ETIQUETTE IN THE HUNT FIELD

by Felicity Fieldmember

The rules of etiquette for fox hunting/fox chasing have been in place for many years, and shared by many hunts.  While certain regional adaptations may have occurred due to individual circumstances the core values remain the same:

  • The Safety of the Riders

  • The Safety and Comfort of the Horses

  • The Proper Functioning of the Hunt

  • Respect for the Landowners

  • Respect for, and homage to, the Sport and all the foxes and foxhunters that have come before us.

Members Gayanna Gilbraith and Tarene Friedman 

Etiquette is merely treating others with respect and courtesy.  As such hunt field etiquette needs to be viewed within the context of the entire group effort, as well as the overall picture we wish to present to the public.  Hence individual riders’ or horses’ normal habits may need modification to be considered helpful members of the group at large.  At times, in the heat of a run, it may be hard to remember some of these rules, but the more they are practiced the more automatic they become and the happier and safer the entire field will be.

 

THE HORSE

First let us consider the horse.  Not all horses will hunt or like to hunt. If you have questions about how well your horse will perform these tasks in a group you are encouraged to take advantage of the hunt’s summer trail rides, as well as consult with the Masters or Huntsman!

The horse must:

  • Be willing to go in a group without undue fuss or excitement, and then halt when asked. 

  • Must also be willing to stand quietly (Wadsworth maintains that the halt is the most necessary aspect of a hunter!). 

  • Be able to wait.  While the ability to jump safely is an excellent quality, the ability to wait for their turn at a fence is just as desirable.

  • Be fit enough to participate (see Lyda Denney’s excellent article on fitness for foxhunters).  A lathered, unfit horse not only shows poor horsemanship, but is bad public relations for the hunt.

  • Be tolerant of other horses in moderately close proximity-it is a grave fault to kick another horse.  Horses that kick should be ridden at the back of the field, and a red ribbon worn in the tail.  Wearing the ribbon does NOT however absolve the rider of the responsibility for controlling their horse!

  • Be tolerant of hounds-it is a CARDINAL SIN to kick a hound!

  • Be sure footed going across country and able to negotiate natural obstacles such as ditches, bogs, water and fallen logs.

 

THE TURNOUT OF HORSE AND RIDER

You are not only continuing centuries of tradition, but also acting as a representative to any modern day observers.  Anything less than impeccable turnout is an insult to the sport and to your fellow fox hunters.  While much of this should go without saying, the fact that it IS being said means that everyone still needs to be vigilant.  This does NOT mean you must immediately spend thousands of dollars, it means you must take fastidious care of what you have and realize that upgrades in your equipment might need to be factored in over the course of the season(s). See Proper Attire for the Hunt Field. If in any doubt, speak to the Masters or to one of the long standing members.

  • The horse should be clean (including grays and all white markings).  He will soon enough be dirty again, at least start out looking sharp.

  • Manes should be well pulled.  Long maned breeds should consider French braiding the mane to keep it out of the way.

  • Manes (and tails if well done) should be braided on the High Holy days of Hunting (Opening meet, Blessing of the Hounds, and other days as designated by the Masters).

  • Horses should be adequately shod for the job at hand.  This may entail borium or removable calks for traction.  This is a safety matter.  Speak with your farrier.

  • Tack should be conservative and spotlessly clean.  If well cleaned one would assume that the rider has taken the time to inspect the tack for safety as well!

  • The rider as well should be clean, polished and well put together.  You too will soon enough have a chance to get dirty. Riders with hair that extends below the helmet must wear a hairnet. This applies to both ladies and gentlemen. Additional information on rider clothing can be had on the Proper Attire for the Hunt Field page.

  • As we are perhaps the most tradition bound sport there is, and as this is considered by many one of the charms of the sport individualism in turnout is not rewarded in the hunt field! 

 

AT THE MEET

  • Arrive early at the meet.  Everything seems to take longer to get done on a hunting morning when you are trying to hurry, so allow for extra time.  When the hounds are ready to move off you do not want to be struggling to mount your horse.  You also will have missed the stirrup cup.

