Increasingly we are seeing a growing number of people who wish to hunt but may feel intimidated by what they see and what ‘the rules of the club’ are. We don’t bite and welcome all newcomers, whatever their level of riding skills.
As described on the History page, the roots of hunting in Leicestershire go back to fine country houses and the landed gentry, and hunting was the training grounds for the British army’s crack cavalry regiments for both horses and riders. Just as one sees the Blues and Royals and the Household Cavalry in their splendid regalia, hunt customs and dress still retain some of the olde worlde attributes. It may seem outmoded to some people in today’s world, but these traditions and dress have relevance. Below is set out things the novice may wish to know and explains some of hunting’s idiosyncrasies.
Each Hunt may vary slightly, but the manners and dress of hunting have evolved over centuries to be practical and are based on common sense. It is a courtesy to the host of the meet and to the farmer/landowner to dress smartly. I am sure no one wants to see a band of ragamuffins galloping over their land.
Masters and Hunt staff wear the traditional black velvet cap with the ribbons down so they may be readily recognisable. Other riders (‘the Field’) should stitch up the ribbon. These days it is acceptable to wear a velvet covered crash-hat, especially for youngsters. Top hats are normally worn with red coats – red! (not pink!)
For Hunting proper, red coats with four brass buttons are worn by the Masters and red coats with five brass buttons by Hunt staff. This enables the Field to recognise the troops that ‘go over the top’ first. Members of the Field who wear red coats have three brass buttons on the coat and wear white breeches, a top hat (or grey hunting cap) and black boots with mahogany tops and spurs. Note: to wear a red coat a member must have received his Hunt buttons from a Master, more of which later. However, black coats are the more general wear, with beige or fawn breeches and black boots with spurs. This also makes one less recognisable if one makes a fool of oneself. However, it is now acceptable, especially if one only wishes to hunt a few days, to wear ‘ratcatcher’ – a tweed coat with bowler or black or brown cap.
For Autumn Hunting, ‘ratcatcher’ is the norm, worn with black or brown boots or even jodhpur boots and smart half-chaps. In the photo, the man on the left is wearing ratcatcher (tweed jacket, collar and tie), while the one on the right is wearing a black coat and 'hunting tie' (a white cravat or stock tied in a special way).
TIES Apart from the conventional men's ties worn with ratcatcher dress, there are two forms of hunting tie worn with a red or black (or - for women - dark blue) coat. One type usually worn by the members of the Field is often starched, may have a piqué (marcella) finish, and is tied in the way cravats were tied many years ago. The other is the 'four-fold' tie worn mainly by Hunt staff that to the onlooker looks like a white inverted triangle held up by safety pins.
Children are always welcome. They should wear a tweed jacket, with their Pony Club badge, a velvet- covered crash-hat, shirt and tie, jodhpurs and jodhpur boots. A back protector should be worn under the jacket and a piece of paper in the pocket with name, address , telephone number of contact person and blood group.
It is always pleasing to see ladies out riding side-saddle. If you fancy this (females only), do not be afraid to talk to a lady so dressed. She will be only too pleased to give any advice. It is not as difficult as you may think.
Hunting whips (not crops – they grow in fields) should be carried. A suitable whip has a short leather keeper at the end to which a leather thong is tied The thong has a short cord lash (tassel) at the end. Hunting whips are useful for gate opening and fending off hounds that come too close.
Gloves should be white (especially for red coats) or fawn.
Buttons should be brass on red coats and black on black coats. If a Master has awarded you your buttons, you can use buttons with the QH logo inscribed on them. Buttons are awarded for services or help to the hunt or for people who have hunted regularly for some years.
Underwear should be cotton or silk to fend off the cold, and do as jockeys do – wear ladies tights. And as a one time Quorn MFH (Ulrica Murray Smith) said, “Ladies, always wear your best underwear in case the Master wants to see you afterwards”.
Flasks are best carried attached to the saddle for safety. They are a good way to make friends!
Always carry some baler twine and a small penknife and a mobile ‘phone – switched off!
However, as long as you turn up looking reasonably smart, we will make you very welcome.
THE HUNT CALENDAR
The hunting year officially begins on 1st May. Although no hunting is taking place, it is when the Masters are re-appointed by the Committee or new Masters take up their positions. Also, any new kennels or stables staff begin their duties.
Riding activities actually start as soon as the harvest allows and is termed Autumn Hunting. The meet is usually at dawn because scenting is stronger on the damp morning before the sun gets up. It introduces the young hounds to the older members of the pack, and riders use the occasion to get their horses hunting fit. Although we stick to the old terms, no hunting now takes place, but this time of the season we use for hound exercise – an ideal start time for newcomers since the pace is quite gentle. We look forward to the repeal of the Hunting Act.
