By Nancy Jaffer, originally posted on http://nancyjaffer.com/it-was-a-perfect-day-in-the-country-at-the-masters-chase/.
There really was something for everyone this afternoon during the Essex Fox Hounds Masters’ Chase at Natirar, the scenic Somerset County park in Peapack.
There were numerous opportunities to enjoy all aspects of a day dedicated to appreciating the country way of life. The schedule included races for the over-50s, the under-50s, the leadliners, riders who wanted to take it slow and those who wanted to go fast, even youngsters who chose to run stick horses rather than their four-legged counterparts.
Natirar was once a private estate. Its name is Raritan spelled backwards; the north branch of the Raritan River flows through the gorgeous property, crowned with the old mansion at the top of a hill.
“The venue is unbelievable,” said Essex Foxhounds Chairman Sally Ike.
“I’ve never been to a venue that is more suitable for something like this, where the racecourse can get laid out, and the hillside parking and the tailgate parking. To have it in this park where people are walking and seeing everything; we had fly fishing demonstrations and vendors here. We’re trying to have it more like a day in the country.”
In case you’re wondering, the name of the event refers to a race led by the Master of Foxhounds, who moves off near the end so her followers can gallop toward the finish line and see which of them is the fastest.
Now in its sixth year, the fun event run for the benefit of the Countryside Alliance is delightfully informal.
Dress ranged from real jockeys’ silks to hunting attire, tweeds and green tutus. The latter was the attire for the winning team in the Foxhunter Relay Race.
Jazz Merton, the joint master of the Essex Foxhounds, had to hustle when she heard people were planning to wear themed garb for the relay.
“I went to the costume box and pulled out the green tutus. It was the only costume I could find four of in my basement,” she explained.
Jazz didn’t think it was hard to ride in the tutus; the difficult part, she observed, was stopping.
“The horses get going,” she noted, which makes it tough when you have to pass the baton. Jazz ran past her target aboard Billie, but then circled back and got it done.
She was pleased with the way the day went.
“It’s a very relaxed open, family-friendly way to enjoy countryside sport. I think the Countryside Alliance is gaining some momentum.”
Jazz cited the work of the other Essex joint master, Karen Murphy, “to focus local attention on the importance of having countryside sport and equestrian activities in beautiful parks and places like this.”
Karen noted most of the amateurs taking part in the racing are Essex subscribers. Essex huntsman Bart Poole and the hounds made an appearance, enchanting the children.
One hound decided that she wanted to be included in the tailgating, stealing a chicken off a table and running away with it. She made a good start on consuming the bird before being apprehended.
Table settings ranged from the practical to the dramatic. Nadia Rosenfeldman had a giant candleabra on her table for a touch of luxury.
“It was a very fun day, beautiful weather,” said Nadia, who came to the event from Bucks County, Pa., to cheer on her four friends who were riding.
Tailgating was a big part of the afternoon at the Masters’ Chase. (Photo©2019 by Lawrence J. Nagy)
An innovation this year was the trotting race (you were eliminated if your horse cantered.) Lynn Jones, a member of the Essex Fox Hounds, won with her 20-year-old mare, My My My Delilah. “I thought my Delilah would be perfect in it because she doesn’t feel any need to go fast,” said Lynn.
“We keep a trot out in the hunting field, even though the other horses are galloping in front of her.”
It wasn’t just her blue ribbon that had Lynn smiling about the event.
“It’s a great family day out there. It’s been perfect weather and with the shopping tent and children’s pony rides, it’s getting better and better all the time.”
She also entered the race for riders over 50, smiling as she finished last on Delilah. The mare saw no reason to go as fast as the other horses, and Lynn saw no reason to push her. Mary Lane won on Denali “who loves to run. When he turns the motor on, he covers ground.”