Thinking of going hunting for the first time? Follow our handy tips to ensure you have a great experience
Going hunting can be an exhilarating day out but it can also be quite a daunting prospect if you've never followed hounds before. He is some expert advice to ensure you are well prepared for the experience.
First, you need to do some research to find out which local packs to go out with. Ask friends in your area for recommendations, or visit The Masters of Foxhounds Association's website: www.mfha.org.uk
Once you have found your local hunt, contact the secretary and let them know it will be your first time out. Find out which days of the week the pack hunts and which day would be best for you to go along. If you have got a friend who is used to hunting, try and persuade them to come with you. If you don't, ask the hunt secretary if someone can be assigned to look after you, at least for the first couple of hours.
It is important that both you and your horse are up to the job. If your horse is in medium work, i.e. able to complete a low-level one-day-event, he should be fine. If he is only in light work, build up his fitness gradually by going on long hacks with plenty of hill work and some cantering. He should be able to trot and canter for two to three hours without exhausting himself. For the rider, the fitter you are the quicker your reactions will be and the better you will ride.
You will never be turned away from a hunt for not wearing the correct gear but it is important that you are clean, tidy and comfortable. It is always nice to fit in, though, so if possible wear pale-coloured breeches or jodphurs, black or brown long riding boots, a black/navy/tweed jacket, a white stock (or coloured one if you are wearing a tweed jacket), a hat with a dark cover and gloves.
Don't forget to tie up your hair and wear a hair net, unless your hair is very short.
Getting Tacked Up
Tack should be clean and safe. Pay particular attention to the stitching on your bridle and stirrup leathers before the meet. If possible, use a black, brown or white numnah/saddlecloth, but so long as it is a discreet colour no one will mind. Horses tend to find going hunting very exciting so it is a good idea to use a stronger bit than normal, but ride in it at home first. Use a neckstrap - this is invaluable to hold on to while out hunting. Plaiting is up to you – is it best to ask the secretary as some hunts are more particular than others. A clip that at least takes off the belly and between the hind legs is recommended. If you think your horse is likely to kick out, put a red ribbon in his tail.
On the day, make sure you leave plenty of time. Ask the secretary where you can park and allow time to get from the lorry to the meet. Travel your horse tacked up and ready to go so you don't have to try and tack up an excited horse on the side of a road. If possible, park a 20-minutes trot away from the meet to help settle your horse. As soon as you arrive, find the hunt secretary, introduce yourself and pay your 'cap' money (find out how much this is beforehand). The secretary should then point out the field master to you. Stand your horse a small way from the big crowd and let him take it all in. If he is fidgety, walk round in big circles.
The hounds and huntsman will begin to move off to wherever the first trail has been laid. Don't wait until last to head off as this could upset your horse. Aim to fall in on the outside of the middle of the pack so your horse has some room but doesn't feel as if he is being left behind. Test your brakes early and keep him under control from the very start. There is no need to jump anything if you don't want to. Talk to people, a good ice-breaker is turning to the person next to you and saying, "What a lovely horse." You will have more fun if you make some friends along the way. Try to pay attention to what is going on and enjoy the lovely countryside you will be crossing. Often horses are very well behaved on their first outing and then once they know what it is all about they get very excited. Stick with it, the only way to calm them is to keep going out until it becomes routine.
It is important to notice when your horse is tired and take him home. Young horses should be taken home around half an hour before they are 'ready', rather than letting them get exhausted and risking a stumble or trip over a fence. Say "Goodnight" to the field master and secretary (no matter what the time, this is the correct term). Hack back to the lorry or yard, remembering to walk at least the last mile to make sure your horse is not sweaty. When you get back to the yard, proper management is very important. Either wash him off completely with warm water or just brush the mud off and wash his tail. Check him over thoroughly for any bumps or scrapes and treat them as necessary. Make sure he has plenty of water and a feed. Check him two hours later and top up water buckets. Often after hunting, horses will break out in sweat a couple of hours later. If this is the case, towel him off and change his rugs to make sure he is comfortable. The next morning, trot him up and check he is sound, then turn him out in the field for a day to prevent him getting stiff.
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