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Woodford Hounds in Utah

Hunting With the Woodford Hounds

There are a number of books and pamphlets that lay out the correct dress, customs, language, and conduct expected of one who would follow hounds, and all of them are interesting and informative. Unfortunately, many were written long ago and are somewhat out of date, while others might be correct for hunting in England, but not necessarily reflect current usage in the United States. Whatever source one uses as an authority, it must be born in mind that all are general guidelines and subject to numerous exceptions among various Hunts. While I hope to accurately relate what is generally considered correct and acceptable in the hunting field, these notes are primarily for those interested in fitting-in among followers of the Woodford Hounds.

Dress

You will never be “incorrect” hunting, whether man or woman, if you wear a black hunt cap or velvet-covered helmet, black leather (dress, not field) boots, beige or other neutral color breeches, white shirt, white stock tie, plain gold stock pin, canary vest, and black hunt coat (three-button). This will get you by anywhere in the world where foxhunting takes place. Gloves “should” be either white string or natural pigskin, but almost anything is acceptable as long as it is some conservative color (brown, black, white, tan, etc.) A hunt whip, complete with thong and lash, “should” be carried as well. The lady’s is slightly smaller than the gentleman’s. In practice, while a hunt whip looks very dashing, any whip or bat, or none at all, is fine. Ladies should wear hairnets and dangling jewelry is unacceptable.

From the end of August to the Opening Meet of the formal season, usually sometime in November, is the “cub-hunting” season. At this time, the huntsman is getting the hounds born the previous year (new entry), introduced to hunting alongside the experienced hounds. Traditionally, this season belonged to the huntsman and the hounds, and hunt subscribers did not automatically have the right to go out with them. Nowadays this is generally not the case. Subscribers are welcome to come out just as in the formal season. They should bear in mind, however, that these are training hunts for young hounds, and their expectation of sport should be adjusted accordingly. During the cub-hunting (or “cubbing”) season, informal “ratcatcher” attire is worn. This is traditionally hunt cap or velvet-covered helmet (or hunting bowler – seldom seen nowadays), shirt and tie (or stock for ladies), tweed hacking jacket, neutral shade or rust-colored breeches, and brown or black boots (dress or field). In practice, if it is hot, we hunt in shirtsleeves, sometimes even polo shirts. Half-chaps are also often substituted for tall boots.

Once the formal season begins with the Opening Meet, formal hunting attire is worn. For both gentlemen and lady subscribers, this is the same as I outlined in the first paragraph in this section. There are many acceptable variations. Ladies may wear navy blue coats instead of black and either ladies or gentlemen may substitute a frock coat or “shadbelly” tailcoat for the standard hunt coat. Hunting bowlers may also be worn instead of hunt caps. If a gentleman wears a black frock coat or shadbelly, he should wear white breeches and tan- or brown-topped boots, and he may substitute a hunting top hat for his hunt cap (top hat is the only correct headgear with shadbelly). Although not “correct,” many lady subscribers now wear black field boots during the formal season.

Subscribers who have been awarded their “colors” by the Masters (the right to wear the hunt button and collar) are known as “members.” Gentlemen members wear a scarlet frock coat or shadbelly, white breeches, tan- or brown-topped black boots, canary vest, white shirt and stock, plain gold stock pin, and hunt cap or velvet-covered helmet. A hunting top hat may also be worn, but they are seldom seen these days and are impractical in our wooded country. Plain knob-end or Prince-of-Wales spurs may be worn as well with any appropriate dress. To be absolutely correct, members’ scarlet frock coats should have rounded skirts and three brass buttons on the front. Masters should have square skirts and four brass buttons, and Masters who hunt their own hounds, as well as all staff, should have square skirts and five brass buttons. In practice, these conventions are not strictly observed, particularly in the USA. In the Woodford Hounds, most scarlet frock coats have four buttons and square skirts.

Lady members wear the same dress as other lady subscribers who haven’t been awarded their colors, except that they wear the black hunt button with the design engraved in white, and they may wear patent-leather tops on their black boots.

