How to Join In

Why go hunting

 

There are as many different reasons to go out hunting as there are people that hunt. Some come to enjoy taking part in an age-old pageant steeped in tradition. Some come to follow the hounds across ground that they would not otherwise have access to. Some to ride, some to walk, some to talk and some to watch the hounds follow the trail. Whatever the reason the one thing that everyone who hunts has in common is that they come because they enjoy it. A day out in the elements concentrating on the hunt helps clear the mind.

 

Who goes hunting

 

Contrary to popular belief hunt supporters are drawn from all walks of life. Urban and rural, rich and poor, mounted and on foot followers are united by a common cause. Hunting is truly inclusive and if you approach it with an open mind and quiet observation you will quickly be accepted. This introduction is meant as a simple guide and cannot be comprehensive. All the traditions and etiquette that surround hunting add to its mystique and for many to its appeal. However, from the outside these can be intimidating. Do not be put off, true hunting people would rather see you out in your pyjamas than not at all. This guide will explain the codes of dress and conduct but at all times the reader should remember that Devon is more relaxed and far wetter than many parts of the country. Good manners are universal.

 

What to expect on the day

 

Hounds will arrive at the meet just before 11 o'clock, and move off within twenty minutes. If it is a Lawn Meet there will be food and a stirrup cup (drink). During this time you should seek out the Secretary to pay your "cap" and also introduce yourself to the Master. At the appointed time there will be a call of "Hounds Please" at this point the riders will part to allow the hounds through (you should turn your horse to face the hounds). The hounds will be taken by the huntsman and his whipper-in to draw for the trail which will have been laid nearby. At this time the mounted field should stay behind the Field Master, whose job it is to ensure that the field (the riders) abide by the wishes of the land owner and do not obstruct the hounds whilst keeping the field in a position from where they can veiw and hear proceedings as clearly as possible. It is a difficult task requiring patience, diplomacy and an intimate knowledge of the country. It demands full concentration and if your Field Master appears unfriendly it is only because he is struggling to hear what the hounds are about.

 

Once the hounds have found the trail it is the huntsman's responsibility to make sure that the hounds follow the trail and nothing else. The Field Master has to try to keep the field in contact as safely and efficiently as possible. At all stages during the day be sure that you are allowed to be where you are, hunting relies on the good will of farmers and landowners.  If you are unsure if a gate was shut, please shut the gate. Gates left open, or crops damaged by thoughtless followers can quickly result in the hunt being denied access. When riding in fields please ride around the edge of the field slowly, if the ground is wet it is best to walk it will do less damage. If you decide to go home early ask someone the best route or go home with someone who knows the way.  When you leave the field those who remain will usually bid you 'Good night' even if it is the middle of the day.

 

Be polite to all you encounter, the man dressed as a tramp may own thousands of acres, and sadly, the cars have every much right to be on the road, make sure you move to allow cars through.

 

Hunting for most is a recreation and should be enjoyed by all who participate. The delight of the Spooner's and West Dartmoor is that it is more relaxed and informal than most hunts drawing its followers from all walks of life. The open moor allows for excellent views, uninhibited access and allows followers closer to the hounds than in any other pack in the country. Sometimes there is no Field Master. This does however add to the pressure on the Master who can find herself with the field on her shoulder while trying to hunt the hounds. As with all things when all is going well this is not a problem, however when there is not much 'scent'  and the hounds are struggling to follow the trail the sound of chattering followers is not always welcomed. Try to give the Master the space to work the hounds and provide good entertainment for all who follow.

 

What to wear

 

Correct dress changes according to the season. Before the Opening Meet (October) and after the first of April mounted followers wear "Ratcatcher". For the main season hunting dress is worn. Whilst we like to see mounted followers correctly attired, we would never want someone to stay away for lack of appropriate dress. If you haven't got something and can't beg, borrow or steal it, come anyway.

 

Ratcatcher

 

Hat: Traditionally, a bowler. This has now been generally replaced by either a hunting cap or crash helmet on safety grounds.
Coat: Tweed
Tie: Either a plain stock or collar and tie.
Breeches: Buff
Gloves: Brown
Boots: Brown Field Boots or Black

 

Hunting Dress

 

Hat: Hunting Cap with the tail ribbons sewn up or cut off. Only the Hunt Staff are permitted to show the ribbons. This is a vestige of the days of wigs and pigtails. Top Hats are now almost obsolete except in the smartest company. Crash hats are frowned upon by some but in the interest of safety it is up to the individual to make the decision that they feel happy with.
Coat: Black
Stock: Sometimes called a hunting tie. White.
Pin: Plain, Gold and worn horizontally.
Gloves: White
Breeches: Buff
Boots: Black
Garter Straps: Black
Spurs: Plain
Whip: To be correctly dressed any mounted follower should carry a long hunting whip (in order to correct an errant hound).

 

As stated these are the barest guidelines. There are variations on the cuts and colour of coat, number and colour of buttons and the topping of boots. Each of which has traditional significance but is beyond the remit of this essay. For those interested the appropriate chapter in Baily's Hunting Companion gives a detailed explanation. The main concern with dress is that it should be comfortable, weatherproof, safe and clean. To make an effort with turn-out both human and equine is a courtesy to the host of the meet and the occupiers of the land.  Foot Followers should dress with regard to the weather and ground conditions.

 

Horses

 

Most horses love hunting. It gives them the opportunity to run with the herd. They find the meet exciting and if fit and feeling well can cause the novice rider some anxiety. Do not worry. Relax and the horse will relax with you. Once you are moving life will become easier. Again turn-out should be as smart as you can manage. Certainly horses should be at least partially clipped for their own benefit to reduce sweating and to stop them getting cold at the end of the day. It also makes them easier to keep clean. Plaits or hogging are obligatory, strictly speaking. However no horse ever went better on account of them and many a horse is seen hunting with a flowing mane.

 

If a horse kicks then it should wear a red ribbon in it's tail. Keep an eye open for them they are a warning, they are not, however, an excuse to let your horse kick at will.  A rider with their hand placed against their back with the palm exposed is also a signal that their steed might kick if approached from behind. Young or inexperienced horses may sometimes wear a green ribbon. Regular kickers quickly become unpopular and should be kept at the back of the mounted field. If hounds pass you in a lane or ride always turn your horse to face them. To kick a hound is the ultimate faux pas and will rightly incur the wrath of the huntsman, voiced or unvoiced.