The Countryside Alliance has designated this week (4-11 October) National Newcomers Week and hunts are being encouraged to hold newcomers days to encourage members of the public to come along and find out for themselves what hunting is all about.
The CA also hopes hunts will keep up the ‘free hunting’ initiative for genuine newcomers throughout the season.
But what if you’re not quite brave enough to just turn up at a meet, or you want to have a bit of jumping practice and some advice on hunting etiquette before taking the plunge? A pre-hunting course could be the answer.
Grasping the basics
Brian and Pammy Hutton of the Talland School of Equitation have been running pre-hunting courses for more than 15 years.
Brian says: “The courses are run at this time of year and each course is three days long. There are between four and seven in a group and we run two or three courses every year.
“The riders range in standard from first-time hunters to the more experienced.
We cover the terms and phrases of the hunting field as well as dress code and etiquette. We make sure the riders have good balance, stay secure and are in control.
“We assess the riders on the flat and then perhaps use a grid to work on position, balance and the horse’s technique before heading out to the cross-country course.
“It’s a good opportunity for people to get to know a new horse or for the more experienced to tune up before the new season starts.
“Most people bring their own horse although we do supply some horses. It’s ideal if people can attend for all three days as then the package covers most things they need to know, however, it is possible to attend just mornings or afternoons if people are busy. We hope to leave people with a warm glow ready for the opening meet.
“Whatever skills people may or may not have, one of the greatest things to bestow on horses and riders in confidence. When people get excited they forget most of what they’ve learnt so we try to impress key things on them. And of course the horses change and get excited as well. Having the right horse is vital.
“We try not to turn anyone away from the courses and there are no age limits. My son Charlie was out hunting on a pony at three or four years old.
“In the end I try to make people aware and confident and then I cross myself, say a few Hail Mary’s and hope for the best.”
The course costs £80 a day for all three days, which covers a practical session every morning and afternoon. The length of the session depends on what is appropriate, taking into account factors such as the ground conditions. For more information (tel: 01285 652318).
Learning the ropes
At East Lodge Farm in Northamptonshire hunting lessons and taking people out hunting is an integral part of the business.
Rebecca White explains: “My mum runs the school and she is master of The Oakley. We have some clients who have lessons before they hunt on our horses and a couple of the liveries have gone out today.
“There are a couple of juniors who have lessons on their own horses before hunting and we would offer hunting lessons to outside clients on their own horses if they wanted them.
“We take people out on the cross-country course and arrange mock hunts, as well as covering etiquette and what to wear.”
A half-hour adult private lesson at East Lodge Farm is £18 or a full hour private lesson is £31. For more information contact (tel: 01604 810244).
For the more experienced
Annie Backhouse runs pre-hunting sessions in The Vale of the White Horse (VWH) Hunt country on her farm near Cirencester in Gloucestershire.
“I normally have seven in a group and about twelve groups at this time of year,” says Annie. “People come and I give them help in the indoor school and then I teach them outside over ditches and all the natural obstacles we have on the farm.
“The idea is to get people going before the season starts. A lot of them have young or new horses or have no facilities at home.
“Most of them have quite a lot of experience; very few are really new ones, maybe half a dozen a year. Because of that I don’t really need to give dress or etiquette advice but I do give tips on behaviour and how important it is to be able to control your horse.
“It’s very popular and people seem to enjoy it. I don’t have anyone on ponies; the youngest are normally in their early 20s.
“The whole thing is about getting confidence, so when people go out hunting and come to the first jump they’re not saying, ‘Help, where’s the gate?’ ”
For more information on National Newcomers Week visit: www.countryside-alliance.org