Fishing for Hawke

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by Allison Crews

Day three of the Longreen Foxhounds/Tennessee Valley Hunt Joint Meet, District Ditch, Vance, Mississippi 
On the third day of our Delta coyote safari, Hawke and I rode in first flight to accommodate the fifty plus riders who turned out for the three day joint meet. This group quickly dwindled to a handful after a deep and narrow (don’t look down!) ditch and six slippery sloppy (slide and pray!) crossings. Several hours had passed without much happening in the way of game, but I was overjoyed at my young horse’s ditch prowess.

Suddenly, everything changed when a coyote slipped out of the cover on the opposite side of District Ditch, a man-drained monster with no easy crossing in sight.

With a coyote on the move, I had to see what we could do to help. Mark Harris and Rosemarie Merle-Smith rode up, and I slipped away from the field to join them. 

Rosemarie wisely directed us back to a crossing, but it was far from the view. Huntsmen Susan Walker and Ryan Johnsey had continued along the bank looking for an immediate crossing. They found one, but the ditch claimed them, as well as one of their trusty junior staff, Ani Carruthers. Undaunted, all proceeded to the other side looking no worse for their submersions, so I was oblivious to District Ditch’s treachery. I had not witnessed the crossing – just their confident selves trotting a tight pack of eager hounds to the last place the coyote had been seen. 

Trotting with Rosemarie, I heard Rob Caldwell and his horse cross District Ditch and Rob yell something about the crossing. Their successful crossing was all the courage I needed to direct Hawke to that spot. Rosemarie continued on to the “real” crossing, but we doubled back, slid down one small crossing to get to the main ditch and peered down the bank at Rob’s tracks.

Hawke gently slipped down, down, down the bank and settled into the ditch. To my surprise, the footing was soft but far more firm than I expected – i.e., it held our weight. As Hawke began his ascent up the steep bank, however, several troubling things happened at once.

Hawke’s front legs crumpled in the opposite bank’s mud and his rear pushed forward trying to gain purchase. I slipped from his back to remove my weight to settle him and hope he didn’t panic. Thankfully, he was calm, but continued to try to lunge up the bank. February ditches are cold when they invade armpits, but I was glad he remained calm and I hardly felt the chill. I backed away from him to gain purchase on the opposite side and encourage him up and out of the ditch.

As Hawke heaved upward, I couldn’t get out of the mud, so I pulled him down, around, and back down into the ditch – three times! He circled overhead, then thrashed down into the ditch, and I spun and struggled with him, but eventually he pulled away from me in the creek. He waded calmly back to the side we’d initially slipped down and found a better place to extricate himself.

Thankfully, Mark arrived and had moved into position to collect him, but Hawke climbed out away from Mark and stood looking back at me in exasperation. I swam to the spot Hawke found, pulled myself out on all fours, staggered toward Hawke, gathered his reins, and led him back to the initial crossing, for while I was thrashing around with him, I had seen a better place to cross. Before Mark could convince me otherwise, we plunged back into the ditch. We were already soaked, so why not? And we HAD to get across – hounds were in full cry – or at least they had been – and they’d gone THAT way… 

To better manage Hawke, Mark suggested I tie my whip to the reins and I did exactly that. Now comes the crazy part…
I slid halfway up the bank and planted myself firmly onto (into?) the muddy ledge. Hawke looked at me with a calm but unconvinced eye that I knew what I was doing, and I reeled him toward me like I was playing a trophy steelhead trout with a bamboo fly rod – gentle, steady pressure – giving to him when he pulled away, but steadily trying to “land” him on my side.

My stomach lurched with nausea as I watched him struggle and felt my feet sink further into the bank – no fancy footwork options now – I was stuck in place and hoping for the best. 

He swam/waded/lunged back and forth for several minutes with me gently but firmly playing and guiding him with my entire countenance – every nerve and my entire mind fully concentrating on this ballet of mud, muscle, and madness, steadily focusing on him, ever mindful of his dangerous hooves and huge weight so close to my much smaller body with legs mired in mud to my calves. At last, he plunged up the bank on my side, missing me by inches.

Once on the bank, Hawke turned and stood with his head lowered toward me. I, however, couldn’t extricate myself from the muddy ledge. Heaving and reaching and climbing on all fours through briars and using Hawke’s reins and my whip as light leverage, I finally made it to the top of the bank where I collapsed shaking with adrenaline and relief.
Meanwhile back on the OPPOSITE side, Mark, too, breathed a sigh of relief that no helicopter was required to rescue us from this crazy feat!

And I kept reminding myself: We do this for fun….we do this for fun…
Allison Crews is author of several novels with foxhunting themes. She is an avid foxhunter and often rides sidesaddle at the hunt. Her books include Antithesis, Impasse, and Nemesis. Read more at:

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