There are few better ways to spend a winter's day than on the hunting field. If you fancy having a go, here’s some simple guidelines to bear in mind so you can enjoy your day as much as possible ahead of this season’s opening meets
1. Ring ahead
If you are planning on going hunting, ring the hunt secretary at least one day prior to the meet to introduce yourself and ensure they will be expecting you. This is also a good opportunity to check where parking for the meet is and how much your cap (the fee you pay for your day’s hunting) will be.
2. Don’t be late
It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to miss out on any of the action, plus it’s polite to be prompt! If you’re not a regular, leave yourself extra time to get your stuff together and get on board so you’re not rushing about getting flustered, which your horse is bound to pick up on.
3. Say good morning
When you arrive at the meet, introduce yourself to the hunt secretary who will also take your cap.
4. Dress appropriately
Ratcatcher (hacking jacket) should be worn if you are autumn hunting (prior to your hunt’s opening meet) and a blue coat (for ladies), black coat (for gentlemen) or a hacking jacket may be worn for hunting during the season. It’s also important that you don’t wear anything that could get caught on trees and cause damage to you or your horse. Your horse doesn’t need to be plaited for autumn hunting, but should be clean and tidy.
5. Right of way
Hunt staff and hounds should be given right of way at all times. Turn your horse to face hounds or hunt staff as they pass.
Stay behind the field master at all times, follow them wherever they go and pay attention to any instructions they give, such as riding in single file around a headland to avoid ruining crops and field margins.
7. Don’t be noisy
Hunting is a sociable day out, but when hounds are being cast to find a laid-line, speak quietly so that they can get on with their job without any distractions.
8. Know the lingo
While hunting, you are likely to encounter hidden dangers such as holes. It is courteous to warn those behind you of these by saying “ware hole” or “hole on the left/right”. Likewise if the huntsman, whipper-in or hound needs to pass the field, you should let others know by saying “hunt please”, “whip please” or “hound please”. If you pass through an open gate say “gate please” to warn those behind you that the gate needs shutting by the final follower (this applies where there are no gate-shutters in the field or a helpful foot follower present who has offered to open and close the gate — in which case always say thank you to them).
If your horse is prone to kicking make sure it is wearing a red ribbon in its tail and keep to the rear of the field. If your horse is young or new to hunting it is recommended that your horse wears a green ribbon in its tail — this not only ensures the safety of others, but will also make your life easier as fellow followers will endeavour to give you extra space.
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Don’t approach the jump too closely behind someone else — always try to make sure the horse in front of you has jumped the fence three or four strides before you do. This means that if there is a problem, you have enough time to take appropriate action. Don’t queue-jump when lining up for a fence — it’s a sure fire way of annoying fellow field members! If your horse refuses, don’t immediately pull him left or right away from the fence as another follower might be approaching the fence and you could cut them up and cause an accident — have a look around you before you circle away. Don’t forget, if you don’t want to jump there is nearly always a non-jumping route available.
11. Be courteous
If you come across members of the public while hunting say good morning, always thank traffic as it passes and don’t block the road. When you decide to go home, make sure you say “good night” to the field master even if it’s still morning — this will prevent any confusion as to your sudden disappearance.
12. Have fun!
Most importantly, enjoy your day’s hunting — hopefully it will be the first of many.