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.