Last season our intrepid customer, Will, decided to take up horse-riding and hunting at the same time. He wrote about his experience through the season garnering followers of his diary all over the world (and serialised by the lovely people at Hounds Magazine in the UK.
As we approach the 2018/2019 season we asked Will if he would share his best advice for anyone else thinking of trying hunting. Here is what he recommends:
Somewhere out there, someone is wondering if they should, could, maybe just possibly try hunting this year.
If that’s you, then in the spirit of the blind leading the blind, here are the things I wish I had understood better before I started. I hope they help.
1. Hunting people love a newcomer
The vast majority of hunting folk love a newcomer. They want to see you enjoying yourself and succeeding. I’ve had no end of offers of assistance, encouragement and advice. I'm not good looking enough to get this attention randomly so I know it’s because they are pleased I'm there, taking part.
2. Hunting people would much rather talk about your horse than you
I do not hale from the Landed Gentry. Before I went hunting I was worried about the social aspect of it. What would these people be like? And more importantly what the hell would I talk to them about?
Actually, it’s shockingly simple. These people love their horses to the exclusion of the greater part of humanity. To open a conversation with any stranger on the field just ask them something about their horse and you’re away. You could pick any facet of horse care; feed, exercise regime, blanket thickness, kit, injuries and recovery, the damn thing's face after a snack, anything. In return it is useful to know something about the horse you are riding such as its name (and any amusing stories about how it came to be known as The Murderer, or Midnight Bolter, or Mr Scratchy etc), its age, breed, where it came from, whether it’s hunted historically…you get the idea.
3. Hunting people love calamity avoided
There is a quiet moment after Lady Luck has thrown her dice - and you into the ditch - but once it’s clear you’re alive (and, vastly more importantly, that your horse if OK, see point 2) then the jokes start. This is a good thing.
You aren't anyone until your saddle has slipped on mounting and you've had to chase your panicked horse across a car park with the saddle flapping under its belly. You are simply not worth speaking to until upside down in a bog scrabbling to find your hunting whip. All last season, one young lad politely, but resolutely refused all my attempts at conversation. Finally, one day, he saw me fall off my horse and slide with it – man and beast – down the side of a small mountain. I remounted and the lad has not stopped talking to me since.
4. When speaking to the Huntsman do it when he isn't hunting, and make it brief anyway
Talking to a Huntsman at the Meet, or while they’re working Hounds, is like striking up idle chit chat with a pilot engaged in an emergency landing. Unhelpful and unlikely to illicit a warm response. They’re busy. Even after hunting has finished I reckon the best thing I can do is thank the hunt staff and leave them to relax.
5. Join in
I constantly hear "I'd really like to try hunting BUT..." and then a load of reasons, or excuses, not to.
There are a thousand reasons why you might not want to give hunting a miss, but there is one bloody good reason not to. There is nothing else like it in the world. This is a uniquely British pastime, done in the British countryside. If you truly want to try it there is no reason you can’t. If I can do it, anyone can do it, and I mean it.
6. It helps if you can ride
It helps if you can ride, but it’s not necessary to be an awesome rider. Call your local Hunt Secretary and they will advise on slow days, newcomers’ days, children’s Meets, half-days, non-jumping fields, old reliable plodding horses and people who might help you on the day itself. You don't have to be a 2-star eventer. In many packs you don’t ever have to jump either. Like most things in life you can control much of your own experience with a bit of forward planning. Get involved at your own pace, on your own terms.
7. Count Hounds
Hunting got more interesting when I started to notice Hounds. I was advised to try and count them away from a covert. Easy enough, surely? Not really. Firstly, I needed to understand when they were about the leave the covert. Then I had to try and keep track of them (counting them in pairs, or ‘couples’, as I was taught). It’s not straightforward and that’s what makes it interesting.
Count them at the Meet, count them in the field, count then when everyone is smoking, drinking and talking. I have started to be able to recognise individual Hounds and should you find yourself talking to the Huntsman (see point 4) showing the smallest interest in his first love is a good start.
The Field follow the Field Master who follows the Huntsman who follows Hounds. In trying to understand Hounds the whole thing is starting to make a little more sense.
8. Go back to front
Charging around at the front seemed the most fun when I first watched people hunting (and it is). But until I have the balance and coordination to keep up safely I need to be further back.
It may be a little more boring at times but I learn more listening and watching at the back then charging around at the front. I’m still scared witless at the back often enough so, really, it’s far from boring most days.
9. Look at a map before and after you go out
Similar to point 7, learning the rough location of where I was going made a big difference to my enjoyment of the day. It was especially helpful if I intended to leave early and get myself back to boxes.
I have a large map of our hunt country on my office wall. I mark every Meet and try to understand the farms, woods, roads and copses in that location. If I have one or two names to hand before I rock up then I can ask sensible questions when I'm there.
In hunting, as in life, it helps to know roughly where the hell you are.
10. Imitate success
Find the right people to follow on the day. There is a universe of characters in the hunting Field. While you might have a 2-star Eventer in your Field there’s not much point following her if you’re a novice rider.
The right person might be the bloke who has hunting 25+ years in this hunt country. It might be a farrier who only jumps when Hounds are running and, even then, only if he must. It might be a mother leading her four-year-old confidently mid-field. It might be the Secretary who has to try and stay out of trouble. These are the ones to watch. When they turn left despite the rest going right there is probably a good reason – avoiding a boggy jump, a slope, a hazard. These people made my day better. They know when the Field will blast around a woodland for 15 minutes and end up back where they started. These people are gold dust.