Why go hunting?

Hunting is exciting, a sport for the horse mad, a passion for those interested in hounds and the countryside, a social outing for foot followers and riders alike, the glue which knits together many of our rural communities, a healthy outdoor pursuit and a sport with a long legacy in the horse and artistic world that has played an important part in the lives of many people from all backgrounds.  It is the basis of the Pony Club, National Hunt Racing, point to pointing, the many hunt shows which happen through the country, Hunt Balls and many other famous social and fund raising events.  It is why 400,000 people took to the streets of London in 2002.  Many thousands of people love hounds and hunting and devote half the weekends of their year to it.

Hunting can also be a hazardous sport. It is not like a hunter trial or a show where the fences are of set sizes and the paramedics are in attendance, nor a sponsored ride where the route is manicured and planned.  The spontaneity and unpredictability of hunting, crossing the countryside without first walking the course, is all part of the fun. Following the hounds and huntsman across the country is all part of the adventure which spurs people on to hunt week after week, because they love it!  But it does involve a fair amount of risk.

So please come and give it a go, we’d love to see you, and maybe you will see why other people do it too!

How does the day work?

Before you come, you need to contact the hunt to book in and find out where the “Meet” is and how much the day will cost – there is a fee to come hunting, called the “Cap”, so called because the money used to be collected in a “hunting cap” which is the name for the traditional velvet covered hats which many hunting people still wear (but most people now wear crash hats). You can pay on the day, either by cash or a cheque.

Your hunting day starts with the “Meet”.  As the name suggests this is when everyone gets together before the day starts.  The timing of this will depend on what time of year you are hunting. The hunting season starts when the harvest is in, usually in early September, with “Autumn hunting”. This used to be called cubhunting. Autumn hunting meets are rather early, they start at 6.30am, and week by week the start time gets later, as late as 8.30am by late October.

In late October/early November, the season proper opens with the “Opening Meet”. The season continues from then until the middle of March with meets every Wednesday & Saturday, usually at 11am.

You should aim to arrive at the meet in time to be on board for the stated time.  Most hunting people take their horses to the meet already tacked up.  This makes it easier at the meet because horses can become excited on hearing the hounds. If you are already tacked up, you as the rider just need to get on.  You can leave your lorry or trailer at the place you have parked, with the ramp down (as long as it is not blocking the way for the farmer or other drivers).  On arrival at the meet it is customary to say “Good Morning” to other followers.  You need to find the Secretary and pay your Cap for the day. Don’t wait for the Secretary to find you.

At autumn hunting meets, you don’t stand around for very long, but at 11 o’clock meets, you tend to linger for 20 minutes or so – it really depends how good the refreshments are!  Then the “Huntsman” will blow his horn to gather the hounds and at this stage it is good to turn your horse’s head so it’s facing the hounds (which makes it harder for it to commit the cardinal sin of kicking a hound), and perhaps find somewhere quiet to stand while the huntsman, hounds & whippers in leave.  Then the “Field Master” (see below) will make his way from the meet and you need to take your place in the crowd of horses that follow him, making sure you have enough space and that your horse’s nose is not shoved up the bottom of the horse in front! If you think your horse feels as though he might kick another horse, you need to go to the back.

You can come hunting all day or for just an hour or so, whatever you want.  The hounds, huntsman and hunt staff will end the day back at the meet.  So if you do stay out all day you never need to worry where you are as you will always end up where you started.  It is harder if you wish to return to the boxes before that as you will need to find your own way back and you will need to use public rights of way to do so.  In order to locate meets and to study where you are at each meet it is recommended you have the street atlases of Hertfordshire and West Essex or Ordinance Survey Landranger Series; sheets 154, 166 and 167. If you are in any doubt, it’s always best to ask the Field Master or another regular member of the field and they should be able to explain to you how to get back to the boxes.

At the end of the day or whenever you decide to make your way home, it is customary to say “Good night”, whatever the time of day, even when autumn hunting at 7.30 in the morning!  This is not just polite but lets others know that you have gone home and are not just left behind.

Who is everyone?

On the day, the Hunstman (he is the one with the horn) and whippers in look after the hounds – the whippers in help the huntsman gather the hounds, counting them and finding any that have got lost.  These are the hunt staff and for them a day’s hunting is a day’s work (though they enjoy it!). Managing the hounds is a great responsibility and you should try never to get in their way.

