Global warming strikes your hardy crew once again. Our Jaunt for the day not as Jaunty as it sometimes has been.
Today was one of the two (twice yearly) point-to-point races that occur in Loudon county on two large ex-plantations, one in the spring (Oatlands) and one in the fall (Morven Park). It's said that the local hunting groups cannot hunt because it's time for the foxes to breed, and during this season time, these groups put on a show for themselves and others. They take horses they have bred to race, hire jockeys and race them over the course of an afternoon. We last went to Oatlands for a meet (as it's called) in April 2010, A Trollopian Sunday Afternoon.
Hablot Brown (Phiz), Can You Forgive Her?: Edgehill meet
Unfortunately, this time was not as much fun or interesting or exciting as the previous times.
We did have our gourmet picnic lunch bought from Whole Foods, washed down with champagne. We did sit and relax in a large great green meadow under a tree and we did have a couple of good races. But therein lay the trouble. Only a couple. Most of the time we were watching non-races. So to speak.
Usually the meet has a race every half hour and for the most part at least 4 horses run. This year only one race had more than 3 horses, one around 3. All the others had either 3 or 2 or (ludicrous) 1: when there's one the horse just needs to walk part of the course and is declared the winner. Of one of these 2 horse races, the two went out of sight and one of the horses "pulled" and threw his rider, so it became a spectacle of one horse having really to do all the prescribed rounds. Then when it was over, not only did a Vet have to be sent, but some sort of examiner as the thrown jockey accused the winner of pushing him or his horse off-course.
Before each race, the custom is to bring all the horses into the paddock. To parade them round and round. This year there was hardly any of this. They came out late and were hardly there at all to watch. There was also less reason to watch closely as there was no bookie. He was sadly missed by us at least. It's not that the admiral likes to lose money (he says the guy is a thief), but that when you bet you become involved. The bookie standing there attracts a crowd, many of the people betting watch the horses with personal interest: which one should they bet on. They read the pamphlet's information on each horse, but they also look at the particular animal. While this is going on, people talk to the jockeys and owners and stable people. Hardly any of this happened.
I saw some young adults I thought were maybe jockeys watching the races from the meadow. I asked one young man if he was a jockey. He looked it: short, thin, yet muscular and dressed in tight pants and t-shirt with strong leggings around his knees. Yes he said; he was irritated because he had come for nothing. He was told to come and he would be paid for the race for the day. (So this is the way some jockeys are paid.) When he arrived, his horse was "scratched" (from the list). So had the others jockeys been -- two young women.
What happened? I asked another man, older, with binoculars, whom I found myself standing with in the meadow. He told me (I have no idea with what reliability) that the winter's mildness had led to a very hard ground and this made it harder for horses to run. Their hoofs were troubled and there were blacksmiths called for, vets. Global warming, that's what? The bookie didn't show up because he knew the horses would be scratched. The admiral said the bookie does not take bets unless there are four horses in a race.
On the way there we were jolly and talking a lot. The drive used to be through lovely unspoiled countryside; now just the last couple of miles or so are that way. Most of the land until near the plantation is now under development (as they say). Malls are springing up; housing developments with houses beginning in the $500,000's (!). Developers will not build small houses and to afford such monstrosities as they are willing to build one must buy far out from DC. A centripetal force is set up as people drive long hours to and fro and are in their communities only at night and in the morning and weekends.
I was thinking to myself still about Trollope as a Silver fork novelist and thinking that for all my protest against it, here was I connecting these point-to-points with Trollope.
John Everett Millais, Orley Farm, Monkton Grange (a meet),
The admiral reassured me, not. We were not the people in the expensive tents on one side of the meadows where individuals and groups can pay in the couple of hundred for a group and proportionate for a family. Those were the hunting groups, the silver forks. No we were more like Jorrock in his Jaunts -- taking time off from the city to join in for $5 a head. As were all the other people in the middle of the meadow with us.
I remembered then that it was only for two short intervals of Trollope's life that he kept horses and could take a horse to a hunt. For most of his life he got up on his days off work when they coincided with a hunting day; after the 37 years at the post office, he had only to take a day off from writing novels. He left at 4 am in the morning on a train to wherever. Once there he rented his horse. In his pro-hunting sketches he describes people who rent as below in class those who own but welcomed fully. In the novels such people are to the side and whenever a novelist named Mr Green joins in (a name Trollope liked to use for himself in his short stories), he is a clutz, falls off his horse, may be laughed at. Nonetheless, Trollope argues that one function of the hunt is to bring people of all classes together. He was not speaking as the aristocrat running the event but the man from the city allowed to join in. He does not show this but other novelists show the people coming along for the day have pretensions rather like the commercial men Trollope parodies in in Orley Farm.
Millais, Orley Farm: "There is nothing like Iron!"
Yet I'd have to say it's true most of Trollope's readers would probably identify him with the horse owners, horse-hunt people because those are the heroes and heroines of his novels that he presents going hunting. Like Austen he writes of characters above him in class.
Bringing in the warm part of the year, and it's been much hotter this past March than it used to be ...