The 41st annual Opening Meet for the Belle Meade Hunt was unforgettable and perfect according to participants Saturday morning.
"It was one of the best Opening Meets that we've ever had. The weather was perfect," said Epp Wilson, the Hunt's Master of Fox Hounds. "It was so cool and nice for those of us on the horses in the scarlet coats, and it's easier on the animals when they're galloping around hunting. We were very pleased with the day and appreciate the way the community supports the Opening Meet year after year."
The only thing "typical" about the day was the numbers, according to Mr. Wilson. Approximately 100 horses and riders participated in the hunt, with approximately 500 spectators following behind on Tally-Ho wagons.
Mr. Wilson said there is some percentage of new people every year, but there is a larger percentage of repeat customers. Long-time wagon driver, Scott Williams feels like there's no such thing as a first-timer. Mr. Williams spoke from experience, saying this was his 23rd consecutive hunt, and he began driving a wagon when he was 13 years old.
"I love it," he said. "Everybody here is either a repeat customer, or they will be a repeat customer. The people who've been before and are not here are either sick or out of town."
The formal Fox Hunt season runs from the first Saturday in November until the middle of March, according to Mr. Wilson. Hunts take place every Wednesday and Saturday. Belle Meade's Opening Meet is not the typical hunt. Mr. Wilson said it is not uncommon to have 75 horses and riders in a hunt, but the Opening Meet is special because of the Blessing of the Hounds Ceremony and the Tally-Ho wagons.
"There's more for the horses to shy at with the wagons and different colors, balloons or mule-drawn wagons," Mr. Wilson said. "There's a lot on Opening Meet that we don't have on a routine hunt. There's a lot of similarities, and there's a lot of differences."
It was the first Opening Meet for 9-year-old Perry Hicks of Thomson. The young rider said she had ridden in a few hunts before, but the Opening Meet was more exciting.
Her friend, Jonna Hundley of Grovetown, said it was her second opening meet to ride in.
"It's a real adrenaline rush," the 16-year-old said. "Plus, I love the fellowship, and I love the horses."
Those on Tally-Ho wagons this year will have a twist when recapturing their experience. Mr. Wilson said there was an "interesting assortment of minor challenges" with the wagons this year. One wagon had a flat tire and another experienced a broken drive shaft, causing all the riders to "pile cheerfully onto the spare wagon."
Some trees that were blown across the trail during the previous night slowed down some more wagons until they could be cleared with a chainsaw.
"That's part of being out in Mother Nature, and part of the fun of the hunt," Mr. Wilson said. "You just don't know what challenge there's going to be. But now they have more of a story to talk about... It's all part of the memories of the day."
And it's those memories that keep them coming back.
"Once you've been, it's something you never forget," said 13-year-old Meagan Owen from North Augusta, who was riding in her fourth Opening Meet.
More Photos from the Belle Meade Hunt
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Spotted at the Belle Meade Hunt
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