By Nancy Jaffer
November 23, 2017
It’s a tradition that began when Jacqueline Kennedy, the charismatic former First Lady of the U.S., would ride out with New Jersey’s Essex Foxhounds on Thanksgiving. The interest in her and her family was intense. As one Essex veteran told me, “photographers were hanging from the trees” when she appeared on the scene.
Word got around. Eager to catch a glimpse of Jackie, people started coming to the Thanksgiving hunt to gawk. While Jackie stopped riding with Essex decades ago and died in 1994, the custom continues.
Today, as always, hundreds converged on the elegant Ellistan estate in Peapack, N.J., to watch the hunt gather before it headed out across the green fields of Somerset County.
Those who come to the property take photos and videos, tailgate, toss a football and generally enjoy an hour or two out in the country before heading off to their dinner.
Some have never been close to a horse, and are fascinated by watching sleek mounts and their well-turned out riders.
For horse-savvy locals, it’s a time to see old friends, chat with pillars of the equestrian community and discuss who’s riding which horse.
It’s also a time to appreciate open space in the most densely populated state in the union. Essex is part of the community, an example of countryside sport, and how closely riding and horses are involved with land preservation.