Maley Coombs, 33, has traveled a long way from her hometown of Gig Harbor, WA, a city of roughly 7,000 residents on the Puget Sound. She traveled east to further her upper level eventing career, living in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida before finding herself in Peapack, NJ, where she recently started her position as First Whipper In for the Essex Foxhounds. Maley is decidedly pleased with the smaller snake population in New Jersey.
e-Covertside: How did you become involved in hunting?
Maley: I began foxhunting while living in Virginia, but it wasn't until I moved south to the Florida Georgia line that I began working in a staff position made possible by Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Wood III of Live Oak Hounds.
I come from a strong eventing background, having competed at the upper levels for 15 years before I started my career in hunt service. I enjoyed eventing and met some wonderful people, trained with some fantastic trainers and got to travel all over the world. I started fox hunting while living, training and working in Virginia. I used fox hunting for horse fitness as well as I had a few part time jobs hunting horses for people. Eventing gave me a solid base in crossing the country and a huge amount of knowledge in horsemanship and stable management. I use this knowledge in my current job, running the horse side of things here at Essex.
e-Covertside: Name three things you never hunt without.
Maley: I always have a pocket knife, compass and a list of hounds out that day.
e-Covertside: What makes your territory unique? What types of modifications have you made for this territory compared with your previous experience? What are your goals?
Maley: I just recently moved to the Essex territory, which is a beautiful part of the country with rolling hills and large horse estates encompassing a section of the Black river 45 minutes outside New York City. It is vastly different from the territory down at Live Oak. I have swapped quail woods and swamps on mostly flat land for sporadic thick woodland and green hills with plenty of fence line to jump. The biggest difference is the amount of roads up here compared to the massive amounts of acres down at Live Oak with much fewer roads and traffic.
I learned a lot from the staff and masters during my time at Live Oak that I greatly appreciate and will apply to my new position. My future goals are to keep gaining knowledge and experience in this career and make the most of it that I can
e-Covertside: How has your participation in the MFHA Professional Development Program helped you as you forge a career path?
Maley: I am currently enrolled in and set to graduate the Professional Development Program at the end of May. I have enjoyed my time in the program, and the syllabus that was made available is wonderful. The many benefits of the program are the networking and introductions that are made, as well as the mentorship you receive from program heads Andrew Barclay, Tony Leahy, and Dennis Foster. I was very excited when the Woodses suggested my applying for it and their support while I participate.
e-Covertside: What characteristics do you appreciate about your colleagues?
Maley: There are just two of us here at Essex, Bart Poole and myself. Bart is the new huntsman and mainly looks after the kennel and what we refer to as "the blue team jobs". I manage the stables and equipment, as well as help out in the kennels when needed. It’s very much a team dynamic. We help each other whenever and wherever we need it. Bart is one of the hardest working people I've been around, not to mention he can pretty much fix anything and is really fun to work with; he always has a smile and great outlook.
e-Covertside: What is one of your most memorable experiences hunting?
Maley: During the past season we were out hunting around Lake Fontaine in Live Oak territory and the hounds ran into a swamp head. They started speaking as I was standing on the outskirts of the surrounding brambles. Mrs. Wood was nearby to me, and she remarked that she heard a hound in pain. I dismounted and went into the swamp on foot. We decided the best idea was to try and get the pack out of the swamp so I was joined by two other whippers in to call them out. We were all back in the swamp when I noticed a hound caught in the reeds with just his head above the water. I called to him and I could see he struggled to free himself with no luck. It was one of my favorites in the kennel, Jefferson, and I knew if he could he would come to me no problem. I swam out to him and untangled him from the reeds and carried him to the edge of the swamp. He wasn't acting well and we soon discovered he had been bitten five times by water moccasins and had probably been stuck in the nest! We quickly got him loaded up and straight to the vet. He was in there for about 5 days but pulled through. I am TERRIFIED of snakes, but you forget your own fears when you see one of your buddies in trouble.
e-Covertside: Chevy, Dodge or Ford?
Maley: Ford girl. Always have been, always will be.
e-Covertside: What is the best concert you’ve ever attended and why?
Maley: The best concert I have ever attended hands down was a Paul McCartney concert a few years ago. My mom and I sat 12th row, center, with 65,000 people in attendance. We had an extra ticket so there was an empty seat between us. What made this concert absolutely magical was it was the first time I had seen my mom smile in six months. The Beatles had always been one of my dad's favorites. My dad had passed away six months before this concert, and having the empty seat, listening to some of his favorite songs live we just both knew he was there, sitting in-between us and singing along.