Field Etiquette While Hunting
Hunting is all about good manners and what’s more, the good manners need to start the moment you arrive.
Travelling to the hunt
Some meets can prove elusive, so ensure you leave plenty of time to find the hunt. It’s good manners to arrive on time - riding into the field to try and catch up may result in the line of scent being crossed and distract the hounds. If you’re late but still able to join the field, the first obligation will be to apologise to the Field Master for your late arrival. Not the best way to start!
When parking for a meet, do NOT park in gateways, driveways or on grass verges. Always ensure there is sufficient room to allow the free flow of traffic at all times.
It’s advisable to say “Good morning” to the Master along with handing your cap unprompted to the Hunt Secretary. The Hunt Secretary is the one clanking as she moves, as everyone has used the opportunity to relieve themselves of loose change!
In the Field
One of the cardinal rules of hunting is that you must not “over-ride” the hounds. You must stay behind the pack at all times. Occasionally, a hound slips behind the others or gets lost, then comes up behind the hunt. If you see a hound coming up behind you, turn your horse’s head towards it so it does not kick out and hold your stick out low between horse and hound to ensure it does not get under your horse’s feet. Warn others in front by shouting “hound on the left”, for example, so they know what to do.
Give way to a member of the hunt wearing colours, as it’s generally understood that those with their colours are entitled to ride at the front of the Field. A lack of brakes will not be a sufficient excuse if you ride past the colours or, worse still, the Field Master. You have been warned!
Equally, if the Master/Field Master, or any of the Hunt staff, i.e. the Huntsman, Whipper-in etc, come up through the Field, shout out “Master/Field Master/Huntsman/Whip on left”, so the field can move to one side and let the rider through.
It’s the Field’s job to follow the Field Master. The Master will have liaised with the local farmers and given the Field Master appropriate instructions, so the Field Master will know what route to take on the day. So, if you come to a field and he goes through the middle of it, you should follow him as this will be the route that the Master has agreed with the farmer.
If you come to a crop field, ride round the edges without cutting the corners. You’ll hear the words “Headland please!” indicating you should keep to the sides.
If you come to a field of sheep or cattle, ride round them, not through the middle. Go slowly through a field with animals in it as you need to avoid making them run.
If you come to an open gate, slow down and go through at a walk. If someone holds the gate open for you, thank them as it may be the landowner who has allowed the hunt to ride across his land.
If you arrive at a gate which is open and there is no other person around, SHUT the gate as less harm can be done by shutting rather than leaving a gate open. Gates left open during hunting are the single most common reason for farmers withdrawing their co-operation.
Never cut or remove any wire unless in an emergency, i.e. if a horse is tangled up. If a hound is caught in the wire tell a hunt official immediately or as soon as you are able. Do NOT approach a hound tangled in wire as it will be frightened and may bite you!
Wooden bridges present a particular hazard as they are often slippery. Once across, never gallop off as this might excite and endanger the horses behind you. Move off at a walk having waited for the horse behind you.
If you’re jumping and your horse refuses, go to the back of the Field and wait until last to go over. Again, it’s bad form to block a jump so that the Field cannot get over it. If you can’t get over it, retrace your steps until you come to a road. Don’t just take the nearest route back to the hunt, as this might take you through fields that a farmer has specifically asked the hunt not to cross.
If you break a fence, report it to the Field Master or the Huntsman. If there are animals in the field, immediate repairs may have to be made.
Whilst it is a sociable sport, unnecessary conversation should be avoided. A successful hunt relies on good communication between the hounds, Huntsman and Field Master. Trying to engage the Field Master in idle chit-chat whilst he or she is trying to monitor hound work will not be welcomed.
Ideally, you should intend to remain for the duration of the hunt. However, occasions may arise that necessitate heading home early. You should inform the Field Master. It might also be prudent to ask for directions - not only will this avoid returning by the scenic route, but it will also avoid interfering with hound work. If possible, use hard surfaces for your return journey.
Riding with a hunt is a privilege, not a right. Although rarely exercised, the Masters and Secretary have the power to excuse riders from the field and send them home should they deem it necessary. If you ensure that you are observing and feverishly following the proper etiquette, you can avoid such an embarrassing situation.
It’s suggested that you show kindness to the young, the old, and anyone who falls, even if they wreak havoc on you at a jump. Someday, it may be you lying on the ground, probably winded, and you’ll be glad of the sympathy.
All hunts will welcome newcomers, but when the hunt is in full swing it can be easy to forget someone is less experienced and believe that they are being cared for by someone else. Some hunts operate a system of hunting nannies to dissipate anxiety and ensure an enjoyable day for all. Others offer newcomer days.
"Hold Hard!" means "Stop now. And don't move until I tell you."
“Huntsman Please” or “Whip Please” means “Let the huntsman pass”.
If “Gate Please” is shouted from the rider in front of you, pass on to the rider behind you as this means the gate MUST be shut. Make absolutely sure the person behind you has heard. If you cannot get a response, shut it yourself.
If the Field Master shouts at you, don’t take offence. Sometimes the Field Master needs an immediate response to ensure the safety of all concerned, so don’t take it personally – the Field Master certainly won’t!
General points to remember
Whilst you're out hunting, there are those people who are trying to go about their ordinary business. So say thank you to cars that slow down, avoid blocking roads and thank those who open gates for you.
It's important to know who the important people are when you're riding with the hunt. Find out who you should be following in the blog below...