Hedge-hopping Hints

My top moment of any Blackthorn & Brook holiday comes just after our guests pull up from a run having encountered their first hedge.  They make a fuss of their horse, turn to me and grin: ‘I see what you mean about sitting up!!’

‘Hedge-hopping’ is a much talked about feature of our holidays.  The subject is met with excitement, trepidation, anticipation, fear, bravado and everything in between as it really is an unknown quantity for the vast majority of our American guests.  We have all heard that there is no substitute for experience.  However, a little preparation never goes amiss, and anything to concentrate on to distract from pre-hunting nerves gets the thumbs up from us.

It is in this spirit that we have put together a short video  and accompanying blog below, explaining a little of how we prepare ourselves and our horses for popping the hedges in style!  This isn’t meant as a concrete instructional guide, but more as a collection of basic principles  that work for us.  If anyone has any questions/challenges/improvements/ideas, we’d love to hear from you!

Starting point

We understand that not everybody has the facilities to school their horse on an all-weather surface and practice over a cross-country course (and neither do we!).  These exercises can be mimicked with very basic drums and poles and the odd cross country fence.  A hedge-like appearance can be given to a fence with the help of some brushwood or similar – the idea is to get used to a ‘hairier’ looking fence.


Meg checks her balance – no need for smart facilities!

Ideas to consider

  • The main difference between jumping a hedge and jumping a rail is that you can’t see through a hedge! This means that often you and your horse don’t know how wide it is, or what is on the other side.  There could be a ditch, wire, a boggy patch of ground or a big drop. 
  • To guard against the unknown, and make sure we stay in the plate:
    • It is often better to ‘attack’ a hedge with a bit more impulsion than we would a rail, to make sure we clear the width of the hedge, plus any ditch.
    •  It is better not to worry about seeing a stride.  An experienced horse will do it for you. (Don’t worry – Blackthorn & Brook’s horses all know their job!)
    • A more upright position (particularly on landing) helps to stop us from being thrown forward on landing.
    • We need to allow the reins to slide through our hands to make sure we don’t jab our horse in the mouth, and to allow him to balance.
Soft hands and impulsion in the practice field - under Grandpa's watchful eye!

Soft hands and impulsion means my horse can really stretch over a hedge in the practice field – under Grandpa’s watchful eye!

Rider’s position

The aim is to remain safely in the saddle without getting in the way of our horse.  We find the following three principles helpful:

  • Legs – Keep them strong around the horse to give him confidence and maintain impulsion, with heels down as always.  It helps to try not to let them creep too far back as you jump, as this will make you tip forward on landing.
  • Hands – ‘Soft’ hands are important so the horse can stretch and stays confident. During any ‘iffy’ moments, it’s good to get in the habit of grabbing the neck strap to keep your balance, letting the reins slide so that the horse can balance himself.
  • Sitting up – Sitting and looking up keeps your weight back, making sure you aren’t thrown forward on landing, should there be any little surprises!
Sitting up and letting the reins slide makes sure y horse stays confident and I stay in the plate!

Sitting up on landing, with legs forward and letting the reins slide makes sure my horse stays confident and I stay in the plate!

The Horse

Any horse you ride on one of our holidays will know his job.  He will also be used to being left pretty well alone to tackle a hedge.  To make his job easier, and to keep safe, we keep the following in mind:

  • Rhythm – It is good to maintain a strong, forward canter into a hedge to make sure you clear its full width.
  • Straightness – As with any fence, it is important to stay straight.  In particular with hedges, it stops you making them wider than they are by jumping on an angle, and if everyone holds their line, it makes sure there are no collisions!
  • Positivity – Riding positively keeps the horse confident – he’ll keep jumping for you all day!

Final Thoughts

The video this blog accompanies can be found below- enjoy! We look forward to seeing you mounted on a Blackthorn & Brook horse, jumping hedges in style with us in the very near future!

10 Inspired Things to do with a Red Telephone Box

Walking through our village this week I noticed that our iconic red telephone box is enjoying a fresh coat of paint and a new vocation. The old phone is long gone to make way for a tiny village library.

Given the threat that these historic red landmarks must be facing from the ubiquity of the mobile phone, it’s exciting to see that people are finding inspired ways to keep the telephone box at the centre of village life. Here are my top-ten ideas for recycling a red telephone box:

1: A Village Library




2: A Local Tourism Office

tourist office phone box

3: A Sofa!

telephone box sofa

4: An Art Gallery

Smallest Art Gallery

5:  A Smokery (thanks Jamie Oliver!)

Smokery Telephone box

6: A First Aid station with defibrillator


7: A Cash Machine


8:  A Loo!


9: An Art Installation:

art_installation10: A Shower Cubicle


Ludlow Hunt Ball 1930 at Croft Castle


The splendid ‘Hure de Marcassin aux Pistaches’ or Boar’s Head stuffed with Pistachios.

