Hunting - A Beginner's Guide
Never been hunting, but would love to have a go? Daunted by the idea of going out for the first time? Follow our guide to get the most from your day.
- How do I find out where to go?
- Contact the hunt secretary (using our contact form here). This applies for any day’s hunting when you are not a member. Ask if you can come out, where the meet is, where you should park and how much you have to pay. This is called the “cap”. It will vary depending on how old you are and whether you are planning to follow on a horse or on foot.
- Do I need a companion?
- If you can persuade a hunting friend with a well-behaved horse to accompany you, great, particularly if your horse hasn’t been out before. But it’s not essential. Tell the hunt secretary this is your first time, or that you are fairly inexperienced on the hunting field. He/she may be able to suggest someone to look after you for the day, and at least will be aware and able to keep an eye on you.
- Is my horse suitable?
- The answer is that you don’t really know until you get there, but there is no reason why any horse shouldn’t learn to hunt well. Many horses get a little overexcited by being at such a terrific “party”, but can you blame them? Autumn hunting is perfect for horses who haven’t hunted, and for young, green animals because things happen at a more gentle pace (AUtumn Hunting is sometimes by invite only so please have the courtesy to ask rather than just turning up on the day. There is often more standing-around time for them to absorb what’s going on.
If your horse is used to busy collecting rings and doesn’t mind dogs around his feet, there’s every chance he’ll be fine. Use your brain and stay to the side of the main field so your horse has a chance to look at what’s going on, rather than throwing him straight into the middle of the pack.
- Do I need to plait?
- Not during autumn hunting, which extends until the opening meet at the beginning of November. After that most people will, out of smartness and courtesy to those whose land they are crossing, but it’s not compulsory. Manes should be neat, tidy and clean, but you won’t get sent home for not plaiting.
- What should my horse wear?
- If you aren’t sure about your brakes, err on the side of caution or take a stronger bit/martingale with you if possible. Numnahs should be dark and follow the shape of the saddle — save that white dressage square for another day.
If you know he might kick, put a red ribbon on his tail and stay well out of the way whenever possible. Kicking a horse or a rider is bad enough, but kicking a hound is the worst thing you can do. You will get sent home, so make sure your horse’s head is turned towards hounds, not his backside. A green ribbon denotes a young horse, and if someone puts the back of their hand in the hollow of their back, it means “don’t get too close”.
- Should he wear boots?
- This is up to you, you know what suits your horse. But remember the boots will be on for a lot longer during the course of a hunting day than they would be during a cross-country round, and the risks of rubbing and overheating are greater. You’ll find plenty do and plenty don’t.
- Will I have to jump huge hedges?
- Of course not. We don't have great jumping country but even where there are jumps you can always go round — and there will be other people taking the roundabout route, too. Only jump what you feel happy with; it’s not a competition.
- How fit does my horse need to be?
- Very rarely does hunting involve galloping flat-out for very long, and autumn hunting in particular can involve a lot of standing around. Your horse needs to be fit enough to canter up a hill without collapsing, but really doesn’t need to be racehorse-fit. And you can go home whenever you like — don’t feel compelled to stay out for hours if you and your horse are knackered.
- Golden Rules for First-Timers
- 1. Say good morning - in particular to the Secretary, Huntsman and Fieldmaster
2. Never overtake the field master, and always listen carefully to their instructions
3. Always thank traffic that slows down or stops - never block the road
4. Don’t park in gateways or driveways unless specifically told you can
5. If you hear the shout “huntsman please!” or “whip please!” or "one side please!" get out of the way sharpish so they can get through
6. Always call them hounds, not dogs
7. Always shut gates if you are the last through unless told otherwise, and if the person in front of you shouts “gate, please!” pass it back to the next person
8. Do turn your mobile phone off, and talk quietly while standing at the side of a covert — the huntsman will not be pleased to hear you shrieking about what you got up to the night before
9. Do ask questions about what is going on. The more you understand about a day’s hunting, the more you will enjoy it. People will be very happy to answer your queries
10. Do find the field master before you go home and say thank you and good night, which is the traditional way to say goodbye — even at 9am!
Thanks to Horse & Hound