The opening meet of the season proper usually takes place on the last Friday of October at Kirby Gate in Kirby Bellars at 11.00am. We hunt three or four days per week. The interactive map on the Country page shows how the Quorn country is divided up. On Fridays we hunt across some of the best grass in the country south of Melton, and it can be fast and furious. Monday country is to the north of Melton, again on grass, with smaller fields but more hedges and possibly more jumping. Saturdays and Tuesdays are gentler days and include much of Charnwood Forest. This is ideal for newcomers, especially children.
HOW IS IT FUNDED
Hunts are expensive to run and most Hunts struggle just to break even. Riders who hunt regularly with a hunt pay an annual subscription (see the Subscriptions page). Visitors pay a daily fee – the ‘cap’. (Some hunts have a mixture where everyone pays ‘field money’ that pays for barbed wire removal, damaged fence restoration and so on.) In addition, Supporters Clubs such as the QHSA make a major contribution to Hunt funds and organise events that maintain cohesion between subscribers, foot followers, farmers, landowners and hunt staff.
The hunting day starts with the Meet, usually at someone’s house, farm or a pub. You will be given a drink – usually port - and a small bite to eat. Visitors and Members should say ‘good morning’ to the Master of the day. Visitors must then seek out the Hunt Secretary to pay the cap for the day. You must have already made arrangements with the Secretary to come out on that day and your cap (preferably a cheque) should be in an envelope with your name, address and contact number. If you are unsure about anything, just ask.
One of our five Masters may be Field Master for the day (we also have two additional Field Masters) and his or her word is law! You will know the Masters because they wear coats with four brass buttons and black riding caps (male Masters wear red coats; female Masters dark blue or black ones). The other riders in red coats with five brass buttons and black caps will be the Huntsman (who will be surrounded by his hounds), his whippers-in (‘whips’) and the Hunt Secretary. The Secretary is the one with satchel on his shoulder and a worried expression on his face. He will greet you with ‘Good morning, how are you’. There is no hiding place!
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. These days we follow a trail laid by a rider who has surreptitiously left earlier, so that no one knows his route across country. You must follow the Master at all times; do not overtake – it’s a cardinal sin. Depending on your proficiency, you can ride close up to the Master, stay with the bunch in the middle of the Field or gently follow up at the rear with the faint of heart, married ladies and the old and infirm. 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. If your horse stops, go round to the back – do not do a sharp turn in front of other riders. 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 – another cardinal rule. Always give precedence to the Huntsman and his hounds and the Masters. If you hear the shout ‘hounds please’, you must get out of the way.
We hunt only by agreement with our landowners and farmers, and hunting could not take place without their active support. Remember: you are riding across someone else’s land. 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. Be courteous to those who follow on foot and do not hold up vehicles on the roads – they may be working and not following the Hunt.
When you wish to go home, it is courteous to say ‘Good night’ (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.
Finally, don’t hurry back to your box: let your horse wind down and cool off.
GLOSSARY OF HUNTING TERMS
Below are some common terms still in use to-day.
All on: A term used by the Whipper-in to the Huntsman to tell him all the hounds are present.
Autumn hunting: the period after the harvest is in and before the Opening Meet. This starts at first light. It is now used to integrate the young hounds with a few older ones to teach them their job, and is ideal for riders to help get their mounts fit.
Babbler: a hound which speaks unnecessarily, e.g. without a true line or when it is way behind the pack.
Benches: The raised wooden platforms at the kennels on which the hounds sleep.
Blind: the country is blind when covered with leaf and long grass. A fence is blind when any ditches are hidden in the same way.
Blowing away: when the Huntsman ‘blows away’ on his horn and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Then you will know what this term means.
Blowing out: the Huntsman blows a long continuous sad wilting note to bring hounds out of a covert.
Bullfinch: A high uncut thorn hedge that often has to be jumped through rather than over.
Button: Every Hunt has its own logo printed on its buttons. These are awarded by the Masters for services to the Hunt or to long-standing subscribers.
Bye-day: An extra day fitted into the hunt calendar that has not been advertised previously.
Cap: As well as headgear, this is a charge made by the Hunt to non-subscribers ('visitors') for a day's hunting and collected by the Secretary at the Meet or paid previously online
Cast: When hounds loose a line, they cast themselves in various directions, either by themselves, or to the Huntsman’s directions, to recover the scent.
Check: Hounds check when they loose the line or scent. This is when they need to cast (see above).
Country: The area in which the Hunt operates. e.g. Quorn country, Friday country and so on
Couple: Two hounds are a couple. Hounds are always counted in couples; so 12 and a half couple = 25 hounds. This comes from the practice of attaching a young hound to an older hound by a leather collar (a ‘couple’), to teach the younger one obedience.
Covert: Usually a wood, spinney or gorse. Pronounced ‘cover’.
Cry: Speak is the term for a hound’s bark. They only speak when they scent a quarry. Cry is when they speak to a line.
Cur dog: Any dog other than a Foxhound. Yes, you pet is a cur dog.
