Guide to Hunting
The major concern of people wishing to hunt for the first time seems to be a fear of wearing or doing the wrong thing. Whilst etiquette is important to ensure hunting has an acceptable public image, we hope that people who come to hunt will find us accepting and helpful. We hope this guide will help you feel more comfortable and confident if you should choose to come out with us for your first experience of hunting. You will not remember all of it, but the more you hunt the more you will realise the reasons for a code of conduct.
As a visitor to the Dartmoor Hunt before coming to the meet mounted you should telephone the Honorary Secretary and ask if you may join the hunt for the day and check with her the amount (cap) you will be required to pay. You can also find out the best place to park and any other matter you are unsure of please don't be afraid to ask questions.
Every hunt has two seasons: autumn hunting when young hounds are introduced into the pack (August to October), and the formal season (October until April).
Autumn hunting allows for less formal attire called "ratcatcher". It is correct for both sexes to wear “Ratcatcher” which is a tweed jacket with a shirt and tie or coloured stock. Technically this should be worn with brown boots and a bowler hat, but most followers now wear the same boots and head gear as for Hunting after opening meet. The hunting cap/riding hat should be black or blue (ladies only) velvet covered (the ribbons at the back should be sewn up, as only Masters and the Hunt staff are entitled to wear these down).
Hunting gear has changed little since foxhunting began, is based on practicality. Heavy boots and breeches protect riders from branches and brambles. Heavy melton coats are almost waterproof. The stock tie, fastened with a plain gold safety pin, can serve as a bandage for man, hound or horse in case of an accident.
When the formal season opens the masters and staff wears its livery, red coats with white breeches and black boots with tan leather tops. Lady Masters never wear red coats, only black or blue, but do sport brass buttons rather than black ones.
Gentlemen should wear black hunting coats, buff breeches and black leather boots.
Ladies should wear black or navy blue coats with black buttons, buff breeches with plain black leather boots. Hair should always be tied up and held in a suitable hair net.
A white hunting stock should be worn by both ladies and gentlemen with the pin placed horizontally for safety and an appropriate hunting cap/riding hat (as above).
Hunt Buttons are awarded entirely at the discretion of the masters for long service and helpfulness to the hunt. The masters write a personal letter awarding hunt buttons, these are black with white inscription. The numbers of buttons on your coat;
Subscribers = 3 buttons
Masters who don't hunt hounds = 4 buttons
Huntsman & whip = 5 buttons
What you should have in your pockets?
The money for your cap, a penknife, some baler twine and possibly some food. You may even consider carrying a handkerchief or a bandage for emergencies (traditionally the stock is used for this purpose). A mobile phone, for emergencies only, is acceptable but reception in our country can be patchy.
It is traditional to plait your horse for hunting. There should be an odd number of plaits with the poll plait making an even total. Hogging the mane is another option. Whilst plaiting is very smart, it is not compulsory but as a mark of respect horses should be plaited for lawn meets.
Going to the meet
Conduct in the Field
- Allow plenty of time to get to the meet, as you are more likely to find a convenient place to un-box. Please do not park in gateways or opposite other boxes or vehicles. Where possible ensure vehicles are completely off the road 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.
- Your horse and tack must be clean and neat and in good repair.
- You should be clean and neat as well. Do not wear anything that could get caught on trees or other obstacles and cause injury to you or your horse.
- When arriving at the meet, you should find the Honorary Secretary and offer your cap
- You should say good morning to the Joint Masters and Huntsman (the correct greeting being "Good morning Master" even if you know them personally), ensure that your horse does not get amongst the hounds.
- Greet the Field Master before he or she gathers the field
- If hospitality has been provided at the meet, be sure to thank your host before you leave.
End of the day
- The Master, Hunt Staff and hounds should be given the right of way at all times. Always turn your horse so that its head is facing hounds, Master or Staff as they pass.
- Stay behind your Field Master at all times and follow his or her line. Never pass the Master or ride an alternate route without his or her permission. If he or she crosses a field by hugging the edge, do likewise. Where possible keep up with the Field Master, since leaving large gaps can interfere with the day’s sport.
- Please be quiet while hounds are being cast. Speak in a low tone of voice, so as not to raise hounds from hunting. All hallooing, calling out to and attempts to give direction to a hound by members of the Field are not only bad manners, but apt to spoil sport for everyone.
- However, if a hound comes in between horses or you see that a hound will be coming close to other horses let others know by calling "hound(s) please" to alert members to give the hound the right of way. If the hound does not appear to be in a position to encounter the horses, no call is necessary.
- If you see a danger to another rider, such as a hole or a low tree branch you should call out "Ware hole" or "Ware branch".
- If a Whipper-in or the Huntsman is coming up from ahead or behind and will need to pass through the field of riders, let others know by calling "Whip please" or "Hunt please". ALWAYS turn your horses head toward the rider so as to prevent your horse from kicking out as it passes.
- If your horse has a tendency to kick, put a red ribbon on its tail. This warning symbol does not relieve you from the primary responsibility of keeping the mount at a safe distance from others. Horses that kick should be ridden in the back of the field, even when a red ribbon is worn.
- Close any gates you open. Do not close any gate you find open. Leave everything as you found it. It is your responsibility to shut the gate or call back “gate please”. 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. It is the duty of all members of the field to assist the Masters and hunt staff at gates.
- Members of the field waive all claims against landowners for injuries to themselves or their mounts. If there is an injury a few members of the field may volunteer or be designated by the Field Master to stay with the injured party and coordinate any needed help. The rest of the field should follow the Field Master and continue hunting.
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. It is traditional to say "Goodnight" at the end of your day, whatever time you leave.
Did you fall off, get shouted at?
Don't worry, we've all been there. It's all part of becoming an experienced horseman/woman!
It is surprising how many people leave their manners on the ground when they get on a horse. Please thank cars for slowing down, 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 dispel the myth that everyone on horseback is a snob and too good to talk to people on foot.
If you are a visitor or a new comer 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 welcome you into the hunting community. Never be afraid to ask for advice.
At all times remember that you are a guest of the farmer or Landowner and that without their goodwill hunting would not be possible.
We look forward to seeing you soon.
Hunting Terms De-Mystified:
- Master and/or Huntsman: in charge of the hounds on a hunting day : wearing red coat
- Whip: assistant to Master, wears same colour coat - keeps the hounds together and works with the Huntsman.
- Field Master : wears same colour coat or red arm band, and is the person in charge of the mounted followers.
- Subscription: annual cost to join as a Member
- The Field: Group name for the mounted followers on horseback.
- Followers : People going hunting following the hounds on foot.
- Meet: Place where you meet, usually 11am after October 1st (9am in Sept), often food and drink served.
- Cap: sum paid to go out for the day.
- Hound: You follow hounds (not called dogs...)keep out of their way and do not let you horse stand on or kick them.
- Country: the area of land hunted by a particular pack.
- In-Country : the country just off the moor and beyond.
- Red Ribbon: in horses tail means they may kick
- Green Ribbon: novice horse, perhaps tie one on for your first few days out - don’t gallop past someone with green ribbon in tail! Bad manners...
- A good day: what you hope to have or what others may ask if you have had in terms of runs.
- Run: instead of hanging around, going for a good long "run" across the moor in pursuit of something found by the Hounds.
- Length of a day: get to a meet about 15 mins before the Meet time, usually 11am, and they will set off approx 11.20. Average day ends about 3pm, but some much longer, particularly if a good run takes place over some distance from the start. Novices or unfit riders might leave after 2-3 hours, but add to that the time it takes to get back to start and then your box.