The major concern of people wishing to follow a mounted hunt for the first time seems to be a fear of wearing or doing the wrong thing. Whilst etiquette is important it is not as critical as making newcomers, whether mounted or on foot feel welcome.
We hope this guide will help you feel more comfortable and confident for your first experience of hunting.
As a visitor what should I do before arriving at a meet?
The first thing to do is telephone the Hunt Secretary and ask if you may join the hunt for the day. This is the time to ask what sort of ‘day’ likely e.g. fast high jumps or a day with few jumps in that may be more suitable for a novice horse or rider. Check the amount (cap) you will be required to pay. You can also find out the correct place to park and any other matter you are unsure of. The Hunt Sec will want to help you so don’t be afraid to ask questions and by “booking in” you can be informed of any last minute changes due to weather, farming problems etc. There are no ‘silly questions’. Finally PLEASE DO NOT BE LATE.
The basic rule is to be dressed for the weather but do so tidily and respectfully.
Clearly newcomers are not be expected to wear full hunt dress but being tidy and appropriate to the conditions is the key. Similarly with tack. If you are decked out with tassels and Rhinestones you may feel a little out of place but any practical and safe tack is acceptable.
During autumn hunting, it is correct for both sexes to wear “Ratcatcher” which in layman’s terms is a tweed jacket. Conventionally this should be worn with brown boots and a bowler hat, but most followers now wear the same boots and head gear as for Hunting after opening meet. For ladies a coloured stock is gaining acceptance for gentlemen a suitably themed tie is perfectly acceptable.
To be correctly dressed during hunting the following applies:
Black coats should be worn with black buttons. These should be plain until awarded the hunt buttons after which the plain buttons should be replaced by the hunt buttons. With a black coat buff breeches and black butcher boots are correct. With Scarlet, white breeches and mahogany topped boots are correct. A hunting stock should be worn with the pin placed horizontally for safety. However some hunts have a convention so that Hunt staff wear their stock pins vertically.
Black or navy blue coats should be worn with black buttons, again plain until hunt buttons are awarded at which time the black collar should be replaced with the correctly facings and collar. Except in the US Lady Masters never wear red coats, only black, but do sport brass buttons rather than black ones. Ladies should wear buff breeches with plain black butcher boots. Hair should always be tied up and held in a suitable hair net.
How Many Buttons?
The numbers of buttons on your coat.
Subscribers = 3 buttons
Masters who don’t hunt hounds = 4 buttons
Huntsman & whip = 5 buttons
However, in the event that the Hunt has conventional connections to an old aristocratic family and their livery then Huntsman & whip have 6 buttons.
You may carry a whip with a thong but never use it on hounds! You can use it to open gates or even help a faller negotiate a steep muddy bank. Only mounted hunt staff carry white whips with white leather which is convention or now more often nylon thongs.
What should I have in my pockets?
The money for your Cap, a penknife, some baler twine and some food. You may even consider carrying a handkerchief or a bandage for emergencies (conventionally the stock is used for this purpose). If you are a newcomer, or suffer from any medical condition, it is a good idea to carry a printed copy of your details so that appropriate help can be provided help you should you have an accident. A mobile phone, is a good idea but should be used for emergencies only.
Parking and loading
It is much more relaxing to allow plenty of time to get to the meet, as you are more likely to find a convenient place to un-box. Please park where requested and nowhere else! Please do not park in gateways or opposite other boxes or vehicles. Where possible ensure vehicles are completely off the road (but never on mown verges) especially on narrow roads, and allow room for agricultural vehicles to pass. Never park in farmyards or around other farm buildings without the express consent of the farmer beforehand.
Please do not clean out your box when you park. At best leaving piles of dirty shavings on the verge is bad mannered at worst it many negatively impact any biosecurity measures taken by your host or their neighbours. Please clean your box at home. Have consideration for other people at all times when hunting.
Do not park too close to the vehicle in front, you will make it difficult for them if they have a number of horses to on board or they don’t load easily. Loading and unloading should be simple and can be practiced home without the time pressures of needing to be somewhere on on time. Your anxiety will be picked up by your horse who will then react accordingly, so remove the ‘challenge’ of loading by making it fun at home.
What should I do at the meet?
Find the Hunt Secretary and offer them your cap, rather than waiting for him or her to approach you. Similarly, you should say good morning to the Joint Masters (the correct greeting being “Good morning Master” even if you know them personally), whilst ensuring that your horse does not get amongst the hounds. In particular find out who is the Field Master for the day and keep behind him/her and obey his/her instructions. If hospitality has been provided at the meet, be sure to thank your host before you leave.
Do I need a Nanny?
If it’s your first time out the Fieldmaster will find you a ‘nanny’. This is someone who knows the country and who will ensue both you and your horse return safely but well exercised after along day. In essence, they are giving up their day hunting to ensure you and your horse have a good day. So make sure you thank them at the end of the day!
Is there anything special that my horse should wear?
