How a Fox Hunt Brought Me To My Senses

“I have a bad feeling about this,” says Sharon, as we watch ten horse riders and twenty hounds run about excitedly across the valley. “It’s supposed to be a drag hunt, but that feels like they might have got something,” she says.

I’m standing in a field on the edge of Mile Oak Farm in Sussex with Sharon Clifton a silver haired psychotherapist and Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator from Spirit Horse Works.

It’s a grey, damp morning, and the ground is wet and muddy beneath our feet.

I’ve come to see at first hand what Sharon does. I wasn’t expecting this.

We watch as the pack of hounds disappear into the gorse bushes on the hill opposite. Their barks drift over. The hunt leader, resplendent in red hunting jacket, blows his horn several times. The dogs take no notice.

Both of us hope they haven’t found a fox.

It’s my first time at this farm, by chance coinciding with the local fox hunt who’re following a trail down through the South Downs onto the farm’s land. A rare occurrence to see them here apparently.

We step away from Sharon’s office — two camping chairs under a hawthorn tree — to get a better view. Sharon is distinctly uncomfortable. As are her horses Charlie, an older grey, and Alfie, a young black and white, in the paddock behind us.

Alfie and Charlie. Photo courtesy Spirit Horse Works.

Sharon tells me about the work she, Charlie and Alfie do with her clients. “Because they are prey animals, horses are very sensitive and empathic. They’re constantly on the look out for any sign of danger, this makes them sense and feel very keenly what’s going on, in people and the surroundings, to keep themselves safe.”

As we watch, both Charlie and Alfie, and all the other horses in the paddocks for that matter, run about, stand still, then run again, in obvious response to the excitement on the hillside opposite.

They stop now and strain in the direction of the hunt, alert to what’s happening, getting ready to run.

“They’re hyper-sensitive, which makes them excellent reflective mirrors for us. They ‘feel’ us rather than ‘think’ us,” Sharon explains.

Which also makes horses natural born healers. “They’re not interested in what we do, or what we say. They’re just looking for honest and congruent communication…. As long as we do that, they’ll respond honestly to what we bring, and naturally take emotions off us and process them without thinking about the why’s or wherefores.”

And this is where it gets interesting: Charlie specialises in working with people in grief, and Alfie with boundary issues. “They choose to do it, or not,” she replies to one of my many questions.

I watch as Charlie rolls on the ground: “he’s releasing his stress and emotions into the earth,” she says. Horses in other paddocks follow suit.

​Sharon explains more: horses snort, yawn and roll to release emotion (including ours) into the ground, they lick their lips when they’re thinking, graze when they’re calm and are totally in the moment.

I start to make sense of what I’m watching.

We shift our attention back to the hunt. The dogs are still in the gorse. Something bad is happening. Sharon feels it in her stomach. The horses all feel it too. In another field a chestnut runs around in circles, unable to escape its enclosure.

Across the valley a herd of five horses are bunched together straining to see what’s happening. Near them, six black cows are standing together, facing the hunt, also alert to what’s going on. In front, in a tree, two magpies are watching as well.

From our raised vantage point, in that moment, I see the horses, the cows, the birds, Sharon and I all watching together, as a community, one society responding together, alert to the hunt.

​And Charles Eisenstein’s words ring in my head: “When we as a society learn to see the planet and everything on it as beings deserving of respect — in their own right and not just for their use to us… Then will we realize that as we do to any part of nature, so, inescapably, we do to ourselves.”

On the far side of the field, Charlie is licking his lips. “He’s processing our meeting,” Sharon laughs.

And with that, I have to go.

We’re planning to include sessions with Sharon and her horses Charlie and Alfie as part of School of the Wild courses.

Originally published at