Etiquette At All Hunt Meets
There is a long tradition of etiquette involved with hunting, much of which seems mysterious, but when explained is usually common sense and safety. This article is aimed at just the essential forms that make for a smoothly run hunting day increases the enjoyment for those participating, highlights aspects of safety and minimises the chances of upsetting other followers, hunt officials, landowners and especially the general public. The hunt is able to cross private land purely by the invitation/permission of the landowners and farmers so it is polite to acknowledge anyone who may be associated with the land that you are crossing, courtesy is vitally important and whilst riding the Ashford Valley you are an ambassador for our sport.
Order of priority
This is the order of priority and distance within the hunt at any given time during the hunting day.
Quarry –> Hounds –> Huntsman –> Whippers-in –> Field Master –> Field
A lot of people have given up their time and worked hard to organise each days hunting, without them there would not be a hunting day for you to enjoy. But, most importantly, there would be no hunting at all without hounds, huntsman and the goodwill of the landowners and farmers
When un-boxing before a meet park sensibly, you should make sure that you aren’t blocking a lane or driveway or park on a manicured verge. You shouldn’t do anything that may cause congestion or inconvenience to other road users, also, un-box well away from the meet. If there have been instructions on where to park, please make sure that you comply with these, they have been given for a good reason.
Arrive at the meet by the time that is stated on the meet card or preferably a little before it. On arrival at the meet as a matter of courtesy say “good morning” to the Huntsman and Whippers-in. Find the Hunt Secretary who is responsible for collecting the cap (your contribution towards the hunt’s cost), and pay them. If you recognise them thank the farmer whose land we will use, and thank the person who has provided the ‘stirrup cup’, (the food and drink). The more people you talk to at the meet, the happier the atmosphere that is created. In particular, remember to greet people on foot and make those who are out for the first time feel welcome. Make sure to face your horse to the hounds should you be in close proximity to them, do not allow your horse to tread on or kick a hound, if your horse does break this golden rule you should apologise to the Huntsman and point out which hound has been damaged so that he can deal with it if necessary, this rule applies throughout the days hunting. A hunt official will address the crowd just before the start of the days hunting. Do remember to keep your horse facing the hounds whilst he speaks.
The “Field Master”
When the hunt official addresses the gathering he will announce who is “Field Master” for the day, The Field Master for the day should always be addressed as Field Master. It is the Field Master’s job to guide the mounted riders (The Field) across country. They will know where we are welcome (and where we must avoid), which route to take and it is essential that everyone follows them. The hunt official or Field Master may also make any announcements relevant to the day, please listen to these and adhere to them, (they do not like public speaking and is not wasting their breath unnecessarily!) As hounds leave the meet, please remember to make sure that your horse’s head is facing towards them. Then follow the Field Master. The Field Masters role is to ensure that the Field is kept in touch, but not interfering with what is going on, entertained and to ensure that the Field does not go where it should not.
Care should be taken not to ‘over-ride’ (go past) the Field Master at any time, unless specifically requested to do so. If during the hunting day you need help or advice, do seek out a senior member of the mounted field, (mounted followers). These are people who have been invited to wear a ‘Hunt Collar’ on their jacket and in the Ashford Valley Hunt this is an easily identified yellow collar. If the Field Master gives any commands it is the responsibility of each member of the mounted field to pass these commands back through the field. For example “ware wire”, “ware hole on the left” – ‘ware’ is a shortened form of ‘beware’ this is often pronounced ‘war’ and is simply quicker to say. You should always turn your horse to face a hunt official (Field Master, Huntsman or Whipper-in) if they are passing through the mounted field, this minimises the chance of your horse kicking a passing horse additionally, you must always give way to a hunt official and give a clear instruction to others to move as well “Huntsman/whip please on your left /right”.
Dealing with Gates
Gates should always be left as they were found. If a gate is open when you get to it, leave it open unless you have received the message “gate please”, “gate please” means the last person in sight who can hear is to shut the gate you are passing through. If you are mounted and riding through a gate, and you cannot see other mounted followers behind you, or you are unsure if you are the last, YOU must shut the gate, and fasten it with whatever it was fastened with, (you may find it helpful to carry some spare string in your pocket in case you cannot find how it was fastened. It shows courtesy to the Field Master if a member of the mounted field opens the gate, which may mean dismounting, this enables the Field Master to lead the mounted field through, (it is helpful if two people wait together to close a gate as horses are more patient if they have a friend). It is not the responsibility of foot followers to hold open, or to shut gates for the mounted field. Thank people who are kind enough to hold a gate whilst you ride through, especially farmers or farm workers who may be holding a gate or helping in some other way. There is no point in the mounted field trying to ‘rush’ through the gate at once, you will get there quicker if you go through single file. On occasion the Field Master may send one of the mounted field to open a gate if he can see that the Huntsman or a Whip is at a gate that needs opening.
