BY ALLISON MALENFANT
I was introduced to foxhunting for the first time in the summer of 2021. As a fan of hunter paces, it was something I was keen to try, but I didn’t know a lot about the sport. I decided to attend my first foxhunt through Manhattan Riding Club (MRC), a New York City organization that offers high-quality riding experiences and training opportunities to city equestrians. I later took my own horse to Monmouth County Hunt’s introduction to foxhunting clinic for a more thorough crash course for the both of us, and we’ve now attended several hunts throughout their current season. I’ve come to truly enjoy and appreciate the sense of community and merriment that accompanies wonderful riding.
So when MRC listed a five-day trip to South Carolina for the Lowcountry Hunt club’s annual Hunt Weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to see what an event like this is all about. Ten riders from the club flew to Charleston to meet up with Ericka Rose of East Durham, NY, who shipped 12 horses down south for the week. We went straight from the airport to the stable where we met our horses. I was paired with a wonderful, fearless Canadian Cheval mare named Stevie. We took it easy on the first day, just schooling a little in the ring and popping over a few jumps as we got to know our horses, followed by a walk around the property.
The second day of our trip was truly spectacular. We took the horses about an hour and a half away to Hunting Island State Park, where we spent three hours introducing our horses to waves and ocean water, taking long gallops, and jumping over fallen pine and palmetto trees in the “boneyard” – an area of maritime forest brought down by the intrusion of saltwater over many years. We finished the afternoon with a lovely picnic before heading back to the stable.
One of the most fun events of Hunt Weekend is the Thursday night kick-off oyster roast and shrimp boil, located at Coosaw Plantation on the banks of the Ashepoo River. The scene of fire pits and feathered hunt hats under the moon and stars was further enhanced by the abundance of Southern hospitality as the Lowcountry Hunt masters made their rounds to personally welcome and get to know their guests.
On Friday, we geared up for our first hunt of the weekend, an informal afternoon hunt at Oaklawn Plantation. We felt like we were in a dream as we approached the pre-hunt breakfast, walking through fields of giant live oaks blanketed in Spanish Moss. After a catered meal and some libations, we mounted up and joined a large field of about one hundred thirty horses, which would be split into four flights. Oaklawn plantation featured large open fields, water marshes, and hardwood forests that offered breathtaking views with every turn.
One of the wonderful things about Hunt Weekend is that each hunt is in a new territory, so we were able to see so much of what the Lowcountry region has to offer. Saturday’s formal hunt was located on Big Survey Plantation, a sprawling family-owned plantation boasting ten thousand acres of beautiful timberland. We were sent off with a “stirrup cup,” or a parting cup given to riders prior to a traditional foxhunt. This hunt was fast-paced and three hours in length, covering many miles through endless pine trees as we followed the hounds. While the territory was very different in appearance from Oaklawn Plantation, I would argue it was just as scenic. We came in around one o’clock to a traditional hunt breakfast full of great conversation and good cheer.
After taking our horses back to the stable and taking care of afternoon barn chores, we gussied up and donned our best cocktail attire for the evening cocktail party and silent auction at the Historic Bedon-Lucas House in Walterboro. A menu of heavy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar kept us well-fed as we mingled and browsed the extensive display of auction items. From hunt club capping fees to vintage apparel and accessories to baskets of horse care products, there was no shortage of items to bid on. It was a friendly crowd and we met many attendees who have been coming to Lowcountry’s Hunt Weekend from all over the Eastern Seaboard year after year with their horses, friends, and family members in tow.
We went to bed Saturday night with what was to be a “misty” morning in the forecast for Sunday. We woke up instead to a downpour. Not to be deterred, our group made its way to the stable and then to Ravenwood Plantation, where we saddled up for the second formal hunt of the weekend. I co-own an equestrian clothing brand called Redingote, known for a warm and waterproof women’s coverall. I’ve never been so happy to have packed it as I was while preparing for this hunt!
When we were ready to head out, we noticed that the weekend field had dwindled from over one hundred riders the two previous days to about fifteen. It may have been wet and cold, but we still enjoyed a unique hunt experience in a stunning location with an intimate group of riders, all keeping a genial disposition through the less than ideal circumstances.
Funnily enough, just as we arrived back to the trailers, the rain finally stopped and the sun came out. We untacked and loaded the horses for the last time, changed into dry clothes, and made our way to the breakfast where we warmed up with southern classics like shrimp and grits and cornbread. We slowly said our goodbyes, packed our soaking wet hunt clothes, and made our way to the airport to return to New York.
As we sat in the airport bar over glasses of red wine, we recounted the many highlights of the trip while plotting our return to Hunt Weekend next year. It’s easy to see why this event has become an annual tradition for so many. And over my first season of foxhunting, I’ve come to learn it’s the kind of community where you never meet a stranger – just friends you haven’t spoken to yet.
Allison Malenfant is a rider from Brooklyn, New York. She boards her horse in Colts Neck, New Jersey and is a co-founder of the equestrian clothing brand REDINGOTE.