  • If you hacked over go by road so as not to disrupt the coverts.

  • Greet the Masters (and all others) with a “Good Morning” - no matter how foul the weather or even if you have not had enough coffee.  From a safety standpoint the Masters need to have a mental inventory of who they have in the field that day, and this assists them.

  • Check in with the Hunt Secretary (or their designee for the day). 

    • They will be taking official attendance

    • They will also have you sign a release form if you haven’t already.  These must be renewed EVERY YEAR.     Remember that junior riders MUST have a release signed by a parent or guardian (NOT just the adult that brought them!).

    • They will collect capping fees.  Have the correct change or a check, do not expect them to make change or give credit.  It is considered most polite to put your capping fee into an envelope with your name and address on it so the Secretary knows for sure WHAT they received and from WHOM. See Capping with LCH for more details.

    • Remember that DUES must be paid before members can hunt!

  • Should you wish to bring a GUEST please ask permission of the Masters BEFORE the day.

    • The guest should also be introduced to the Masters and to the Hunt Secretary

    • You are responsible for your guest and their conduct for the rest of the hunt.  The Hunt loves guests but that statement alone probably makes you more selective on which friends you would like to invite.  

  • Be thoughtful of where you park your trailer, both for safety and for the convenience of people who need to use the road or adjacent driveways.

    • If parking on private land do not clean out your trailer onto their lawn unless they have specifically asked for donations of organic fertilizer.

 

IN THE FIELD

While many people love the thrill of the chase remember that this should not be your overwhelming goal.  This is not a steeplechase or cross country event.   The desire should be to watch good houndwork as the hounds pursue a wily adversary. 

  • In our particular hunt we do not hunt for the kill (as the fox is not a major agricultural pest in this area), but rather for the view of the fox.   Hence we enjoy bloodthirsty tendencies less than one might believe from reading popular literature. 

  • Precedence-There is a traditional order of precedence in the hunt field.  It is assumed that older, more experienced members have earned the right to ride in front, as well as have the requisite skill and a properly conditioned horse.  Newer members/horses often do better a few steps back from the action.

    • Obviously the MASTERS are at the front-they gauge the distance that needs to be maintained from the hounds and huntsman depending on what is going on, while still allowing the field to view as much of the action as is practicable.  Passing the Masters on a run is bad, really bad, really, really bad.  Trust us on this one.

      • Following the Masters are members WITH COLORS and anyone else who the Masters have INVITED to hunt up front.

      • They are followed by members WITHOUT COLORS

      • They are then followed by JUNIORS (usually riding with a member who looks out for them).  On occasion the Masters may ask a Junior to ride at the front for a short period of time.  This does not then put the junior always in the Master’s pocket for all future hunts; it is a special privilege given only at specific times.

      • They are then followed by members who have GUESTS riding with them for the day.

      • At the back there may be horses that kick or greener horses.

      • If your horse is having an issue (or not keeping up) don’t hesitate to move to the rear and allow others to ride ahead of you (no matter what your original status)!

    • There is often more than one field on popular hunting days

      • Each field will have a Field Master/leader.  They will try to keep the riders in touch with the field ahead of them-although perhaps will not go quite as fast as the preceding field.  They are responsible for their field, do NOT change fields without alerting them!

      • While the order of precedence is followed in each field, it would be expected that First Field would be comprised of members with colors and those the Masters have invited to hunt up front.  This field moves the fastest and it is expected to jump as needed.

      • Second field generally does not move quite as fast as first field, and jumps are optional.

      • Days when a Third Field is held it will go slightly slower than 2nd field, without jumping (remember though that you still might need to navigate over some logs in the woods!).  It is a true field however, not a hilltoppers group.  Therefore participants need to be suitably attired and be able to trot and canter in a group.  This is an excellent lower stress place to introduce a horse to hunting.

  • If you hear “REVERSE FIELD” (usually on narrow paths) everyone will turn around and proceed out the way you came in reverse order of the way you went in.