In late April I went to visit my Grandmother in Ludlow. Given the bright spring-like weather and Granny’s boundless energy we set off to explore Croft Castle, a fortified country house near Hereford, and discovered a fascinating bit of foxhunting history.


Croft Castle – a building has stood here since the 11th century and current castellated manor since the 14th century. To the left is St. Michael’s Church.

Croft is set on a gentle slope with long-ranging views of Shropshire and Herefordshire. There is an exquisite walled garden, which, given the month, was rich with apple blossom and bright spring flowers. The stables, replete with decorative brass fittings have been restored and the handsome farm buildings are still in use. Mature parkland surrounds the house and is dominated by a triple row of majestic Spanish chestnut trees. One of these is one of 50 ‘Great British Trees’ recognised on the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.


The celebrated Spanish Chestnut


The most engaging part of the visit was without doubt the dining room. Inspired by a menu from the 1930 Ludlow Hunt Club Ball, the National Trust (who now own the property) have put together an exhibit of the grand event given by Lady Margaret Croft.

From the discovery of the menu amongst the personal ephemera of a family member, the Trust appealed to local people through regional papers to track down as much information about the night as possible. A contemporary article from the ‘Ludlow Advertiser’ reported that ‘the arrangements had been excellently made and guests numbered around 250’.

2014-04-29 15.49

The original 1930 menu.

It also mentions that ‘Newman’s Band’ provided the entertainment and parking valets were provided by both the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and the Automobile Association (AA)  .

The menu itself gives an intriguing insight into the party and the social scene of the time. The dishes (provided by Harris’s Caterers of the West, Hereford) are all listed in French – a peculiar fancy of British gourmands to this day! Amongst the treats were Viennese Ham Mousse, Strawberry Bavarois and the splendid ‘Hure de Marcassin aux Pistaches’ or Boar’s head stuffed with Pistachios!


Lady Margaret Croft who gave the Ball.

James and Katherine Croft, who organised the 1930 ball at their ancestral family home. Picture courtesy National Trust.

James and Katherine Croft in full hunting garb. Love the britches! Picture courtesy National Trust.


My favourite details is that ‘au depart’ guests were given fried eggs and bacon and a mug of soup!

As you’d expect the tables are laid beautifully with silver service and each table is lit by a lamp with a hunting scene depicted on the shade. If anyone is wondering whether the event would be more decorous than our raucous hunt balls today, I think probably not: there was a considerable quantity of booze on hand!

The one thing I would have loved to have seen would have been more photos of the night – it would be fascinating to get a glimpse of the great and good in attendance and the fashions of the day.

Hunt balls continued to be held at the castle until the 1960s. Today the Ludlow Hunt still rides across the estate. I feel more than inspired to try and arrange a visit next season – anyone else?


The main gate at Croft.


Plenty of silver to polish on the tables – looks almost as smart as one of our picnics!


Detail of the hunting scene on the lamp.

Riding in Hyde Park

Just to disprove that horse-riding is only for us rural folk. I caught this picture with my phone of a group riding in Hyde Park – bang in the middle of London. 2014-03-16 14.54.30They must be good horses, they were fending off roller-bladers, skate boards, hoards of bicycles and the taxi and police car seen in the photo!


Do you remember jumping your first hedge?

As promised, here is our second attempt at a hedge-hopping film!

It captures something that not many of us have the luxury to have preserved in techni-colour glory: the first time you jumped a hedge.

It’s a big moment, right?

In the case of one of our recent guests however, helmet camera, hedge and Megan’s astonishing capacity to jump on auto pilot all came together and the moment is caught forever.

Lucky she didn’t bin it into the ditch is all I can say!

I know there is still room for improvement on the editing front. Practise makes perfect as they say. At the moment we’re using the basic GOPRO software; if anyone can recommend a more sophisticated program we’d love to hear from you.


Hedge Jumping with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale

We recently decided that a helmet camera would be a great addition to our equipment. The sight of huntsman and hounds is always picturesque and a light-weight camera would give us a great way to share the excitement of the field and some of the extraordinary views of the countryside that one only gets a glimpse of when following hounds.

It just so happened that a day or two after our GoPro camera arrived, the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt had a Saturday meet in the vale country with lots of meaty hedges! Megan bit the bullet, faced some inquisitive looks and questions at the meet and took on the country in fine style!

Here’s the finished video, hedge jumping and all!

This is our first attempt at both shooting and editing a film and we can see there is some room for improvement. Nonetheless we’re really excited about getting out and capturing more footage of the countryside and our riding adventures.

In fact, we’re already working on our second video. Last week we had three guests from Richmond, Virginia join us for their first foxhunting experience in England. Watch this space for footage from their trip!




Visiting the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt

One of the great joys of our sport is that two days are never the same.  Over the past couple of days I have enjoyed two very different meets: the same game, but in two very different settings.

