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 tolerant 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.
A Further Useful guide is available from the Countryside Alliance.
As a visitor to the NCH what should I do before coming to a meet mounted?
The first thing to do is telephone the Hunt Secretary and ask if you may join the hunt for the day and check with him/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. He/she will want to help you so don't be afraid to ask questions. Also by "booking in" you can be informed of any last minute changes due to weather, farming problems etc.
What is the Dress Code?
This is always a difficult one. The first rule is to be dressed tidily and respectfully. Turning out like “an out of work Hamburg seaman is unacceptable” (Master’s description!). Clearly newcomers cannot be expected to wear full hunt dress but being tidy and appropriate to the conditions is the key. Similarly with tack. If you are decked out with tassels and rhinestones you may feel a little out of place but any practical and sensible tack appropriate for the task at hand is acceptable.
During autumn hunting, it is correct for both sexes to wear “Ratcatcher” which in layman’s terms is a tweed jacket along with any sensible neck tie (NCH ties are available through the website) or modestly coloured hunting tie. Technically Ratcatcher 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. This is perfectly acceptable.
To be correctly dressed during hunting the following applies:
Black coat or scarlet with primrose collar if you so wish once awarded the hunt buttons by the masters. 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. Black coats should be worn with black buttons. These should be plain until awarded the hunt buttons after which the plain buttons should be replaced by the hunt buttons which are available via the hunt website (merchandise section). Scarlet should be worn with brass buttons and a primrose collar. With a black coat buff breeches and black butcher boots are correct. With Scarlet, white breeches and mahogany topped boots are correct. A hunting tie should be worn with the pin placed horizontally for safety.
Much easier! Black or navy blue coats should be worn with black buttons, again plain until hunt buttons are awarded at which time the black collar should be replaced with a primrose collar. Lady Masters never wear red coats, only black, but do sport brass buttons rather than black ones. Ladies should wear buff breeches with plain black butcher boots. Hair should always be tied up and held in a suitable hair net. A hunting tie should be worn with the pin placed horizontally for safety. Ear rings and other piercings. Let’s just not go there!
The numbers of buttons on your coat.
Subscribers = 3 buttons
Masters who don't hunt hounds = 4 buttons
Huntsman & whip = 5 buttons
In the event that the Hunt has traditional connections to an old aristocratic family and their livery then Huntsman & whip = 6 buttons. This is the case with the NCH given its history and connections with the Earls of Coventry who gave rise to the Coronet on the hunt button.
What should I have in my 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). If you are a newcomer, or suffer from any medical condition, it is a good idea to carry a printed copy of your details so that we can help you should you have an accident. A mobile phone, for emergencies only, is acceptable but be warned reception in our country is patchy at best.
Going to the meet
It is much more relaxing to 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 (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.
What should I do at the meet?
Etiquette demands that you should find the Hunt Secretary and offer him your cap, rather than waiting for him or her to approach you. Similarly you should say good morning to the Joint Masters. The correct greeting being "Good morning Master" (even if you know them personally), whilst ensuring that your horse does not get amongst the hounds. In particular find out who is the Field Master for the day and keep behind him/her and obey his/her instructions. If hospitality has been provided at the meet, be sure to thank your host before you leave.
Is there anything special that my horse should wear?
If you know your horse is liable to kick it should wear a red ribbon at the top of its tail. If it is a young horse and you are not sure of its temperament it should wear a green ribbon. In both cases they should ALWAYS be kept to the back of the field. If the person in front of you is going through a gateway and has one arm behind their back you should be aware that their horse may kick if you crowd them. A ribbon does not exonerate you from taking responsibility for the actions of you and your horse.
It is traditional to plait ones 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. The masters have let it be known that whilst plaiting is very smart, it is not compulsory. As a mark of respect horses should be plaited for lawn meets.
Is there anything I need to know about the hounds?
Do not assume that because your horse does not kick your dog at home that he/she will necessarily tolerate a pack of hounds. Even if he/she will, the huntsman does not know that and you will worry him if you get amongst the hounds. When in the vicinity of hounds always turn your horse’s head towards them to minimise the risk of kicking one. If they do come behind your horse simply drape the thong of your whip over the back of the horse to discourage hounds from getting underneath you. Do not use your whip or voice with the hounds. This is a job for the Huntsman and his staff.
At all times ride behind the field master. Do not attempt to jump if there is a hound anywhere near a jump. Give Hunt Staff priority and if you know your horse is a poor jumper let others go first. If your horse refuses, clear the jump quickly and let others go before you try again. This is most important because not only will you impede others, which is bad manners, but you will also hold up the rest of the field, which causes problems for everyone trying to stay up and together with the Field Master. Always meet a jump at right angles to avoid blocking others. When jumping hedges this is particularly important. Stay straight from at least 15 strides out so as not to impede others behind and adjacent. If you break a jump make sure it is stock proof before you go on (this is where you might need that baler twine) and ensure you report the breakage to a Master or Hunt Secretary. If you attempt a gate or wall and break it you will be expected to pay for it.
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.
Do I have to jump?
No. Whilst we try to put in as much jumping as possible a lot will depend on the area being hunted and the ground conditions. There are nearly always easy ways round a jump and a number of people don't jump at all. There is usually someone to follow particularly on Saturdays when we try to have a non jumping field master. Be sure to find him/her at the meet. 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.
If in doubt it is better to shut a gate than to leave it open. We have gate shutters (in ratcatcher with white arm bands) 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. 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. 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. If you do this repeatedly you are more likely to be awarded your hunt buttons!
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 as importantly 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. It is traditional to say "Goodnight" at the end of your day.
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 you. Never be afraid to ask for advice.
Be warm and dry
Be clean and smart
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 North Cotswold Hunt acts in a way consistent with the laws as set out in the Hunting Act 2004
Have fun, that's what you are there for, and we want you to enjoy yourself and come back again.