    • Do NOT strike out on your own.  Even if you think you know a better trail.  You could be responsible for turning the fox and spoiling the day for everyone!

    • Do NOT leave the field and assume Whipper-in responsibilities unless you have been asked to do so.  And not asked by just anyone--specifically asked by the hunt staff.

    • Staff and hounds always have the right of way-more on this later

  • Control your horse

    • Please speak with the Masters or Huntsman (at a convenient time, not necessarily in the middle of a hunt!) if you need advice on training your horse for some of the particular skills they will need for the hunt field.  The Masters or Huntsman may be able to suggest individuals or trainers who could assist you.

    • Many horses need to wear more bit when hunting than they do in the ring.  While you may be a purist who delights in usually riding in a snaffle, find out what bit you and your horse are most comfortable with that allows you the necessary control in the hunt field.

    • Running past other horses agitates them as well.  Practice maintaining control at all gaits in a group.

    • Do not run up on the heels of another horse.  Even a calm horse can be made to kick by this.  You should be able to see the heels of the horse in front of you.

    • Do not use the horse in front of you as a bumper to help you stop.  That is your responsibility (see the note on bitting, above).

    • Be able to stop without circling, as this often will agitate other horses as well—and in addition, no horse appreciates being bumped from the side.

    • Although you may be anxious to jump, be able to wait your turn—and train your horse to do the same.

    • At jumps give the person ahead of you sufficient “falling room” so that if there is an incident you do not end up in a heap as well.

    • Unless fences are VERY wide (such as a snake fence) do not jump them abreast.  Practice jumping abreast at home if you want to do the Hunt Team class at the Master’s Challenge.

    • If your horse refuses a jump you have lost your place in line.  Either go to the rear of the line or go around the jump.  This is no time to “school” your horse.

    • Teach your horse to stand at a check

    • Be able to back your horse off the trail if hunt staff needs to get through.

    • Be able to turn your horses head towards a hound so that there is less risk of kicking or stepping on it. Also on trails try to all stay on one side of trail to leave a path for hounds to get back to the huntsman.

    • A raised hand of the Master or riders in front of you is a warning to stop.

    • Watch well ahead of you to be prepared of what you might next encounter.

    • If your horse has been known to kick it is your responsibility to keep him out of situations that might provoke him.

      • Wearing a red ribbon in the tail tells others he kicks.  However it is also an acknowledgement that you know he kicks and that you are taking precautions to avoid injuring another horse.  You are still responsible for him kicking.

      • It is best to put kickers at the back of the field.

      • If you feel he is about to kick to you can ask him to raise his head as a slight deterrent.

    • A young or green horse may have a green ribbon in its tail.  This does not absolve the rider from the responsibility of not disrupting other riders.

    • “Please” and “thank you” were the magic words you were taught as a child and they are still applicable.

  • Control your Guest

    • All of the above apply to your guest and their horse-YOU are responsible for both of them as well as yourself!

    • It is wise to explain the activities to your guest, but do it quietly and at appropriate times.

    • Stay with your guest, even if you need to go slower than usual-this is courteous and possibly safer for them.

  • Hazards

    • Warn riders immediately behind you of holes, wire, derelict farm machinery, etc.  The phrase “’Ware hole” would be accompanied by pointing at the hazard as a further indication. It is only necessary to say “’Ware hole” loud enough for them to hear and pass on.  It is not necessary to scream this.

    • Likewise, culverts, deeper parts of a bog, etc. can be pointed out.

    • Do NOT try to hold back tree branches for other riders as you are guaranteed to smack them in the face.

    • When going up a steep hill do not stop until you are well over it.  Otherwise you will leave riders behind you clinging in precarious positions.

    • Look well ahead (at least several horses) to be prepared for what you might next encounter.  Be alert!

  • Respect property-Without the land that the landowners allow us to hunt over we would not be able to continue.  Every effort should be made to respect property.

    • Ride single file on the edge of any planted field.

