Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 1: Nouveau Gentry

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!"
To A Louse
Robert Burns

For much of the past several years a principal focus of my life has been chasing foxes around the Virginia countryside. During that time, I've noticed several clearly definable archetypes that make up the community of fellow foxhunters. I have identified these classic characters as: Nouveau Gentry, Juice Junkies, Falstaffs, False Staffs, Saddle Tramps, Strivers, Posers, Hodads, Hunters Emeriti, and Chasers.

If you've spent any time among those who follow hounds, you will no doubt recognize clearly identifiable personages within this typology. You might also see yourself depicted in one or more categories. To that end, I offer this caveat up front, borrowing a theme from Robert Burns:

I pray no power the giftie gie them

To see themselves as I do see them.

May readers sing the praise that’s due me,

But none get pissed and try to sue me.

We begin with...

Nouveau Gentry

Hard work and not a little luck have paid off. The derivatives were sold for an exorbitant amount just before the bubble burst. So what to do now with all those millions? Move to the country and live the life of one “to the manor born” (even if you grew up in a dreary suburb of Dumpsville, USA). Buy some land and build a house. Those old historic places make lovely B&Bs but, my goodness, all the upkeep: decrepit plumbing, leaky roofs, unsound wiring, drafty windows, rotting joists. So what if the house once served as Robert E. Lee’s headquarters? Or if an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, in Jefferson’s own hand, was found in the cellar? Who needs all that hassle? Just build a new place next door with all the modern conveniences. After all, if you have no history, why should you care about anyone else’s?

But this foxhunting thing…now that looks pretty cool. Say, honey, let’s buy a couple of horses, take some lessons, and give it a try.

This is the wife speaking. And the husband may go along without much complaint, until hunting days start to interfere with his golfing schedule, or after he realizes there’s a lot of hard work, dirt, discomfort, and danger involved.

She continues on though, taking lessons religiously, going through several trainers in hopes of finding one who understands her and teaches the way she needs to be taught. (Read: Trainers keep giving up on her because she won’t, or can’t, do what they tell her. Instead, she reads voraciously about riding technique, argues with the professional instructors over how things should be done, and makes excuses for her own inability to execute even the most basic movements. Then she wonders why the trainer suddenly has scheduling conflicts and can’t keep her on as a student.)

The good thing about foxhunting, however, is that you don’t need much technique. And Mrs. Nouveau Gentry will be found riding in the non-jumping field where the standard of performance is even lower. She’ll go through a few horses that are strikingly handsome and way too much for her to handle before she settles for a chunky gelding, something of the draft cross type, who has the patience to accept her jerking hands on the reins and her slapping ass in the saddle without pitching her off. What he lacks in flashy style he makes up for in solid dependability (not a bad trade off in either a horse or man).

She also finds that involvement in the hunt lends a structure and focus to her newly gentrified lifestyle. She serves with enthusiasm on various committees, organizing social events, fundraisers, the hunt ball, and the point-to-point races. She takes the lead in putting together a booklet of tailgate recipes submitted by the ladies of the hunt.

Meanwhile, the hubby, although tempted, refrains from carting off all his riding attire to the local tack shop for consignment sale. Instead, he concedes to hop on a horse once in awhile and join the missus in the hunt field. That he can do so without benefit of hundreds of hours of lessons and still have a good time is a prickling source of irritation to his lovely wife.

Neither is likely to continue foxhunting much beyond middle age. They do not have the stamina, sturdiness, or ingrained muscle-memory of those who actually were “to the manner born,” those who could lapse into a coma and still sit upright on a horse. Instead, they’ll tire of horses and country living, sell their house and land to the next round of the newly wealthy, and move to an adult community where the living is easy and the golf course is right next door. Among the stuff hauled from their basement, loaded onto the moving van, and never again to see the light of day, is a box of two hundred tailgate recipe booklets.