William Woods University equestrian students traveled to Afton, Va., during the fall semester at the invitation of best-selling author Rita Mae Brown. Most recently, Brown wrote “Cat of the Century,” which is set on the WWU campus.
She was on campus in May for a book-signing and to be the commencement speaker. At that time, she invited the students to join her in a fall fox hunt.
Laura Ward, assistant professor of equestrian science, and Colleen Harper-Hertzog, a WWU alumna who remains active in equestrian circles, accompanied 15 students on the trip.
Ward commented, “As guests of the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club we were given an opportunity to experience a whole new world steeped in tradition and in admiration of the horse.”
Participating students were Elizabeth A. Cato, Grapevine, Texas; Katie Chott, Columbia, Mo.; Heather M. Cieszynski, Warrenville, Ill.; Erin L. Crooks, Clinton, Mo.; Danielle N. DiGuida, Chesterfield, Mo.; Stephanie E. Fisher, Coppell, Texas; Jacque M. Franco, San Diego, Calif.; Jessica E. Hill, Burtonsville, Md.; Angela S. Hurteau, Ozark, Mo.; Ashley D. Martin, Belvidere, Ill.; Jenna L. Martin, Valley Center, Calif.; Meghan N. Plum, Polo, Mo.; Indrani N. Sardelli, Las Vegas, Nev.; Melissa M. Smith, Fort Myers, Fla., and Keriann C. Walsh, Old Bridge, N.J.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I will never forget it!” said Cieszynski. “I went because I felt this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would not only test my riding skills, but would be a fun, horsey mini-vacation! And I was right on both counts!”
Franco, who experienced a fox hunt for the first time, said she enjoyed everything about the trip.
“Being in Virginia … the whole experience was amazing. I had never really done anything like it before,” she said.
Some of the WWU students rode Brown’s horses and some rode the horses of other members of the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club. The horses were all different breeds, colors, ages and experience levels.
“We rode across Rita Mae’s beautiful and expansive property and the property of neighbors. We went across all kinds of terrain: lots of steep inclines and declines, tight quarters in the woods and open fields on the top of a hill overlooking the mountains,” Cieszynski said. “We even got chased by a few stray cows!”
She explained that during modern-day fox hunts, the hounds do not hunt to kill; they simply follow a scent. When the hounds caught a scent, they would howl and take off with Brown (the hunt master) right there with them and then the rest of the riders would all take off in pursuit.
The students rode for about two hours and then headed back to the barns to take care of their horses.
According to Cieszynski, the terrain was a bit more challenging on Saturday.
“We were not always on a trail and the up and downhill was steeper, but everyone managed just fine. We also got to jump.”
Cieszynski said everything about the trip was perfect.
“It was unlike any other riding experience in my 18 years of hunter/jumper riding. If I ever have an opportunity to go fox hunting with these wonderful people and horses again, I will jump on it without any hesitation.”
Members of the Oak Ridge Fox Hunt Club and William Woods University hunter/jumper students enjoy a fox hunt on a fall day in Virginia.
Fox hunting on a beautiful day, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a spectacular view.
Best-selling author and hunt master, Rita Mae Brown, speaks with William Woods University equestrian students (left to right) Heather Cieszynski, Meghan Plum, Liz Cato, Ashley Martin, Stephanie Fischer and Katie Chott.
William Woods University equestrian students visiting Cismont Manor Farm in Keswick, Va., pose with Roy, the Clydesdale that kicked the field goal in one of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercials. They are: left to right, front row, Jen Martin, Danielle N. DiGuida, Melissa Smith, Heather Cieszynski, Katie Chott; back row, alumna Coleen Harper-Hertzog, Jacque Franco, Meghan Plum, Indy Sardelli, Liz Cato, Ashley Martin, Stephanie Fisher, Keriann Walsh, Jessica E. Hill, Erin Crooks and