Despite fears in the foxhunting community that hunts would have to be disbanded following the passing of new laws governing the sport in 2002, the sport has continued to grow in popularity. More people are keen to try hunting for the first time now that the risk of disruption by saboteurs has lessened and the air of disapproval has diminished. Riders can enjoy a fun day out safe in the knowledge that no animals will be killed at the end of it.
So, what can you expect on your first day out hunting? Foxhunting is steeped in tradition and the basic rules of etiquette must be observed for safety reasons and to ensure that the day is enjoyed by all.
The Masters are the senior officers of the hunt and usually organise the day’s sport by visiting farmers and landowners to make sure that the hunt has permission to ride across their land. At least one of the Masters will be out on hunting days and usually gives a short speech at the meet before the hunt begins.
The Huntsman is in control of the hounds on a hunting day and carries the horn. The Huntsman is responsible for training the hounds and oversees the running of the kennels.
The Whippers-in are assistants to the Huntsman and help to control the hounds.
The Field Master
All mounted followers (known as ‘the field’) are managed and guided by the Field Master. The field should follow any instructions given by the Field Master who will be introduced at the meet.
The Field Secretary
The Field Secretary is responsible for collecting the ‘cap’, or fee for the day’s hunting from all mounted followers.
What to wear
Mounted followers must always be smartly turned out as a courtesy to the landowners who are hosting the hunt for the day. Your horse should be well turned out and preferably plaited up.
Hunt members will wear formal hunting dress (red or black hunt coats). As a mounted follower, you’ll need to be suitably attired in a riding jacket or tweed jacket with a stock or tie, breeches or jodhpurs with boots and a hard hat with a properly fitted chinstrap. You can wear a body protector if you wish.
The Hunt will meet at a pre-arranged location where the landowners will often provide a greeting and refreshment before the day begins. The day’s Field Master will be introduced and it’s important that you note who they are so that you can follow their instructions. Stay behind the Field Master at all times whilst hunting.
If you have a stop at a fence, wait an allow others to go ahead before you re-present your horse and keep an eye out for hounds. If your horse is not used to them it may kick if it can’t see them so always try to keep your horse’s head turned towards the hounds.
Help out by taking your turn at opening and shutting gates. Avoid cattle and other livestock where possible and slow down to a walk if you have to pass through a field containing youngstock. On the roads, ride in single file so as not to hold up traffic and wave cars past as long as it’s safe to do so.
The aim of the Hunt is to have a great day out riding across the countryside in safety and the Hunt members and staff are a friendly and welcoming bunch who will be pleased to help you out if you’re unsure what to do or which way to go.
When the day’s sport is concluded, the Master will blow, “Going Home” on his horn. If you want to leave early, always thank the Master and tell him that you’re leaving. He will then be able to advise you of the best route to take ensuring that you don’t ride across areas which farmers don’t want horses on.
If you come across a damaged fence, try to make a running repair to make sure that livestock can’t escape before moving on. Report any damage to the Field Master so that proper repairs can be made at a later date and always have a piece of baler twine in your pocket for such eventualities.
Hunting is fun and exciting and these days can be enjoyed without the need for killing a beautiful piece of wildlife at the end of the day. All the UK Hunts welcome visitors and new members so why not try something different and spend a day with them.