Introduction to Fox hunting

So what is fox hunting anyways?

Going in after a fine day of hunting.

Foxhunting is by far one of the most exhilarating equestrian sports.  Mounted riders follow a pack of highly trained hounds tracking a scent, either real or artificial, through varied terrain and wilderness. It is quite literally about the thrill of the chase.

The term “foxhunting” is a bit of a misnomer.  For Shawnee Hounds, the scent is usually coyote, with the rare fox scented/seen once in a blue moon.   Even then, the term hunting is not truly correct as it is really more coyote “searching/chasing.”  Seriously, it really is all about the chase!

The History of fox hunting

The sport of foxhunting has existed in the United States since the Colonial days. The British brought the sport with them when they came to the Colonies. Fox Hunting was popular with the noblemen of England, who usually happened to be military officers.  This hunting activity quickly became a favorite among the cavalry. Based on endurance and stamina, fox hunting was a great way to keep the cavalry horses in shape when they weren’t training for battle. Fox hunting was also used for pest control.  Foxes were known to be nuisances by killing small livestock and chickens, so farmers would hunt them with hounds. The noblemen, along with early settlers, bringing hounds of various types from Britain, France and Ireland created the American foxhound of today that is a breed of its own.  

While in the Colonial past, the quarry would’ve been hunted and killed, today in America, the sport is more about enjoying a good horse, good company, and the thrill of the chase.  A healthy coyote or fox can easily out-run and out-smart even the most talented of hounds, sometimes even playing games with their pursuers. Besides, we prefer the quarry to escape.  This ensures another good day of chasing in the future.

Fox hunting is all about tradition and still follows strict rules established centuries ago when the sport first came to be.  These rules are for safety of horse and rider, safety of hounds or they ensure that the hunt is not interrupted. Here is a list of some of the most important rules:

  1. Always wear an ASTM certified helmet and proper attire.
  2. Staff members and hounds have the right-of-way.
  3. Never ride past your field master or the Huntmaster.
  4. Follow your field master or the Huntmaster’s directives.
  5. Hounds are not to be spoken to as they may get distracted.
  6. Always warn the rider behind you of possible hazards.
  7. Make sure your horse NEVER kicks a hound.

While all the rules of fox hunting may be a turn-off in the beginning, you soon begin to appreciate the tradition that the clubs have managed to keep for hundreds of years.

 

What happens at a Fox Hunt?

Arriving at the Hunt:

As a guest, before you off load your horse you should:

Introduce yourself to the Masters and Field Secretary.

Inform the Field Secretary of your status – guest of whom, Adult or Junior.

Sign your liability waiver and pay your Capping fee to the Field Secretary.

At the beginning of the hunt, all the riders gather together for The Master of the Hounds to address anything that may be of importance for that day.  This is also when guests are introduced. Once the gathering is over, the hunt ensues. Shawnee Hounds hunts can last anywhere from 1-3+ hrs, so if you plan on foxhunting, make sure your horse is conditioned. The hunt will usually end once the coyote/fox has gone to ground or once the hounds lose the scent. At this point, the field will make its way back to the trailers. When finished caring for their horses, hunt members come together and celebrate the hunt day with a tailgate graciously provided by a member, swapping stories of bravery of horse and rider or in some cases stories of shenanigans.

Our Hunt Season

Our fox hunting season runs September to March through the winter months. There are three main seasons:

Roading: June – August.  Members and guests are invited to join the huntsman exercising the older hounds and introducing the younger hounds to the sport.  Roading usually begins with riders on foot.  Later in the summer riders use this opportunity to introduce their horses to the hounds and begin conditioning for hunt season.  

Length of ride:  1-2 hours

Capping Fee for Non-Members: None

Attire: ASTM certified riding helmet (if riding) and weather appropriate riding clothes such as light colored britches and polos.

Cubbing: September – October.   Cubbing focuses on teaching the young hounds about hunting and gives riders and horses an opportunity to gain experience and get fit for the formal season. Members and guests accompany the huntsman who is training new hounds and exercising seasoned ones at a faster pace. This is a great time to watch the new hounds learn the skills they need to chase our quarry (fox and coyotes). The duration of the hunting day may be short if a good learning experience has been provided to the younger hounds.  

Length of ride: 1.5 -2 hours.  

Capping Fee for Non-Members: $35.  

Attire: ASTM certified riding helmet, “Ratcatcher Attire” (stock or regular tie, and tweed or colored jacket) or polo if the temperature at any time during hunt is 70 or above, light colored britches, brown field boots (black field or dress boots if you do not have brown) or paddock boots and half-chaps.

Formal Hunt Season: October – March.   During the formal season both hounds, horses and humans are fit enough for a full morning of hunting. 

Length of ride: 2 – 3+ hours. 

Capping Fee for Non-Members: $35.  

Attire: Black ASTM certified riding helmet, shirt with white stock tie and plain pin, canary vest, tan britches, black dress boots, black or white gloves, and black coat.  Female staff members and masters and men with their colors may wear scarlet coats.

The hunt itself consists of several moving parts: the hounds, the staff, and then the field.

The Fox Hunting Field – Members & Flights

The Huntmaster or “The Master of the Hounds,” is considered the leader of the hunt. This person commands the hounds using their voice or a horn. The whipper-ins are staff members who assist the hunt master by bringing stray hounds back to the pack. These two groups of people will usually ride out first to allow the hounds to catch a scent. They always have right-of-way whenever they interact with the rest of the field.

The field can be broken into different groups called “flights.” The 1st flight will try to stay closer to the Huntsman and hounds. This flight is much faster-paced and jumping is usually mandatory. The 2nd flight follows further behind at a more moderate pace, and the 3rd flight is the slowest flight, usually riding at no more than walk/trot maybe canter and doesn’t jump. The number of fields for our hunt is dependent upon how big the field is and where riders feel most comfortable riding. 

Each flight is led by a field master. The field master communicates with staff members via walkie talkie in order to keep track of the hunt. A field master will be familiar with the territory and will be able to guide their flight to assist in the hunt as needed and provide good sport for their field.