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Foxhunting is steeped in traditions, some of which may seem outdated or arbitrary to today’s riders.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.

What’s so important about upholding the tradition of fox-chasing attire?
To quote Norman Fine, a well-respected authority on all things foxhunting-related, “Respect…for three hundred years of sport, art, literature, and the men and women who had the passion, energy, and intellect to formulate and leave us one of the most exhilarating activities known to man.”
Why is our informal attire called “ratcatcher”?
The “ratcatcher” term came about years ago in England, back when rats were a nuisance. A farmer would frequently hire a person to rid his terrain of rats, and that person typically wore a tweed jacket (and hunted with rat terriers, or feists), so tweed jackets became to be called “ratcatchers.” Today that term is also used to describe the shirts worn with a tweed jacket.
Why do we wear stock ties?
It is a carryover from the traditional dress of early foxhunters, but also has a practical purpose. According to Wikipedia, “Traditionally, the stock tie is used in the hunt field as a safety measure: in case of injury, the tie may be used as a temporary bandage for a horse’s leg or a sling for a rider’s arm. It also is useful in keeping rain or wind out of the rider’s collar.”
Why are we discouraged from wearing brightly colored stock ties (or other pieces of clothing) during fall foxhunting season?
Primarily, because the sport itself, and the hounds driving the sport, should be the center of attention, not the riders who follow the sport.

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.

Hunt attire seems like a minefield of “do”s and “don’t”s. I just saw a discussion about how to turn helmet ribbons upside-down, and someone else told me I really should have a plain, solid velvet helmet at RFHH. What is the actual ‘rule’ here?

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.

Why do MFHs and men who are awarded their colors wear scarlet jackets?
Traditions vary from hunt to hunt, but typically scarlet jackets are used to distinguish position and/or hunt staff within the hunt. There are many hunts who only allow staff to wear scarlet jackets and there are other hunts where only the huntsman wears scarlet. RFHH is more liberal in our approach, where we abide by decisions made many years ago and award scarlet jackets to MFHs and men who have been awarded their colors. (Women who have been awarded their colors are allowed to add our hunt’s colors to their collars.)
Why are they sometimes called “Pinks”?
According to the widely-accepted, but unproven opinion, once upon a time there used to be a London tailor named Mr. Samuel Pink. After the Revolutionary War, he got ahold of an abundance of scarlet cloth left over from making British army officers’ uniforms and convinced his foxhunting clients that they would look dapper riding in red jackets. They apparently agreed, wore Mr. Pink’s scarlet jackets and sometimes referred to them as “Pinks,” after their tailor. Today, the term “scarlet” is more widely accepted. But why not “red” instead of scarlet? It is generally accepted that red is a darker color than scarlet, with scarlet being the color of fire hydrants.
What about the number of buttons allowed to be on a jacket?
Ratcatcher (tweed) jackets should have three. For formal jackets, although respected authorities sometimes disagree, it’s widely accepted that members of the field wear four, Masters wear five and Huntsmen wear six.
Why are some jackets cut differently than others?
A regular (black or tweed) jacket is less formal than a frock coat. Frock coats should only be worn by hunt members who have earned their colors. Additionally, frock coats worn by members of the field should have rounded skirts, not square.

.

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.