By Alexandra Uren
*photo from the mid Surrey Drag Hounds
How to start hunting: There’s 2 types of equestrians in the world. Those who recoil with horror at the thought of galloping through the countryside and flying across (or through!) enormous hedges, and those who think, ‘yep, that’s me!’.
If you’re the latter and you fancy an adrenaline thrill to rival any other, you simply must give hunting a go. A fantastic way to spend a Saturday, it’ll give both you and your horse a new lease of life!
Starting hunting can undoubtedly be a scary experience, but one of the best ways to settle your nerves and get the most out of the day is to be as prepared as possible.
Fancy giving a go? Here’s what you need to know and how to start hunting!
What to Expect
If you’re new to hunting, you might want to start with an autumn hunt (from August to October). These are for young hounds, new staff and newcomers to the sport. The turnout for both horse and rider is much less strict, although the downside is that it starts very early in the morning!
Drag hunting is where riders and hounds hunt an artificially lain scent. There’s a predetermined route over jumps and obstacles, and these can suit a range of riding abilities. This usually starts at around midday where the host will offer drinks and snacks. The hunt will then set off, tackling around 5 or 6 ‘lines’ covering up to 6 miles. If your horse is getting tired, you are able to skip a line to give them a rest.
How Big are the Jumps?
The size of the jumps will vary from meet to meet, and there are often lots of alternatives for riders with less experience, as well as a second field master to assist with the easier lines. Fences can be from 60cm up to 1.20m, but most hunts will have an alternate route around the jumps.
What do I wear?
Traditional hunting dress is a hacking jacket with a shirt and tie or a coloured stock. Breeches should be beige and boots should be brown. Once the season is underway you should wear a black or blue jacket, but tweed is usually allowed.
For your first time hunting, buying a brand new jacket isn’t necessary – especially if you are unsure if you’ll keep it up. The best option is to ring the hunt secretary, and see if it’s okay to wear some of what you’ve already got in your wardrobe, or you can always politely ask a friend!
Jacket aside, comfortable breeches are a must. Beige is traditional, and later in the season it’s important that you keep warm. The Just Jodz Silicon Knee Breeches have ample knee grip to keep you in the saddle (which you may need if you’re flying over fences!) and can be worn over our super cozy thermal fleece underbreeches.
Many people choose to wear a body protector which we would highly recommend, especially if you’re nervous as it’ll give you some extra reassurance! These can be worn either under or over your jacket depending on the fit. Skullcaps are the safest had to wear as, although not traditional for hunting, there is no fixed peak. Finally, a good pair of gloves is essential and your hair should be neatly tied in a hairnet.
What does my Horse Wear?
It’s important that your horse is turned out properly. Your horse’s mane should be neat and tidy, but before the opening meet plaiting is not necessary. Once the season is underway, you should plait your horse.
If you know your horse has a tendency to get strong out hacking with others, you might want to consider a different bit. It’s very important that you’re able to stop! Your numnah should be dark in colour and follow the shape of the saddle.
If you horse has never been hunting before, put a green ribbon in his tail. Or if you think he might kick, use a red ribbon. Boots are optional, but bear in mind they will be on for a long period of time so ensure they fit your horse properly.
Is my Horse Suitable?
Lots of people worry that their horse won’t enjoy hunting, or that they won’t have any control! Both are legitimate worries, but there’s no reason why most horses won’t enjoy hunting, and so long as you are with experienced horses, you should find your horse stays at a similar speed to the others. While your horse will need a basic level of fitness, you won’t be flat out galloping for hours on end. What’s important is that your horse is brave, listens to you and isn’t spooked by lots going on!
How to Get Involved
Fancy giving it a go? If you still want to start hunting, the best place to start is to contact your local hunt secretary. Your local hunt can be found by visiting The Hunting Office. You will be able to ask any other questions you have regarding your horse’s suitability, the type of hunt that’s best for you and what to wear.