The Field Master is the leader of the “field” (the field is the group of people following the hounds on horses, also called “mounted followers”).  You should ONLY go where the Field Master goes.  Do not take your own line and never overtake him.  He has spoken to all the farmers in the area where the Hunt is planning to go and knows where the Hunt are, and are not, allowed to go.  You MUST follow him and do as he or she asks.  Please keep to the edge of sown fields, including stubble drilled with oilseed rape. Please keep in single file, do not cut corners and if there is a track, use it. Please do not ride on public footpaths, this includes many headlands that are also public footpaths. Be aware of Countryside Stewardship strips around fields that look like “set aside” or newly drilled grass.  These must not be ridden on.  If you follow the Field Master then you should be fine.

Good Practice

Just as with all sports and activities there are codes of behaviour which make the day work more smoothly.  Some of the important ones are set out here.  Basically your concerns should be:

Be safe and keep others safe

Keep the hounds safe – don’t trample them etc.

Be respectful towards landowners & the public – we are the landowners’ guests, so don’t go where you shouldn’t.

So with these concerns in mind, we advise the following:

Horsemanship

If you or your horse are new to hunting, it is best to keep to the back of the field i.e. the back of the group of riders following the Field Master.  Then you can find your space, check you have brakes and avoid crashing into other people.  Some horses are brilliant out hunting, it is as if they born for it – they stand quietly, don’t get excited, never kick etc.  Some find it too exciting and it takes a while to settle them.  Some horses never settle to hunting. So the best thing, if you are unsure, is to take it slowly. It’s probably best to keep near the back until you see how your horse behaves. Also, if your horse is not behaving please take it to the back of the field so that it cannot endanger others.

Horses that are likely to kick have a red ribbon on their tail as a warning and similarly young or unpredictable horses should have a green ribbon. Putting a ribbon in your horse’s tail does not mean you can forget about his manners, it is still your responsibility to avoid accidents to people, horses and hounds.

If someone follows too close behind you put your arm behind your back with the palm facing outwards as a warning to the following rider that they are crowding your horse.  If you see someone doing this, you know they need more room.

Take your turn at jumps and ditches without pushing.  If your horse stops at a jump, clear the way for following riders immediately and go further back and wait for others to go through before you have another go.

Turn your horse’s head towards hounds if they are coming towards you: your horse will then see them and will be less likely to be frightened and kick out at them.  If you hear someone behind you call “hounds please” keep well out of the way, into the side to allow them to pass. You may also hear ”Whip please” or “Huntsman please”, that is a call to make way for the whipper in / huntsman.

Farmers

We can only go hunting because of the generosity of the farmers who allow us on their land.  As you can imagine, sometimes farmers ask us not to go into particular areas, or to trample various bits of ground.  So it is REALLY important that we don’t do anything to upset them and respect their wishes.

So, when you come to the meet, please park as directed on the meet card, taking care not to block access to grain stores, barns and farm machinery. If in doubt about where you have parked, please ask – it is easier to move your trailer or lorry before you have moved off than to have to come back and move it later.  For your own security ensure that your transport is locked.

Follow the Field Master at all times through the day.  Do not take your own line.  If you see people apparently “doing their own thing” the people will be doing a job for the huntsman, or helping to whip in, or they may even be the farmer of the land.  Sometimes the hunt staff take a line across a field that the rest of the mounted followers will not take, so again, you are safe if you follow the Field Master.

Be Polite

Hunting people expect their horses to be well behaved and polite and the same goes for their riders!  There is a strong sense of community among those involved in a day’s hunting, be it riders, hunt staff, followers or farmers. It sets hunting apart as a sport because of this strong sense of community values.

Remember to be considerate to the public. Do not ride, park or drive on mown verges and keep the road clear for traffic to pass: nothing infuriates drivers more than being held up by the hunt. Always thank car drivers with a smile – try to wave with your hand rather than waving with your whip, it doesn’t quite do the trick to wave a whip at them!

Gates that you pass through must be shut. If someone else has opened the gate for you, be sure to thank them.  If you are the last through, then wait for them to shut the gate and remount.

If tackling a slippery bridge or a ditch, always wait, once you are over it, for the person behind you to negotiate the obstacle successfully.  If you tear off while they are going over it, their horse may panic and try to follow yours too quickly for the obstacle.  Once they are through, you are free to go as they can wait for the next person.

If lost or when hacking home, please go to the nearest road or track and make your way from there. Remember that you are the guest while hunting of the farmer, but not afterwards.  There will always be someone who can give you directions.

Take time to acknowledge and thank the landowner and people who work for him if you meet them.  Remember, just because you have hunted over someone’s land, it does not mean that you can ride over his land at other times even when going back to the meet.

If there is a loose horse, don’t just ignore it and gallop away if it comes near you.  Please help to catch it. It might be yours another time!

If you are near anyone in trouble, help them. Remember to thank people who help you.