Members of the Woodford Hounds, whether ladies or gentlemen, wear the hunt colors on their collars. Collars are hunter green with red piping. As a matter of personal preference, and for wear when a guest with another Hunt, some of our gentlemen members wear the black frock coat with colors and buttons as on the ladies’, with the same breeches and boot combination as would be worn with the scarlet coat. Both lady and gentlemen members may wear a Black Watch tartan vest with the brass hunt button if they wish. Tattersall vests may be worn instead of the canary or Black Watch vests in any of the above combinations.

For rain, you may wear a waxed or oilcloth raincoat or a traditional fawn riding mac, a clear plastic rain jacket, or no raingear whatever. Black rubber boots or black rubber boots with brown tops may be substituted for their leather counterparts. In cold weather, ladies may wear black ear warmers (no earmuffs or bright colors).

Some hunting folk wear an extra stirrup leather for a belt when hunting, in the event of one breaking in the field. It can save the day!

As a final note on dress, at the Woodford Hounds, guests and visitors are welcome and ratcatcher is always fine if you’re not a regular hunting person. We value a nicely turned out field as much as anyone, but please don’t let not having all of the correct items of apparel keep you from coming hunting!

Tack

Whatever saddle your horse goes well in is fine, providing it is an “English” saddle. Bridles should be plain without colored brow bands or colored piping. Either standing or running martingale is fine and hunting or polo breastplates are advisable. Saddle pads should be either white, black or brown, though one sees other dark colors such as hunter green and navy. Protective boots and bell boots are fine, but not colored. A leather case with wire-cutters may be worn on the off side of the saddle attached to the dees in front of the rider’s knee. A leather flask case with “bayonet” flask may similarly be carried on the near side of the saddle. A leather case with sandwich box inside may be carried by gentlemen on the off-rear dees of the saddle. A “hunting canteen” consisting of a leather case containing a rectangular flask and sandwich box may be carried by ladies in the same position. Many Kentucky hunting folk carry plastic hip flasks in locally available leather cases on the off-rear dees. Any of these are acceptable and all can be seen in the Woodford field. Staff carry radios and sometimes revolvers on their saddles as well. All tack should be clean.

Etiquette

This isn’t nearly as intimidating as you may have heard, at least not with the Woodford Hounds. One should always be at the meet early enough to be mounted and ready to move off at the meet’s scheduled time. Arriving 20-minutes or so early if you are already tacked-up is a good rule. If you are meeting your horse at the meet and don’t know whether he will arrive tacked-up or not, arrive early enough to give yourself time to get ready. The Master and hounds may arrive late, but no member of the field should ever do so.

At the meet, guests and visitors should locate the Hunt Secretary and promptly pay the cap fee (currently $50.00 at the Woodford Hounds) and sign a waiver releasing the Hunt from any liability. When the Master arrives, gentlemen tip their hats to him and say “good morning,” regardless of the time of day. Care should be taken while waiting to move off to keep your horse clear of hounds, as stepping on or kicking a hound is the worst offense a member of the field can commit. It might be forgiven, but it will not be forgotten! When the huntsman moves off with hounds, the Field Master will follow and the field will follow him. The Field Master is in absolute control of the field while hunting. His word is law and he should never be passed or pressed too closely. His responsibility is great, and it is the duty of every member of the field to assist him at all times. Guests and visitors should stay toward the rear of the field unless invited to ride up with their host or permission is given by the Field Master. During the hunt, if your horse refuses a fence, do not hold up those behind you. Circle around to the end of the line and let the others jump. If hounds are coming up behind you as the field is moving along on a trail, or if a member of the staff does so, give way and say “hound on the left (or right),” or “staff please,” to alert those in front of you. If the huntsman or a whipper-in is coming your way when you are on a trail, turn your horse’s head toward him and back off of the trail until he is past. When passing through a gate that was closed, pass the word back, “Gate please,” as you go through. If someone has dismounted to open a gate for the field, someone should remain with them as they close the gate and re-mount. When hounds are working and the field is at a check, either be quiet or talk quietly. If close to the huntsman, be quiet and keep your horse quiet so that the huntsman can listen for his hounds. If the huntsman or Field Master says, “Hold hard,” he means stop RIGHT NOW! If they say, “Quiet please,” they mean SHUT UP! If they have to repeat themselves, rest assured it will be unpleasant for the offender. When hounds are drawing a covert, it is a good idea for members of the field to watch the edges of the covert and the open spaces in the vicinity. By doing so, you may be fortunate enough to see the fox or coyote (“quarry”) leaving the covert. If the Field Master is nearby, tell him what you saw and exactly where it left the covert and where it went out of sight. The Field Master can then radio the huntsman and inform him. If the Field Master is not close by and you view the quarry, get the attention of the huntsman or one of the whippers-in and point your horse in the direction the quarry was heading and stand in your stirrups with your cap held out pointing in the same direction. Don’t let your horse rub against another rider. You may think his boots and breeches look better smeared with horse sweat, but he would probably disagree. At the end of the day, back at the trailers, say “Thank you” to the huntsman and staff and “Good night” to the Master. If you are a visitor or guest, you will make a good impression by following-up with a thank-you note to the Master the very next day.