On Saturday we took four horses up to visit the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt at Acton Turville. It was a huge meet amid some beautiful countryside around the Badminton Estate.

Button- sewing and tea-drinking in the lorry - 90 minutes well spent!

Button- sewing and tea-drinking in the lorry – 90 minutes well spent!

We were up early before the long drive, and to make sure our horses were immaculate to fly the Blackmore Vale flag on unfamiliar turf!

Getting ready to go at the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt

My horse looking fresh after his long trip and early start


Polo professional and host at the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt

Polo professional and host Roddy looking dashing in his vintage coat

 It is always strange when visiting that the field so resembles what you are used to at home, just with different faces. We were soon introduced to a number of characters by our host, and managed some cheeky ‘celebrity-spotting’: we spied a couple of England polo players and even one of the masters of The Piedmont Hunt, VA!

162 Horses + 48 bottles of port + several tonnes of sausage rolls = Beaufort-scale catering at the meet!

162 Horses + 48 bottles of port + several tonnes of sausage rolls = Beaufort-scale catering at the meet!

 It was a real privilege to be part of something as grand as this Saturday with the Beaufort.  At one point we galloped for five miles along a drove of ancient turf – perfect going compared with the waterlogged farmland we have down in Somerset and Dorset at the moment.

The Badminton Estate is an amazing place.  You can feel the history – time stands still in the idyllic villages of Little Badminton and Acton Turville. Turning a corner to be faced with the magnificent Badminton House, home of the Duke of Beaufort and the hunt kennels, surrounded by its world-famous cross-country course took my breath away.

The field at the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt

The field canters away from the meet with hounds ahead, just about to enter the first covert

In contrast, yesterday morning’s meet saw 20 mounted followers at one of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale’s smaller meets at Bush Farm, Babcary.

The Blackmore & Sparkford Vale at Bush Farm, Babcary

The Blackmore & Sparkford Vale

I gave the horses a day off and arrived at the meet on foot. Pretty handy as it was between the stables and my office – a five minute drive! I knew nearly everyone on their feet and mounted, and had a good chat (mostly about the previous Saturday with the Beaufort) and breakfast of sausage rolls, ginger cake and port.

The sport was good on both days, viewing hounds streaming away through the Gloucestershire countryside and hearing them speaking well across the fields  on Monday (frustratingly audible from the office) both gave me goose-bumps!

Going visiting makes me really appreciate all that is great about our local pack: knowing the meets and the people; being able to turn up at the drop of a hat to enjoy a sausage roll and a good chat; knowing where to park and who to follow.

Equally, seeing a pack through the eyes of a visitor reminds me of the spectacle of hunting, its history and how lucky we are to be part of this wonderful, timeless scene.

To find out more about the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt see here.

For the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale’s website see here.



Favourite faces of 2013

At this time of year, tradition calls us to reflect on the previous 12 months.  We have had a great year, made particularly special by the people supporting us.  Here are a few of our friends old and new – each with their own strengths!

Deb Norman & Marti Bryant - most hours in the saddle

Deb & Marti (C&R) – the pair that spent most hours in the saddle


Ainsley - smallest guest with the most stamina!

Ainsley – smallest guest with the most stamina

The California girls who brought the sunshine!

The California girls who brought the sunshine

Vicky - muddiest smile!

Vicky – muddiest smile after a days hunting


Mark – most stylish on a proper Irish horse

And many more… Thank you all and Merry Christmas – Roll on 2014!


Ben & Meg






Prize Draw – Michelle McCullagh’s ‘Racing’

This Christmas we’re giving away a copy of ‘Racing’, a collection of sketches by our friend and revered equestrian artist Michelle McCullagh.

Michelle McCullagh Artist

MIchelle McCullaghEquestrian Artist

It’s a first edition, limited to 1000 examples and is stuffed full of her cracking observational sketches from the world of racing.  Not only is the book signed by Michelle, but it has an original sketch inside the front cover too.

Michelle McCullagh

Michelle is a regular sight at racing meets across the country and we also see her frequently out hunting with us with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale. She has the most astonishing eye for the equine form.

Entering the prize draw is easy – simply ‘like’ Blackthorn & Brook on Facebook here or sign-up for our newsletters on the right. You can enter twice by doing both!

You can find out more about her work on Michelle’s website here: http://mccullagh.co.uk/. There are also some wonderful examples of her painting on Holland & Holland’s website.

We’ll be making the draw sometime in the boozey hiatus between Christmas & New Year – so get your ‘like’ in now for a chance to win this lovely book.

Michelle McCullagh

  1. Let us know if you have any questions or leave your details and either Ben or Megan will be in touch.
Please note, throughout our website we use the term fox hunting to mean all of the activities carried out by our participating hunts operating within the constraints of the Hunting Act 2004.