A Newcomer's Guide to a Day's Hunting
A Newcomer’s Guide to a Day’s Hunting with the Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt
Planning your day
Firstly ring the Field Secretary who will be able to advise about a suitable day to start or visit.
The hunting day starts with the Meet, usually at someone’s house, farm or a pub. You may be given a drink (often port or mulled wine) and a small bite to eat. Aim to arrive at the Meet in good time (at least 15 to 20 minutes early), allowing time to find the venue, park and introduce yourself to the Secretary and pay your cap. She will point out the Master of the day. Introduce yourself to the Master/s, the correct greeting being "Good morning Master" (even if you know them personally).
If you are in doubt about anything please ask. Hunting is a sport to enjoy. The more people you talk to at the meet, the happier the atmosphere that is created and the quicker you will make friends.
At some Meets, horsebox and trailer parking is limited. It is perfectly acceptable to unbox more than a mile away and hack to the Meet (the secretary will be able to advise). This helps to settle both horses and riders. Please do not park in gateways or opposite other boxes or vehicles. Where possible ensure vehicles are completely off the road (but never on mown verges) especially on narrow roads, and allow room for agricultural vehicles to pass. Never park in farmyards or around other farm buildings without the express consent of the farmer beforehand.
Before moving off, the Master will address the field, thank the hosts and give out the arrangements for the day. At the meet it is announced who will be “Field Master” for the day, if it is not the speaker. The Meet will last for fifteen to twenty minutes. When you hear the cry ‘hounds please’, the huntsman and hounds will move off through the field to begin the day’s activities.
Do remember to keep your horse facing the hounds at the meet, as well as when moving off. Do not allow your horse to tread upon or kick a hound. A horse will by instinct kick out at something that comes up unexpectedly from behind. This rule applies throughout the hunt.
If hospitality has been provided at the meet, be sure to thank your host before you leave.
During the Hunt
These days we follow a trail laid earlier, so that no one knows the route across country. You must follow the Field Master at all times; do not overtake – it’s a serious offence. The Field Master has planned the day and knows where the hunt is allowed to go, as hunting depends on the continued goodwill of farmers and landowners. Please try to keep up with the field, should you get left behind you might not find the field again! If you are left alone or become lost, please track back to the nearest roadway.
Most horses and ponies will settle but many find it exciting to start with. The horse that hacks out in snaffle may not be so co-operative when cantering in a 100 acre field with 30 others behind a pack of hounds! Consider a martingale and upping the brakes before you come, you can always downgrade.
Be polite and considerate to everyone, the hunt is judged by behaviour of all its followers. Please thank cars who slow down or have been held up, wave cars on when you see the Masters wave them on and keep to the nearside if you hear the shout "car please". A smile and "good morning" to people on foot will help to improve public relations. Keep off mown grass verges in villages.
If you are following in a car turn your engine off as soon as possible. Not only is it hard to hear hounds when engines are running but the fumes get up their noses. Whether mounted or in a car that has pulled up please keep to one side of the road to prevent blocking passing traffic.
When hounds are speaking please keep quiet. Do not get in the way of the hunt staff they have a job to do and remember to turn your horse’s head to huntsman and hounds when they pass. Always give precedence to the Huntsman and his hounds and the Masters. If you hear the shout “hounds please”, you must move out of the way.
Pass on any messages when they come, loud and clear – such as “ware hole” or “keep in please” for example.
We hunt only by agreement with our landowners and farmers, and hunting could not take place without their active support. Remember that you are the guest on someone’s land, respect their land at all times and if it is wet ride steadily, don’t gallop downhill - if you see the field master walking their horse, you should do the same and don’t rush to catch up. If someone holds a gate for you, be sure to thank them; it would be arrogant not to and it may be the farmer whose land you are crossing.
Hunting can be exciting and invigorating, and you may get carried away, so when jumping, allow plenty of room for the horse in front – it may stop or fall. When jumping, wait your turn. Do not attempt to jump if there is a hound anywhere near a jump. Always give Hunt Staff priority. If your horse refuses then let the others go first before trying again.
If someone in the field falls or a horse is hurt please stop to help. If required call for additional support and back-up. In all cases if someone needs to re-mount, wait by them to help their horse to stand still. If you see a problem is adequately taken care of please pass slowly and then continue on. This allows the rest of the field to keep up and prevents bottlenecks.
