cars stopping for pictures, which tells me that this is not really anything out of the ordinary for Ireland, but for me it was a unique and special occasion that made me feel like I was back in time in another world where people rode horses and buggies, drank tea in fancy dresses and didn’t spend most of their time in front of a television or computer screen; yet another unique experience in a unique country.
Here is informaiton on a local hunt and pony club in County Laois: http://www.laoishuntponyclub.com/