“Headlands please” means you must keep your horse off crops and keep close into the edge of the field – we only have access to land by permission of landowners and farmers, remember that this is their factory floor and any damage you do damages their livelihood. Any damage to crops, trees, hunt fences, (jumps) gates, gate posts or wire fences must be reported to the Field Master directly at the time it happens. This is so that he can arrange repairs either immediately or at the end of the hunting day. Any accidents or livestock escaping should also be advised to the Field Master. If in doubt communicate.
When hounds are passing the mounted field you should always turn your horse to face the hounds and give way to them. This means if they are running about where you are, trying to pass an obstacle, you must move aside, stop, and allow them through, tell those who have not seen the hound/s that they are there.
Dealing with Roads
The mounted field should always ride keeping to the left-hand side of the road leaving sufficient room for the horse in front, ie not riding on its heels, even the most mild mannered horse may kick out if barged from behind. Care should be taken not to hold up non-hunting traffic, cars, bicycles and walkers, it is easy to make enemies of the general public if the hunt blocks the road. Always leave enough room to allow motorists to pass easily, If a car comes up behind you pass the message ‘car please’ forward to the Field Master who should ensure that the Field is moved to a position so that the traffic can pass, this also applies when standing on the road. When a car does pass or when oncoming traffic slows down you should always thank them, a wave and a smile works wonders! When standing near parked cars you should always leave enough room to avoid damaging the car with stirrups, tack or horse. When riding along the road care should also be taken not to ride across verges that are obviously kept mown by home owners. Great pride can be taken over property and a set of deep hoof prints adds nothing to the look of a manicured verge.
Individual members of the mounted field are responsible for ensuring that they do not ride too close to the horse in front. They are also responsible for warning other members of the mounted field that they have a novice hunting horse which may behave unpredictably, or that their horse is known to kick. This is indicated by ribbon tied around the top of your horses tail a green ribbon for a novice, or a red ribbon if you’re horse is known to kick. These ribbons are not an indication of the rider’s experience they are simply warnings – it is not the responsibility of others to avoid these horses, (although it is sensible to do so), but the responsibility of the riders to make sure that their mounts do not harm others. Horses with red or green ribbons must stay at the back of the mounted field.
Courtesy should always be shown to foot followers when passing them. You should give them enough warning for them take up a point of safety and allow you to pass.
Dealing with fences
When jumping the hunt fences, remember that nothing annoys the other members of the field more than someone who barges in, instead of waiting for their turn. The same applies to the gateways. If your horse is a persistent refuser, try to find a way round – the farmer will not thank you for chopping up his field. When jumping obstacles you should generally jump ‘single file’, (one behind the other). If you or your horse is not confident jumping you should jump at the back of the field and see if someone will give you a lead, or (if possible) find an alternative crossing. Where possible you should ‘hold a line’ when jumping, ie not veering to the left or right on approaching a jump and interfering with the horse and rider behind you. If a hunt fence is damaged remember to tell the Field Master as soon as you can so that they can organise its repair. If a rider has fallen before or after a jump, the rest of the mounted field should wait until the fallen rider is up and out of harms way. A loose horses will need to be retrieved and help is always appreciated, you never know when it might be you looking for assistance! A long walk through a muddy field pursuing your horse is not a task to be relished! When following round a field care should be taken not to cross the path of other riders at corners causing them to change their line.
Leaving the Field
Members of the mounted field should always indicate they are going home by saying “Goodnight” and “Thank you” to the Field Master (regardless of the time of day) this will help them keep track of the mounted field. This is particularly important if you are a newcomer, perhaps in an area unknown to you and can avoid a search party looking for you when you are safely on your way home dreaming of a hot bath and a serious drink!. If when you going home you are unsure of where you are please ask the Field Master the best route back to the boxes, this is not necessarily the most direct route, the Field Master will be able to tell you where to go so as not to go on land where you should not be.
Tradition and safety, not fashion, is the reason for correct dress in the hunting field and it is a courtesy to the Hunt and farmers for the field to be well turned out. We want to come out and enjoy your day and do not wish you to go to great expense in the early stages of your hunting, so long as your dress is neat, tidy, safe and not brightly coloured, (we are in the countryside not the show ring), you are very welcome to join us.
The correct clothing should comprise cream or fawn breeches or jodhpurs, a dark or tweed jacket and a velvet hat or skull cap. Skull caps should be covered with a black or navy silk. A white stock or a hunting tie is correct. Gloves are not obligatory, but it is sensible to wear them. It can be cold in the hunting field. Gloves should be leather, string or woollen. A hunting crop/whip should be carried if you have one, they are very useful for opening/closing gates. Long hair should be tied back neatly or constrained in a hair net. It is sensible not to wear the following jewellery, rings can cause blisters or worse if trodden on, (this has happened), earrings especially hooped can cause injury if caught up in a wood, and worst of all you really do not want to lose them, and it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack if you do.
Make sure that your horse is clean and well turned out for the meet and that the tack is clean, safe and not brightly coloured.
All these points may at first seem onerous, but in effect are mainly common sense and courtesy. The main issue is that we want you to enjoy your hunting with us and by observing these points we hope to provide good sport for the mounted field, foot followers, landowners , farmers and all interested onlookers.