Cut and laid: A fence of thorns where the thorns are half cut through near the ground and bent over, with stakes driven into the ground and tied at the top with binders, then neatly trimmed. The Quorn Hunt supports this old country craft by holding a Hedge Cutting Competition every October/November (see the Hedgelaying page).
Double oxer: A thorn fence with post and rail front and back. They were once common in the bullock (‘oxen’) grazing grounds of Northamptonshire
Draft: The Huntsman drafts (selects) a pack for the following day’s hunting from the whole pack.
Drag: A line of artificial scent laid by a mounted horseman dragging a bag containing something smelling unpleasant.
Flesh: Dead stock – cow, horse or sheep – collected within our hunting country. A service we provide for our farmers. Hounds eat some meat, but a knackerman collects the offal.
Foil: The line is foiled when the quarry doubles back on itself or when cattle or sheep cross the line. Riders and foot followers can also foil a line.
Full Cry: When all hounds speak together on a line. It is worth a day’s hunting just to hear this sound.
Head: To head hounds, i.e. cut in front of them, when they are on a line is a cardinal sin.
Headland: The strip of land around the edge of a field of crops where the Hunt should ride to avoid damage.
Heel (line): When hounds run on a line in the opposite direction to which the quarry has run.
Hold hard: An expression used by the Master for the Field to stay where they are and not to follow him. Or for the riders to stop and wait.
Holloa: A long piercing scream when the quarry has ‘Gone Away’, and should only be used by the whipper-in or a person sent ‘on point’ by the Master. Never by other members of the Field or foot followers.
Hound Exercise: In summer the hunt staff will start to walk hounds out in the country, usually on bicycles (the hunt staff, not the hounds) to get them fit.
Huntsman: The person who hunts the hounds and is in charge of the kennels.
Hunt staff: The Huntsman and all those who work in the kennels and stables. They were formerly called hunt servants (and working for a hunt is still called ‘hunt service’) because they were, in effect, servants of (and paid by) the Masters.
Joint-masters: Those people who have been appointed by the Hunt Committee to share the multitudinous tasks associated with the Hunt. They are entitled to use MFH (Master of Foxhounds) after their names. Female Masters are Masters – not Mistresses. Sometimes a Master will also hunt hounds: he or she will then be referred to as an ‘amateur’ huntsman – not a derogatory term but used to distinguish them from professional (paid) staff.
Knackers: They collect carcasses and unwanted meat from the kennels.
Lark: Jumping fences when hounds are not running. Once a deadly sin, but now seems to be accepted – except by the farmers and landowners.
Ley: Newly seeded grassland. Best to go around the headland here.
Lift: The Huntsman will lift his hounds when he thinks they may be better able to pick up the line from a different spot.
Line: The scent trail
Mark: The pack will ‘mark’ at the point where the object of an the artificial scent trail is finally buried (formerly this would occur at the point where the quarry had gone to ground, often in a rabbit hole or badger sett). The cry of the chase is replaced by a more intense barking sound.
MFH: Master of Foxhounds.
Meet: Where hounds and the Field meet before they set of for a day’s sport.
Mixed pack: Usually hounds hunt in dog packs or bitch packs, but sometimes a Huntsman will use a mixed pack.
Music: Hounds ‘make music’ when in full cry.
Old pasture: Grassland that hasn’t been ploughed for decades. It has a wonderfully thick root structure and takes a lot of hammer and does not mark easily.
Opening meet: The first day of proper hunting when hounds meet at 11 am and the Field dress up and the horses are smartly turned out. It attracts many foot followers.
Over-ride: When riders overtake the Master or even hounds, usually when out of control – quite embarrassing.
Own the line: The first hound to pick up the scent owns the line.
Pink: Some people refer, in error, to a red coat as pink ('hunting pink'). This may possibly be a reference to a Mr Pink, a tailor in London who provided hunting clothes but there is no hard evidence for this.
Point: The point of a run is measured from where it starts to where it finishes – as the crow flies rather than as hounds ran.
Quarry: The line being hunted. In the past it referred to the fox.
Ride: A path through a covert.
Riot: When hounds hunt anything that is not their quarry, such as hares or deer, they are said to run riot.
Roots: Any root crop – potatoes, swedes, mangelwurzels etc.
Scent: The smell left by any animal or person, but in our case by the quarry. The most talked about word in the hunting lexicon. Everyone has opinions about good scenting days and bad scenting days.
Stern: A hound’s tail.
Stirrup cup: The drink proffered by the host at a meet.
Stud groom: Senior groom at the Hunt stables.
Tally ho!: The Huntsman’s cry after viewing the quarry.
Tiger trap: A man-made wooden ‘A’ shaped jump, usually over a ditch.
Thong: No! It’s the plaited leather attached to a hunting whip.
Walking: i.e. puppy walking. Hound puppies are sent to private homes to be walked, usually from aged 3 months to aged 9 months when they are returned to the kennels to start work.
Whelp: A hound puppy.
Please treat this information as you would that on Wikipedia, so if you have anything to add or make corrections to, we would be pleased to hear from you.