Our sport is called fox hunting because that is what our hounds are doing. We are along to enjoy watching them hunt. The vast majority of the time, a run after a coyote or fox ends with the quarry escaping into a hole or running out of the country we are permitted access to. On rare occasions, however, the prey will be caught by hounds and killed. The death is virtually instantaneous and usually due to a broken neck accomplished by the first hound reaching the quarry. The huntsman may, on these occasions, cut off the fox’s or coyote’s tail, known as a “brush,” and present to a member of the field. He may also do this with the animal’s head, known as the “mask.” These trophies of the chase are greatly treasured by those fortunate enough to receive them. Because this is hunting, all members of the field must have a valid hunting license in their possession.

When hunting, it is absolutely essential that all members of the field bear in mind at all times their responsibility to the landowners over whose land they ride. Our sport is utterly dependant on the goodwill and cooperation of our landowners. They are doing us a great favor in granting us access to their property. There is no gain in it for them, and it is up to us to see that it does not cost them either. Always be aware of seeded crops and stay off of them. Never ride through livestock and get them running. Stay off of lawns. Leave gates as you find them. If you cause any damage, report it to the Field Master at once so that it can be fixed later. When on roads and cars are met, get out of their way, smile and wave at their occupants. Again, our sport relies entirely on the goodwill of others. Without it, there is no hunting.

Safety

A day’s hunting will frequently involve traveling on paved roads and traversing rocky outcrops and rocky stream crossings. Therefore, horses in the hunting field should have either studs or borium welds on their shoes to give a better grip on pavement and in rocky terrain. Always watch the horse in front of you and stay two lengths back whether preparing to negotiate a fence or just galloping along. When approaching a jump, make sure no hounds are on the other side or are coming into the jump with you. If a hound appears heading into the jump at the same time as you are, pull up and let him have the right of way. If you pass by a hole in the ground, wire on the ground, or any other hazard, point at it with your whip while turning your head and saying over your shoulder to the person behind you, “Ware hole!” or “Ware wire!” to alert them to the danger. If your horse tends to kick, put a turn of red plastic tape around the base of its tail or tie a bit of red yarn or ribbon in the hair at the top of the tail to warn others. Doing so, however, DOES NOT absolve you from responsibility for keeping his heels away from others! Similarly, you might see a horse with green tape or a green ribbon in its tail. This is sometimes used to alert the rest of the field to the presence of a “green” horse not yet accustomed to the hunt field.

On the subject of green horses, the Woodford Hounds currently requires green horses to stay in the hilltopper field for one season before being permitted in the jumping field. This gives them a good foundation to carry their riders safely through the excitements and hazards of the hunt when they graduate to the jumping field.

A special note regarding headgear - while hunt caps, hunting bowlers and hunting top hats are undeniably elegant and correct, many hunts now require participants to wear approved velvet-covered safety helmets with chinstrap and harness. Approved helmets are not required in the Woodford Hounds, but the Masters strongly encourage subscribers and guests to wear them out of concern for their personal safety.

Have Fun

Finally, the whole point of foxhunting in the United States is to enjoy oneself - to enjoy being out in all weathers, crossing country as it comes on horseback behind a pack of well-trained, disciplined hounds, in the company of like-minded folks. The traditions of the sport add immeasurably to the color and enjoyment of hunting, and they mean a lot to those of us who participate regularly. That said however, newcomers should never be intimidated to the point that they don’t come hunting. You will find that foxhunters are invariably generous in their welcome to newcomers and only too happy to make you feel at home. We love our sport and enjoy sharing it with others.

- prepared by Evan Miller