There is nothing to confess. Nothing of Jack Kerouac grandeur, that is. I was the good girl, hyper responsible, the baby-sitter whom everyone called. I read stories to the children, and gave them piggy-back rides. At Christmas parties at my parents’ friends’ houses, little kids surrounded me, begging for attention, while the other babysitters were ignored. It’s not that I liked them, or wanted a household of kids when I grew up. (Here it is: my confession, trickling out despite myself, I suppose.) I didn’t. I always said I hated kids, didn’t have the patience for them, would have to forgo them or else be rich enough to hire a nanny. I just needed money for my horse. My parents paid for hay, but that was it. Everything else was my responsibility. (It occurs to me that many parents pay for car insurance and no more, and my parents were right in line with other parents except that my “vehicle” was a horse.) I paid for grain, shoes, vet bills, show entries, tack and blankets for my horse, membership in the local pony club and drag hunt (no we did not kill any animals), and any other horse-related needs. During Christmas season, I baby-sat six or even nights a week. The rest of the year I averaged four nights a week. But I hated it, or told myself and everyone else I did. I did it only for the money that would grant me the freedom to gallop across country most Saturdays of the hunting season, that would allow me to enter any shows close enough for me to hack to, or to which I could hitch trailer rides with my friends. I rose at 5:30 in the mornings in the winter three school days a week so I could ride my horse in the dark before school just to keep him fit enough for the Saturday hunt. It’s quite demanding, galloping across country for two or three hours straight, over whatever gets in your way, ditch, wall, coop, brush. Hunts that pursue live animals are actually slower than drag hunts because they’re dependent on the cooperation of the beast being pursued. The story was that the Wicklow Hunt caught on average one fox a season, that most hunts consisted of standing around, waiting for the wily creature to show up. And mostly the fox was too smart for the humans. I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t fox hunt, but my avid foxhunter friends tried to convince me it was harmless, that the chances of actually chasing a fox, let alone catching one, were almost nil. (And it’s true that the two or three foxhunts I observed or half rode in — without intent but because it was part of my job — entailed a lot of standing around and false alarms. I never did see a fox).
Drag hunts, in contrast, are set in advance when a bag of some ripe stinky material (usually aniseed oil and meat, I believe) is dragged along a pre-arranged course. Then the hounds and hunters follow, often at great speed, till the end. Horses and riders must be fit as there is little enough time to catch one’s breath, except on stretches of road between fields, if such passage is necessary. It’s exhilarating. I’ve jumped things I can’t imagine jumping now: five foot forestry gates and gorse bushes as wide as a downed horse. I’ve slugged through bogland so deep my horse has been almost entirely covered (try cleaning tack after a hunt in which you and your horse and everything you’re both wearing has been submerged in bogmuck up to your waist). I’ve heard the music of the hounds, of the horn, and watched a retired hunter scream from the gate because he’s being left behind. For both horse and human there’s nothing more adrenaline-making than the bugle of the horn on a brisk fall day. Every pound I earned went into my horse. Every sleepless night was given over in honor of the time we could spend together. And I learned responsibility, discipline, compassion, even the patience I swore I didn’t have, from the animal I had loved since I first saw one at the age of three.
Nothing to confess? I don’t believe it. It’s there, hiding. I just don’t want to uncover it because it’s so mundane, so boring, because I’m the good girl. And yet that’s a cover too, because nobody is really good all the way through. If I unpeel enough, the confession must come. What dirt hides there, in the crevasses, but the skankiest bogmuck, stuck to me down the years since those days hunting? I shall uncover it in time.