Before going hunting, please make sure that you understand what is required of you and your horse when it comes to safety, behaviour, good manners and turnout. The Vale of Lune have an evening get together at the pub, generally near the start of the season, to ease in newcomers and explain the etiquette, ensuring that you get the most enjoyment out of your day and that you have a little more understanding of what it’s all about. Look out for hound ambles as they are always a good start if you haven’t been hunting before. These are meets for getting the young hounds used to being out and are a slower paced day, generally with little or no jumping.
Safety is by far the most important section, for yourself and that of your fellow hunters. Please make sure that your horse is not a “psycho” as not only will you attract the wrath of the hunt staff and followers, but you will not enjoy your day. Whilst out once, I followed a lady on a dark bay of thoroughbred ilk. It spent most of the time on its hind legs or going backwards and on the fifth time that she fell off, I thought to myself “surely you would take it back to the wagon for every ones sake ?, you really can’t be enjoying this!”. Firstly, make sure you know exactly where you are going. The Vale of Lune has a detailed map of each meet on their website . Allow yourself plenty of time and arrive preferably at least an hour before the meet commences. Time goes very quickly and although you think that an hour is more than enough , by the time you have got parked up and sorted out, you will be very surprised. Make sure that you do not park over gates, drives, lanes or any access, nor must you park on a mowed verge. Keep a shovel, brush and skip with you and make sure that you clear up after your horse. Also make a list at least the morning before, so that you can add to this as the day goes on, ensuring that you have everything required when you arrive. As obvious as this sounds, you will not be happy if you arrive on the morning of the meet to find that you have forgot your hat ! When you are getting ready, if you are a newcomer, tie a green ribbon to your horse’s tail and a red one if it kicks. If you have a horse that kicks, make sure you keep well away from everyone as you are not absolved, just because you have a red ribbon on. Familiarise yourself with the hunt staff, i.e Field Master, whom if shouts “Hold Hard” you must stop immediately and don’t move until you are told to, and non jumping Field Master, whom you must have your eyes on if you are not jumping, to ensure that you do not get in a situation where your horse wants to follow the jumpers and you don’t ! Also, make sure that you always face the hounds because if your horse kicks a hound, you will not be looked upon favourably. Basically, keep your wits about you watching what’s going on, giving others plenty of space to avoid accidents and hook up with someone who’s been before, until you “get to know the ropes”.
Good manners are essential and respect must be shown at all times. Upon encountering the Master, Huntsman or other Hunt Staff, Good Morning is how you greet and also say good morning to everyone else also. The ideal way to make new friends. You must offer your “cap” (money for hunting for the day) to the hunt secretary unprompted. Do not snub anyone, even if his trousers are held up with baling twine as he could well be the person who’s land you are riding over today. Keep your mobile phone on silent and chat politely. By all means partake in a drink, but don’t get drunk, even if you think you need some dutch courage for those big hedges ! This is all to easy when everyone is offering you a drink from their hipflask. Be vigilant to make way for Hunt Staff. I once witnessed a lady quite upset that the Huntsman had been quite sharp with her, when she was obstructing him with her horse tied to the trailer getting ready. What she failed to understand was the fact that the Huntsman had a pack of hounds making their way on their own off the car park towards the road, because he couldn’t get through with his horse ! As you would whilst hacking, make way for and be courteous to motorists , the majority of whom have no concept of what you are doing and a minority that despise hunting, so smile and politely acknowledge. Also be polite and kind to all in the field, remembering that maybe one day it may be you that has fallen off and needs a leg up or someone to hold your steed while remounting. Keep to the edge of a field, DO NOT ride across it unless you are following the Field Master. The Master will shout “Headland Please” which means keep to the sides to limit damage or “sides please” which means keep to the edge in single file. Remeber, “Hold Hard” means stop now and don,t move until I tell you. Keep behind the Field Master (in red) – do not pass, as you could be asked to go home if you cannot keep behind. Ensure that gates are closed behind you or pass back “gate please” (although too much noise can distract the hounds from the scent) or look for the raised hand signal behind to ensure that someone has got the gate. If you do not know if you are the last, shut the gate or wait. Also pass back to warn of any danger, shouting such as “ware wire/bog/hole” (ware being short for beware). Please report any damages to fences, gates etc. to Hunt Staff and offer to make good. Whilst stood with the field while the hounds are working, do not obstruct them and watch them closely – this is my favourite part. I once went with the Huntsman and Master the day before a meet to show the runner the route that he had to run to set the trail for the Bloodhounds. The Huntsman told the runner to run along the fence and through the wood on the day. When we followed those Bloodhounds on the day of the hunt, amazingly they took that route following the scent of the runner exactly. Line up and wait your turn to jump, letting the person in front clear it first. If you are upside another horse, ride in a straight line and if you are having trouble jumping the fence, clear out the way to let others jump and look for a gate to rejoin the field, making sure it is closed behind you. Upon your return, after an enjoyable days hunting, make sure that you say “Goodnight” to Hunt staff before going home, even if it is still light.
You and your horse should be turned out neatly, clean and tidy. This helps to make the land owner proud to see us on his land. Your horse should be plaited if not hogged and whilst it is your choice of what tack to use, a stronger bit than normal, martingale or neck strap is advisable for extra hold, as is a breastplate, ensuring that your saddle stays in place. Boots are also your choice but make sure that mud doesn’t get underneath as this can rub the horse raw. A good idea is to tape over the boots with insulation tape, ensuring that they are not too tight and this also minimises the risk of losing boots also. Always check beforehand to make sure that your tack is in good condition as you do not want it letting you down. Usual dress for the field is jodhpurs, long black boots, shirt, stock, generally a black jacket and a BS approved riding hat, with your hair in a hairnet and no dangly earrings or jewellery. Body protectors can be worn over your jackets. Gloves are also a good idea. For hound ambles, you may be more casual although neat and tidy go without saying. For lawn meets (when you are invited by the hosts), correct dress is expected meaning boots shinier than normal, horses plaited and black/navy jackets for seniors (hacking jackets for juniors acceptable). You are also expected to approach and thank the host for allowing you on their land. For autumn hunting, ‘Ratcatcher’ attire is appropriate, consisting of a bowler hat or velvet cap, buff breeches, a tweed jacket, black boots and a tie or stock. This can be worn until the Opening Meet. This is also appropriate at the end of the season, after the Cheltenham National Hunt meeting in March or April 1st. However, there is nothing to prevent this been worn throughout the season if you only hunt occasionally. (www.vlhunt.com) All Photos courtesy of John Vine.