If there is an accident and the emergency services are needed please inform the Field Master or the Secretary who will know what to do.

If you are aware of any incident during the day where members of the public have been upset, please tell the Field Master or the Secretary as soon as possible.

 

Please only use your mobile if absolutely necessary: the hunting field is not the place to carry on social conversations, any noise makes it hard to hear the huntsman and hounds.

Children

Children are always welcome, they are the future of hunting, but they should be accompanied by a responsible adult (who is in control of their own horse) so that they are looked after properly and helped if in trouble. Please organise this before the meet!  The Hunt Secretary will allow children to come out unaccompanied when he considers that they and their pony are safe. This will depend on the pony’s behaviour and the child’s ability to control the pony.

From time the time the Hunt organises special Childrens’ Meets (adults are also welcome at these meets!). On these days, one of the Masters gives a talk on foot beforehand, and there will be someone on a horse on hand to help any children who are new.  There are also many other events through the year to which children are welcome such as visits to the Hunt Kennels. Please contact the Hunt for details of these events.

What to wear out hunting

 

Please note that what follows is only intended as a guide – not a fixed set of rules.  Anything safe, neat and tidy is welcome. Don’t let it put you off coming hunting if you haven’t got exactly the correct kit.   These guidelines are really just here so you know what the traditions are.  If you cannot get hold of the correct clothing, don’t worry too much but try and be as smart and tidy as you can (while keeping warm) as a mark of respect to the farmer. If you only want to buy one jacket, then go for tweed and wear it all season.

Be clean

You and your horse should arrive clean at the meet.  You do not need to plait, although many choose to.  People generally clean their horses and tack, brush their horses’ tails and have hoof oil on their horses’ feet.  In the winter, many horses are clipped fully or partly.  This is so they don’t get so sweaty and at the end of the day when they are washed off they dry much quicker than with a full coat.

Be tidy

Ladies should wear a hairnet and have long hair tied up – this is mainly for safety so hair doesn’t get snagged on branches.   Gentlemen normally have their hair short enough not to need a hairnet!

Jackets/jodphurs/boots

Autumn hunting (i.e. before the opening meet).  People wear what is known as “ratcatcher”. This is a tweed jacket and pale breeches, and brown or black boots. You can either wear a shirt and neck tie or a stock secured with a plain pin.
Proper hunting (after the Opening Meet, i.e. approximately  1st November onwards), a black or navy hunting coat, with pale breeches & black boots.  Since the ban, you are unlikely to see “pink” coats (they are actually red!) in our Hunt.  Typically, people wear a cream or white stock with their black or navy coat.
In case of rain or bad weather it is acceptable to wear a Barbour or any other suitable dark coloured waterproof coat.  Please avoid brightly coloured anoraks!

Be safe.

Many mounted followers wear what might now be thought of as an “old fashioned” velvet hard hat. However, we recommend the use of a crash helmet.  You should check that they comply with the latest safety standards when you buy it, and if you have a fall on it, you should replace it.  Silks / hat cover should be in a dark colour such as black or navy.

Misc

Boots should be clean and polished.  Spurs are considered “correct” though not compulsory.

A hunting whip can be carried. They are extremely useful for opening gates and holding them open.

Gloves (dark or cream) – essential for keeping warm and for avoiding blisters.

Children’s clothing

Children should wear tweed coats with pale jodhpurs or breeches.  Clean, polished jodhpur boots or riding boots can be worn but riding boots offer more protection against knocks and thorns.  Back protectors may be worn inside or outside the jacket.

A lot of the children wear half chaps (either brown with brown johdpur boots, or black with black) and this is perfectly acceptable.

If in doubt about any of this then do please contact the Hunt.

Safety

You must have your own 3rd party legal liability indemnity before you come hunting.   What insurance you have for your own benefit is your decision, but at least with 3rd party cover, you have some cover for damage to others. We hope all followers become members of the Countryside Alliance before they come hunting, not only because it is the only body campaigning for all country sports, but also because CA membership provides automatic cover for Third Party Liability Indemnity for anyone engaged in legal hunting activities.

Neither the Hunt nor any farmer or landowner can be held responsible for any accident or injury to horse or rider or anyone else who follows the hunt. Hunting can be dangerous and it is your responsibility to take all reasonable care and caution for the sake of yourself and others in the Field.

It is your responsibility to be in control of your horse or pony so that you remain safe and are not a danger to others. Often horses and ponies are stronger than usual out hunting as they enjoy galloping along together. It is often wise to use a stronger bit which you have tried out beforehand, and to give your horse a good exercise the day before.  Clearly your horse also needs to be fit.

Above all we wish to encourage everyone to have a safe and enjoyable day.