    • The same will apply to certain farmer’s hay fields.  Be alert for instructions from your Masters.  If in ANY doubt, play it safe and ride on the edge!

    • If you go through a gate that was open, leave it open.  If it was closed someone must close it.  Relay this information to the person behind you.  Be kind to the person who is closing the gate, leave one horse and rider back with them.  Otherwise they are unlikely to be able to mount a very agitated horse that feels he has been left behind!

    • If you damage a fence let the Masters know so repairs can be made. 

    • If you REALLY damage a fence offer to pay for the damages.

    • Keep your horse off lawns. 

    • Do NOT assume that land that is hunted over is therefore land you can trail ride on. 

    • Always smile and wave to all residents and landowners encountered.  This is not only good manners, but good public relations.

  •  At a Check-This is not social hour.  The staff needs to hear the hounds.

    • Therefore conversations should be minimal or whispered. 

    • If you feel the need to pull food from your pocket or sandwich case do not drop wrappers on the ground.  Not only is it littering it can also distract hounds. 

    • If you chose to share your flask (which is only neighborly) do so quietly.  It has been mentioned that Masters appreciate the offer of a flask.

 

​ON THE ROAD

  • Ride on the same side of the road as the hounds.  This allows the riders to share the road with vehicles, but helps protect the hounds from cars

  • Look back occasionally to check that no vehicles are approaching unnoticed.

  • If you see a car coming from behind, alert others

  • Remember that pavement is slippery for the horse unless they are adequately shod with borium or calks.

  • Be very courteous and friendly to vehicle drivers as they then tend to reciprocate in kind.

  • Do not block the road, share it

HUNT STAFF

(If not for their efforts and the hounds we would not have a hunt!)

  • Hunt Staff ALWAYS has the right of way.

    • If you hear “Staff please” get out of the way

    • If you hear “Staff please” and you are on a trail you must back up off the trail.

    • Always turn your horse’s head towards the staff horse as a precaution against kicking

    • Follow any directives the staff gives you

  • Hounds ALWAYS have the right of way.

    • Try not to pass a hound.  He needs room to get back to the pack

    • Riding close to a working hound will distract him, leave him to his work.

    • NEVER get between the Huntsman and their hounds.

  • Staff may speak to hounds-the field should not

    • Again, this is a distraction for the hound

VIEWING A FOX

  • No matter what you have seen in the movies don’t start screaming “Tally ho”.   You do not want to alarm the fox and potentially turn him around back into the hounds.  It may not even be the hunted fox.

  • Alert the Masters or your field master to your suspicions.  Be careful to not identify woodchucks as foxes, as this is most embarrassing.     

LEAVING EARLY

(There are certain times it is appropriate to leave the field.)

  • Many of these times would relate to horse welfare (tired, lame, missing a shoe, etc).

  • As well, a misbehaving horse is better withdrawn by the rider rather than asked to leave by the Masters. 

  • In either case one should inform the Masters or their Field master, when there is a break in the action and the hounds are not working. 

  • As much of the travel back as is feasible should be by way of the road, so as not to ride through coverts that still might be drawn that day.

AFTER THE HUNT

  • It is always polite to thank the staff for the sport they have shown you.  As they will be busy with hounds they will not have time to chat further however. 

  • Traditionally after the hunt you wish a Master “Thank you and Good Night”-- no matter what time of day it is.  Well what does one expect, considering a hunt breakfast is often in the afternoon!

  • If attending the breakfast make sure your horse is comfortably situated in the trailer (watered, haynet, cooled out, antisweat sheet or covered as needed, etc)

  • Again, be careful of where you park so as not to annoy the neighbors of the host/hostess of the hunt breakfast.

  • As a courtesy to the breakfast’s host/hostess wipe the mud off boots and take your spurs off.  They have no desire to find muddy gouges on the antique Duncan Phyfe settee.

© 2007 Barbara E. Lindberg, Jt. MFH

©2020 Limestone Creek Hunt

Cazenovia, NY