If you know your horse is liable to kick it should wear a red ribbon at the top of its tail. If it is a young horse and you are not sure of its temperament it should wear a green ribbon. In both cases they should ALWAYS be kept to the back of the field. If the person in front of you is going through a gateway and has one arm behind their back you should be aware that their horse may kick if you crowd them. A ribbon does not exonerate you from taking responsibility for the actions of you and your horse. Do ask the hunt sec if there is a convention regarding coloured riding habit, saddle cloth and the use of numnahs. Some hunts have superstitions about certain colours being worn. The hunt sec will know and advise accordingly
It is conventional to plait your horse for hunting, BUT it is not compulsory. If you can there should be an odd number of plaits with the poll plait making an even total. Hogging the mane is another option. As a mark of respect where possible horses should be plaited for lawn meets.
Is there anything I need to know about the hounds?
Do not assume that because your horse does not kick your dog at home that he/she will necessarily tolerate a pack of hounds. Even if he/she will, the huntsman does not know that and you will worry him if you get amongst the hounds.
If you hear this then get to the side with your horses rear away from the ride or track. Think of the staff as temporary members of the emergency services. They are needed somewhere quickly and you can do your bit to help by getting out of their way.
At all times ride behind the field master. Please do not attempt to jump if there is a hound anywhere near a jump. Give Hunt Staff priority and if you know your horse is a poor jumper let others go first. If your horse refuses, clear the jump quickly and let others go before you try again. This is most important because not only will you impede others, which is bad manners, but you will also hold up the rest of the field, which causes problems for everyone trying to stay up and together with the Field Master. When possible try to meet a jump at right angles to avoid blocking others. When jumping hedges this is particularly important. Stay straight from at least 15 strides out so as not to impede others behind and adjacent. If you break a jump make sure it is stock proof before you go on (this is where you might need that baler twine) and ensure you report the breakage to a Master or Hunt Secretary. If you attempt a gate or wall and break it is likely that you will be expected to pay for it.
If someone in the field falls or a horse is hurt please stop to help. If required call for additional support and back-up. In all cases if someone needs to re-mount, wait by them to help their horse to stand still. If you see a problem is adequately taken care of please pass slowly and then continue on. This allows the rest of the field to keep up and prevents bottlenecks.
Will I have to jump?
Given the geography of their country most mounted hunts of any description will try to put in as much jumping as possible but a lot will depend on the area being hunted and the local ground conditions. There are nearly always easy ways round a jump and a number of people don’t jump at all. Never open a gate adjacent to a jump until after all the jumpers have gone. This is extremely dangerous, inviting jumping horses to dip out of jumping at the last minute.
If in doubt it is better to shut a gate than to leave it open. Designated ‘gate shutters’ follow the field but they cannot be relied upon to shut all gates left open. They are a safety net and not a guarantee that all gates will be shut. It is your responsibility to shut the gate or call back “gate please”. In the event that riders behind are out of earshot a raised whip or hand is the method of communication. Do not leave the gate until you have heard “gate please” passed back or a whip or hand has been raised in acknowledgment. It is the duty of all members of the field to assist the Masters and hunt staff at gates. If you see them approaching a gate a word to the field master for consent to go forward is all that is required and then speedy assistance so as not to hold them up in their work. It is of course easier for children and young adults to dismount and help. Please bear this in mind if you fall into this category. If you do this repeatedly you are more likely to be awarded your hunt buttons!
Riding near or through livestock and farmland
When riding near or through livestock ensure you are between the stock and the fence and ride at a pace they will tolerate without getting upset. If stock bunch up in a corner, stop and wait for them to move out. You should not enter any field without the Field Master unless instructed to do so. Take particular care at gates when there is stock in the field. If you witness stock escaping make sure you tell the field master or secretary immediately.
If there is an option between a track/path and grass/planted crops always ride on the track unless specifically instructed to do otherwise.
Always be aware of instructions coming from the field master. “Single file” means exactly that and as importantly along the same line as the field master. Sometimes this may not be along the line you may expect. In the event you get left behind look for the line of the hoof prints.
Thank you and Goodnight
It is important to remember that without a huntsman and his hounds there would be no sport. A thank you goes a long way in helping these people feel appreciated, especially Hunt Staff who will probably be cold, wet and tired at the end of the day. It is conventional to say “Goodnight” at the end of your day.
Did you fall off, get shouted at?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. It’s all part of becoming an experienced horseman/woman. Get back on and learn from the experience.
It is surprising and disappointing to see how many people leave their manners on the ground when they get on a horse. Please thank cars for slowing down, wave cars on when you see the Masters wave them on and keep to the nearside if you hear the shout “car please”. A smile and “good morning” to people on foot will help to dispel the myth that everyone on horseback is a snob and too arrogant to talk to people on foot.
If you are a visitor or a new comer to hunting and this all sounds complicated and scary remember that everyone had ‘first day nerves’ and Members of the hunt should always be willing to help you. Never be afraid to ask for advice.
At all times remember that you are a guest of the farmer or Landowner and that without their goodwill hunting would not be possible.
FINALLY Be polite to EVERYONE you meet or pass during your day. Regardles of whether they are mounted or not.