Where to begin?
Hunting has evolved over many hundreds of years, and although many items of dress and actions might appear antiquated, they are all there for a good reason, which we will try and explain.
Who wears a red coat? What are hunt buttons? What colour boots should you wear? Should you plait your horses mane or not? What colour numnah should you use? These and many other questions are asked both by newcomers and by people that have been hunting for many years but not wanted to ask. The following guide should help you to come out correctly turned out for a days hunting. If in doubt though, never be afraid to ask - we are all very friendly really and will always try and help!
Good manners cost absolutely nothing.
Perhaps the most frequent complaint against hunting folk is how rude they have been, and this applies equally to riders and footfollowers. Whether it is for not saying thank you to a car that slows down for you on the road, or for blocking the road as somebody wants to get past to go about their business, or for ignoring somebody who has held a gate open for you to go through. A smile and polite thank you go a long way to helping keep the day happy.
When negotiating a hazard such as a slippery bridge, donít gallop off as soon as you have crossed it. This will excite the horses of those following. Wait until a few more have crossed before catching up the rest of the field. Do not do more than a trot through gateways and always walk through stable and farm yards. Be very careful to help ensure that gates are closed and that headlands are kept to when requested. Acknowledge and greet people you see in the countryside or in farmyards. They well be the landowner, over whose land you are riding!
At the beginning of the day you should always go and find the Master and say good morning. Equally if you go home before the end of the day, you should always say goodnight to the Master or at least let them know that you have gone home. That way they will know that you have not got lost somewhere in the countryside.
The origin of the red hunt coat that everybody associates with hunting is not easy to pin down. Old prints show many of the men, more than today attired, in red coats. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894, gives the following explanation "The red coat in fox-hunting (or scarlet) is a badge of royal livery, hunting being ordained by Henry II. a royal sport. " Nowadays the red coat is worn by hunt staff, male Masters and men who have been given their hunt button.
The hunt button is given by the Masters to members for helping in the field and with the running of the hunt. It is an honour to be awarded the button and it is a recognition of service and helpfulness. Before being awarded the button, both men and women may wear a plain black coat with black buttons. On receiving the button a man is entitled to wear a red coat with brass buttons, and ladies continue to wear a black or navy coat with the hunt button and the hunt collar.
One way of telling who Masters, hunt staff and other members are is by the number of buttons on their coat. There are always exceptions, but generally the number of buttons worn on the front of the coat, and certainly with the OSBWK, is as follows:
3 buttons - normal hunt subscriber
4 buttons - Master5 buttons - huntsman and whippers-in (hunt staff)
During the autumn hunting season and before the Opening Meet, a traditional tweed jacket or ratcatcher is worn. This can also be worn by visitors and guests who are not regular hunters. Traditionally once the Cheltenham Festival is finished we revert from hunt coats back to Ratcatcher again.
A variety of hats can be worn out hunting, either with or without chinstrap. Gentlemen may wear a top hat, a bowler or hunting cap, and ladies may wear a bowler or hunting cap, unless they are riding side saddle when a top hat may be worn. The tassels on the back of the hat cap should only be worn down by Masters, hunt staff and farmers. All other subscribers should either sow the tassels up or remove them. This is another easy way to help identify who people are in the field. We expect all children to wear a hat with a safety chin strap done up at all times.
Butcher boots are plain black, without tops. Top boots with 'mahogany' tops are worn with a red coat. Top boots with black patent leather tops or mahogany tops are correct if one is wearing a silk (top) hat and a black coat. Butcher boots should be worn with a black, blue or grey coat. Brown boots should not be worn except perhaps for autumn hunting. Spurs - Should be worn with the neck (points) down. They should always be worn with top or butcher boots. Optional with jodhpur boots.
Your horse & saddlery
Horses and ponies do not need to be plaited during the autumn hunting season, or again once Cheltenham is over. After the Opening Meet however, they should always be plaited for a Lawn Meet. Some people choose to plait every day, and a plaited horse always looks more handsome!
Tack should always be clean, never muddy from a previous day. It should also be black or brown, not any of the garish new colours available. Tack will obviously last a lot longer if it is looked after properly. Numnahs should be black or white. Garish coloured brushing boots are to be avoided.
If you are ever unsure about anything or would like to know more about what is going on, please never be afraid to ask. We will always try and answer your questions to help make everything more enjoyable.
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