Is your horse ready to hunt?

FoxhuntingIs my horse ready/suitable for hunting? I get asked this question frequently by my friends who would like to try hunting but are still nervous about the whole hunting environment. Galloping horses, hounds, varied terrain and jumping all combine to make even accomplished equestrians somewhat apprehensive.

The truth is, you won’t know until you try it. And even then, you really don’t know if you have a hunt horse until you’ve been out a few times and your horse starts to figure out what hunting entails. When I first got Freedom I had serious doubts that he would make it as a fox hunter. After all, this was a horse that had a serious meltdown if asked to go behind another horse at any gait other than a walk. However, he has figured it out and is turning into a very nice horse to hunt. He’s sure footed, brave, comfortable and even has brakes.

In training Freedom for the hunt field, I’ve come up with a list of questions you should ask yourself to see if you and your horse are ready to try hunting.

  • Does your horse tolerate dogs? Kicking a hound is probably the absolute worst sin a horse can commit in the hunt field. If your horse is the type to go after a dog if it runs up from behind, passes very close or springs out of the woods, you have some work to do.
  • Will your horse go anywhere in the field? A good hunt horse should be well mannered whether he is in the front of the field, the middle, or the end, first flight or hilltoppers. When you are in the field it is very bad manners to pass the horse in front of you so make sure you can stay in line and keep your distance. There may also be times when you have to leave the field or wait while staff horses canter by.
  • Will your horse kick out if crowded? Hunting can be a bit chaotic. Often the field needs to stop quickly, occasionally a rider might have a refusal at a fence, or someone might ride up close. If your horse misbehaves in a crowd this might not be the right job for him.
  • Do you have brakes? Hunting is full of excitement and galloping. But it’s also chock full of stops. It’s important that you can stop your horse quickly and without having your arms pulled out of your sockets.
  • Can you control your horse in an open field? Even the best behaved horse can get caught up in the moment when galloping across an open field with other horses. Practice this in a more controlled setting before trying it at a hunt.
  • Is your horse sure-footed? Hunt territories are generally a mix of terrain. Your horse should be able to handle rocks, roots, mud and hills as well as those lovely open fields. A well balanced horse that is in self-carriage is ideal. You don’t want to be holding your horse together the whole time you’re hunting and horses that are heavy on the forehand can end up with some heart wrenching trips.
  • Will your horse go through water? Sometimes you have some fairly deep river crossings. There’s nothing worse than being on a horse that doesn’t like to get his feet wet.
  • Is your horse fit? Foxhunters keep up a good pace and while there are “checks” where you can rest, you need a horse that can keep up with the crowd and not get winded or tired. A tired horse will have more difficulty handling the terrain.
  • Will your horse stand quietly in a group of horses? One of the most challenging aspects of hunting is that after galloping off you often need to stop and stand quietly while you wait for the hounds. At times you’ll also need to move off the trail so staff can go by.
  • Will your horse stand to be mounted? There are times when you will need to mount in the field. If you can’t mount from the ground make sure your horse will stand quietly near a rock or fence so you can get back on!

Does this seem like a long list? Maybe, but if you have these essentials in place, hunting will be a pleasure. If you can’t answer yes to all these questions stay tuned for some training tips that will get those skills in place.