If you should damage a fence, gate or any other of the landowner’s property, ensure you leave it stock proof and report it to the master or secretary as soon as practicable. If you forget or can’t find someone, it could result in livestock getting out on to the road, so a phone-call to one of the hunt officials to inform them will be gratefully received. If you attempt a gate or wall and break it you will be expected to pay for it.
Not all days involve challenging jumping, which is why it is important to check with the Secretary beforehand. Whilst we try to put in as much jumping as possible a lot will depend on the area being hunted and the ground conditions. Never open a gate adjacent to a jump until after all the jumpers have gone. This is extremely dangerous, inviting jumping horses to dip out of jumping at the last minute.
It is the duty of all members of the field to assist the Masters and hunt staff at gates. If you see them approaching a gate a word to the field master for consent to go forward is all that is required and then speedy assistance so as not to hold them up in their work. It is of course easier for children and young adults to jump off their mounts to help. Please bear this in mind if you fall into this category. Please thank any person who opens the gate and do not ride off and leave a mounted follower to try and shut a gate on their own.
If in doubt it is better to shut a gate than to leave it open. We have gate shutters on busier days who follow the field but they cannot be relied upon to shut all gates left open. They are a safety net and not a guarantee that all gates will be shut. If you go through a gate and someone in front shouts “gate please”, pass this on to the riders behind, but if you are the last person through the gate, you must close the gate. It is the duty of all hunt followers to ensure that all gates that have been opened are closed. In the event that riders behind are out of earshot a raised whip or hand is the method of communication. Do not leave the gate until you have heard “gate please” passed back or a whip or hand has been raised in acknowledgment.
Riding near or through livestock and farmland
When riding near or through livestock ensure you are between the stock and the fence and ride at a speed they will tolerate without getting upset. If stock bunch up in a corner, stop and wait for them to move out. You should not enter any field without the Field Master unless instructed to do so. Take particular care at gates when there is stock in the field. If you witness stock escaping make sure you tell the Field Master or Secretary immediately.
If there is an option between a track/path and grass/planted crops always ride on the track unless specifically instructed to do otherwise.
The current system of subsidies and farm practices is complicated. Always be aware of instructions coming from the Field Master. “Single file” means exactly that and it is important to go along the same line as the Field Master. Sometimes this may not be along the line you may expect. Under some stewardship schemes for example you may not be allowed to ride on the headland and the Field Master may require you to ride in single file between the headland and the cropped area. In the event you get left behind look for the line of the hoof prints.
End of the day
It is important to remember that without a huntsman and his hounds there would be no sport. A thank you goes a long way in helping these people feel appreciated, especially Hunt Staff who will probably be cold, wet and tired at the end of the day. When you wish to go home, it is traditional to say “Goodnight” (whatever time of day it is) to people around you and thank the Master for the day’s hunting – he or she has spent a lot of time organising it.
Make your way home via public rights of way and do not cut through fields without permission even if the hunt has crossed them earlier in the day. Often landowners give time constraints to their permission, after which the hunt is no longer allowed.
Finally, don’t hurry back to your box: let your horse wind down and cool off.
Tips for your first days hunting
- Practice plaiting before the day — it takes longer than you think!
- Get all your kit ready the night before. Make sure all tack is clean and safe.
- Be prepared to wash your horse to make sure he is clean and tidy either the day before or early in the morning.
- If your horse is a good traveller — saddle up before you go, it can be difficult to tack up an excited horse, when you arrive — put the bridle on before you unload.
- Allow plenty of time. You must have found and paid the Secretary and be mounted on your horse ready to go at least 10 minutes before the meet time.
- If you are not sure about anything — please ask — we were all new to it once!
- Please always keep well away from the hounds — the only unforgivable sin is for your horse to stand on or kick a hound! Be aware, even if your horse is used to dogs, a pack of hounds approaching from behind can be a shock, always turn your horse to face them.
- If in doubt always shut the gate, always walk around the field instead of straight across, never ride through a herd of animals — go round, always thank the car drivers for slowing down, be nice to everyone you meet — you may have just galloped across their field!
If you are a visitor or a newcomer to hunting and this all sounds complicated and scary don’t worry the members of the hunt aren’t and will always be willing to help you. Never be afraid to ask for advice.
- Be warm and dry
- Be clean and smart
- Be courteous
- At all times remember that you are a guest of the farmer or Landowner and that without their goodwill hunting would not be possible.
The Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt acts in a way consistent with the laws as set out in the Hunting Act 2004