A chance encounter

One of the most wonderful aspects about hacking out on a horse is that any wildlife you come across can rarely detect your presence: they see only a horse and a horse is nothing for them to worry about. A fox might nonchalantly cross your path, rabbits ignore you, and you can ride right past a flock of wild geese without causing alarm.

I used to hack my horse, Charlie, in the Wychwood Forest and one memorable morning I took him out very early. We made our way through the woodland and then down a broad avenue of grass, where a light mist surrounded us. It was blissful, so quiet.

As we reached a crossway in the woods I stopped, pondering which way to go, and Charlie waited for instructions. To my right, on the rising ground, I was greeted by the sight of a magnificent stag. He was huge, with a set of very impressive antlers and, because the sun was rising behind him, the shafts of light that cut through the mist silhouetted him and gave him an ethereal outline of gold.

I can assure you that no painting or photograph could ever adequately capture that moment. A completely wild creature was standing less then ten yards from me and it was truly breathtaking. Charlie, who was an old campaigner and entirely bombproof, turned his head towards the stag and they regarded each other with a sort of indifference, neither reacted. I must have sat for some three minutes staring at that beautiful animal until he heard a noise in the undergrowth nearby and was gone, literally, in a flash.

I’ll never forget that encounter, made possible by my dear old horse. It was a rare chance in a lifetime to witness something truly spectacular.

Jan Harvey

April – May 2020