by Kate Rigg, Past-President and Board Member
Foxhunting is steeped in traditions, some of which may seem outdated or arbitrary to today’s riders. But yet, at some point or another, every hunt tradition, rule, or guideline we see today started for a reason. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about our sport in general and the Rocky Fork-Headley Hunt, in particular.
This preference for muted colors is probably also a carryover from the men who followed the sport ages ago. According to the Gentleman’s Gazette, “Once Queen Victoria was on the throne, the middle class became stronger and wealthier and in the following a neckwear hierarchy evolved in the sense that it proclaimed one’s current position in society. The further a man had climbed the social scale, the quieter and more subtle his neckwear was, whereas the lower he was placed, the brighter and more varied his neckwear became.” So it may be that the foxhunters in the past century either were already wealthy or strived to become so, and thereby chose to dress the part by eschewing lace, ruffles and bright colors.
First, it helps to consider a little of the history. Top hats were the original safety helmets since the tall crown and stiff brim provided a little protection in a fall. However, they were easily knocked off by stray branches during the course of a hunt.
So, some riders began wearing the bowler (derby to us Americans), with its shorter, more streamlined profile and putting a drawstring inside the crown to help hold it tightly to the wearer’s head. These became very popular in the hunt field. However, the fashion traditionalists of the day decreed that the bowler could only be worn during informal season with tweed or during formal season with a plain coat. Frock coats and tails were to be worn with the more stylish and historic top hat.
Eventually, true safety helmets for horseback riding were developed and evolved into the current low-profile padded shell with a safety harness. However, you can still see the influence of the bowler, particularly in downplaying the safety harness and the tradition of the velvet covering that mimics the texture of early hats.
The ribbon on the back of modern-day velvet riding helmets has a practical origin. A ribbon was attached to the back of early riding hats to direct rainwater from the brim of the hat down the back of the wearer’s coat, rather than spilling down the back for the rider’s neck. Since the huntsman and staff have to ride in all weather, rather than being able to retire mid-hunt, ribbons with functional tails (pointed down) became reserved for staff. To this day, field members leave the tails of their ribbon up out of respect for this tradition, although some helmets come from the manufacturer with the ribbons pointed downwar, and they can’t be easily modified.
RFHH turnout guidance merely specifies that all riders wear a black or brown velvet hunting cap. We believe that safety is the best tradition, so strongly encourage all riders to choose a hunt cap that is also a properly-fitted ASTM/SEI certified safety helmet with a harness.
.For a full description of what’s proper, or not, please refer to the Riding Attire Page on our website.
A tidbit of trivia:
The “Whip’s Office” and the “Chief Whip” in Parliament come from the job of “Whipper-in” to the hounds.