Adrenaline-filled hunting hen dos aren’t for the faint-hearted. Saskia Campbell talks to brides who braved one
If you’re a maid of honour tasked with organising a one-of-a-kind bachelorette weekend here in Blighty, your choices can feel quite limited, even more so now Covid-19 has risen its head.
We can no longer head up north to Liverpool or descend into the streets of London en masse for a weekend of 24-hour clubs, doner kebabs and sticky dance floors, and chances are the local male-stripper service won’t be able to navigate a socially distanced lap dance for the bride in question.
All may not be lost, though, if your “hen” has hunting blood coursing through her veins. Foregoing phallic memorabilia, UK party towns and strippers in favour of galloping across the countryside on a “hunting hen” could end up being the best decision you make.
Rachael Horton-Pyle did exactly that last season when she headed to Ireland, flanked by her horse-loving nearest and dearest.
“We’d always said as a group how much we had wanted to experience hunting in Ireland, and I knew that unless I gave us a reason to go, it would always be one of those things we’d never get around to doing,” she says.
Shunning the traditional all-girls guest list seems to be a common theme with hunting hen dos. Charlotte Morphet, who also took on Irish hunting country for her pre-wedding party, headed off to Galway with an entourage of nine. The selected included “Bridesmaid Mark”, Charlotte’s Pony Club best friend, who wasn’t going to let a small thing like gender get in the way of him and a great night out.
“He just comes with the team,” says Charlotte.
Being slightly out of the ordinary, if you go for a hunting hen party, expect your guest list to snowball.
Rachael says: “It was one of those weekends that meant that the more people who heard about it, the more people asked to come. I wasn’t going to start telling them ‘no’, which is why we ended up having two of my guy mates joining – they insisted they would be honorary girls for the trip.”
Rachael made the executive decision not to wear any traditional hen garments out hunting; no garters over her breeches, no pink gloves and, much to her bridesmaid’s dismay, no pink fairy wings.
“I was so paranoid I’d end up in a drain, I wanted to draw as little attention to myself as possible. In hindsight, I’d have liked to have a hint of pink somewhere; you’re only a hen once!”
While fairy wings may be a touch too far for even the most embracing of hunting brides, Hannah Joynes and her nine girlfriends managed to bring a “hint of hen do” to their otherwise traditional turnout by dying their stocks pink for the occasion. As the day fell on Christmas Eve, all horses in the group were kitted out in tinsel, with Hannah’s mount in hot pink, obviously.
Charlotte took a leaf out of Rachael’s book and opted for an understated hen get-up. She managed to get her hands on a pink hairnet and a badge saying “the bride”, but was adamant her fake veil wouldn’t have fitted under her hat.
She came up with the idea of a hunting hen do through friends and went away with her sisters, bridesmaids, “bridesman” Mark and Pony Club girls.
“One [of my friends] hadn’t ridden for 10 years. We were all so impressed she came and had a great time,” she says.
For Hannah, the concept of a hunting hen weekend came about more as a matter of convenience than the product of any great planning. She’d grown up hunting with the Cotswold, but a house move had meant she’d had to change packs. Once a season, Hannah would make the drive back to the Cotswold country for their Christmas Eve meet, so she and her bridesmaids decided to use this to their advantage.
“My bridesmaids and I were talking about hen dos and it was suggested we do one for hunting friends on Christmas Eve as we’d all be out. The hunt were really welcoming, lots of fun and very accommodating, particularly when I’d hit the hip flask a bit hard and wobbled off my horse trotting along the road!”
Charlotte had a similar experience and said the people of the East Galway couldn’t have been nicer, which made for an even more special day. Not that many people are brave enough to tackle Ireland’s wall country at the best of times, let alone in the run-up to their wedding day, but Charlotte insisted she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“The walls were pretty memorable. Lots of them had about a two-stride run-up and some were huge! It’s a totally different ball-game,” she declares.
An inclusive weekend
The great thing about a hunting hen do is you don’t have to be mounted to enjoy it; both Rachael and Hannah had foot followers join in who loved the experience. Rachael’s Irish jaunt included a stay at the popular Dunraven Arms in Adare and the weekend itself was selected as the hotel happened to be hosting a hunt ball on the Saturday night. Rachael argues that the non-riders had an advantage when it came to dominating the dance floor.
“The girls who rode started seizing up after dinner and were really struggling to make it into the early hours. I think the foot followers from our group really left an impression on the Dunraven,” she laughs.
So there you have it; if hunting runs in your blood and you’re looking for a memorable hen weekend that’s a little different, consider the hunting field. Whether you visit a bucket-list pack or stick with your local hunt, turn up in hot pink gloves and stocks or opt for traditional hunting turnout, chances are you’ll end up hosting an experience to remember.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020