The fall season brings to Northern Virginia an array of equine activities, all of which should be even more enjoyable because of our recent drought-relieving deluge. Racing, eventing and showing are on the calendar for the next several months, but the fox hunters are especially itching to start their season (with cub hunting, for most) after a long summer break--and enthusiastic hunters are finding it hard to hold their horses.

Starting the fox hunting season with cub hunting allows everyone to ease into the season. Most hunts only stay out a few hours when cub hunting and meet early in the cooler mornings during the warm fall days. The horses, riders and hounds are just getting fit at this point, so abbreviated hunts are a welcome outing. For young horses and hounds in their first season of hunting, a brief hunt is often as much as they can handle.

The cub hunting season seems special to local horsewoman Laurie McClary for many different reasons, and each year she is even more eager to resume the hunt. "Cub hunting is the beginning of a whole new season, the start of something I love to do," said McClary, who has been hunting regularly with the Orange County Hunt in Middleburg for the past seven years.

The promise of the season to come is what gets McClary and other hunters out on their mounts during the month of July. The process of slowly bringing a fox hunter back into work can be tedious and time consuming, but with the future hunting season to motivate them, riders find it all worth while.

A more relaxed atmosphere is allowed when cub hunting, with a casual dress code of tweed jackets and ratcatcher shirts. It is a time to catch up with friends who are rarely seen outside of the hunt field and to meet new neighbors and members of the hunt. Most hunt members are as avid about hunting as McClary; it seems to be a certain fever they share. "I'd rather hunt than eat, and I love to eat," explained McClary.

McClary also has a passion for steeplechase racing, where she captured the leading Foxhunter's Timber Rider award in 1998. This means most of her hunt horses double as racehorses during the off season, and all of them have come from the flat track. These finely tuned thoroughbreds can take McClary on some interesting hunts, especially as they get fit to run. She tries to pay attention to the hounds working but is often distracted as her horse races at a fence.

During cub hunting, when the pace of the hunt is slower, McClary tries to take notice of the new entry--the young hounds--among the pack. She will pick out a face in the crowd and try to become familiar and recognize that hound in future hunts. To watch the hounds mature and learn to become part of a hunting pack is what fox hunting is all about.

At the same time, enjoying the countryside and friends to ride with is also part of the hunting game. When the seasons start to change and the leaves turn, there is nothing as beautiful as the Virginia countryside. A casual morning of cub hunting is what every fox hunter dreams about, with the months of formal hunting season ahead.