Here is are some questions that you might have had about foxhunting (and were afraid to ask).
Traditional etiquette states that “Riders are not to get between the huntsman and hounds.” It’s not that big a deal, is it? The hound is in my way, and I trust my horse not to step on it.
The huntsman works the hounds by casting and retrieving: sending them into covert to search for scent and then, if they don’t find, calling them back to move on to the next likely patch. This not only allows the huntsman to work a fixture thoroughly and methodically and be present when quarry is found, the hounds obeying and returning to the huntsman maintains the “invisible leash” between huntsman and hounds. If a hound is discouraged from returning to the huntsman, such as if he or she is intimidated by a horse, the hound will often start to hunt on its own. Frequently, this leads to general disobedience and splitting of the pack, with some hounds honoring the huntsman and others running amok. A disobedient, split pack can eventually lead to outings that are spent looking for and collecting hounds rather than hunting, and reversing the problem takes a great deal of effort, time, and even breeding or drafting new hounds. Riders of the day can help maintain the best possible hunting pack by staying alert to hounds approaching from any direction and moving their horse as far away as possible from the hound and a clear path back to the huntsman.
Traditional etiquette calls for field riders to be silent during a hunt. We haven’t seen a thing: chatting softly to pass the time can’t possibly hurt, can it?
There are good reasons for riders of the day to be as stealthy as possible. Firstly, human voices carry a surprisingly long distance, and it’s very easy to forget just how loudly you are speaking to another rider some distance away. Under the right conditions, wild animals can hear you talking from the other side of the fixture. Warier game, including predators like fox and coyotes, may simply leave until things quiet down and ensure that nobody “sees a thing”. Secondly, hunt staff spend a great deal of time listening for game and hounds moving through the woods, and for the huntsman’s horn calls. A chatty field, even some distance away, can easily drown out hunting sounds and ruin the day for everyone who is focused on the hunt rather than on the ride and company. While horses are not silent, they don’t alarm game the way ‘human’ noises do and quiet riders can often get close to wild animals. Fields who refrain from speaking may even be the next to call “Tally ho!”
What, exactly, are the whippers-in doing out there? They seem to either be sitting around or rudely rushing by, disrupting the field. Must be nice to do whatever you want!
What, exactly, are the whippers-in doing out there? They seem to either be sitting around or rudely rushing by, disrupting the field. Must be nice to do whatever you want! The whippers-in are the huntsman’s assistants. As such, they have several jobs: Try to keep the hounds out of danger, including away from busy roads and dangerous areas like cliffs; try to keep the hounds in the fixture and, especially, away from sensitive or hostile land owners; assist with training, including by breaking ‘riots’ by chastising hounds who are chasing the wrong quarry (such as deer); and help the huntsman locate and retrieve hounds that have become separated. We typically have 3 or 4 whippers-in working at each hunt. Given the size of our fixtures, each is—on average–covering several hundred acres of land and a mile or two of road frontage. Hounds on a scent can travel as fast as a galloping horse and don’t need to stick to trails, so the whippers-in are constantly listening and trying to calculate where he or she needs to be in order to intercept the hounds, should it become necessary. Frequently, the hounds are moving slowly enough that the whipper-in has time to avoid the hunt fields and areas of covert the huntsman has not yet drawn when traveling to a new vantage point. Occasionally, the hounds will unexpectedly bolt toward danger, and the whipper-in must ride as fast as possible without regard for who or what might be in the way. Hunting the hounds can be stressful and dangerous—it’s not a coincidence that no other group of riders is as well-represented at Spills and Chills as huntsmen and whippers-in. And the potential downside is large, ranging from a beloved hound we raised from a puppy being killed on the road to antagonizing landowners and potentially losing fixtures. Field riders can help whippers-in and huntsmen get to the hounds quickly and safely by remaining alert for approaching riders and being prepared to “make way” by creating a clear, open pathway past the field.
The huntsman seems to make different sounds with the horn throughout the hunt. Does it mean something? Do the hounds understand?
Horn calls have a long tradition in foxhunting, and are the huntsman’s primary means of communicating with hounds and staff. Some of the most common calls you’ll hear at RFHH are as follows: Short ‘toots’ indicate the huntsman’s current location. Hounds and whippers-in use these bursts to maintain position relative to the huntsman as she moves through the fixture. Long ‘blasts’ mean “recall” or “come here” to the hounds—the huntsman is preparing to lift them from the current covert and move to a new area. Sometimes it means the hounds are starting to investigate a deer trail or other non-legitimate line, and the huntsman wants them to “leave it” and return to her. And, finally, the huntsman blows an exuberant fanfare to reward and encourage the hounds when they have found the scent of a fox or coyote. It makes sense, then, that a single, very long blast marks “end of day” as humans and hounds alike ‘pack in’ and return to the trailers.
One of the whippers-in was yelling angrily at the hounds and cracking his whip. It sounded really bad. What is going on?
Hounds, like other dogs, respond well to praise and gentle guidance, and that is the norm for RFHH’s hound handling. The single exception is when a hound does something that absolutely cannot be allowed, such as giving in to the urge to chase deer, dogs, or livestock instead of fox or coyote. Pursuing non-legitimate game is called “rioting”, and it is behavior that no huntsman can tolerate in a pack of foxhounds. One of the whippers-in’s jobs is to observe what game the hounds are pursuing, stand on the fresh scent trail left by fleeing deer, and tell any hounds chasing it quite firmly how following that particular scent is absolutely not allowed. Hounds are then praised for returning to the huntsman and seeking legitimate game.
I don’t want to annoy any our land owners or huntsmen, but I’m not always sure where to ride or what do to. Help!
Good question! There may be as many opinions about how best to respect our land owners and their property as we have land owners! Normally, your field master should know whose property you are riding on and what the landowner expects, and can advise you. However, in general: -Avoid riding anywhere you’ll create divots that obviously damage property, such as in lawns (even where they border the road). -Avoid riding where you can damage a commercial crop, including planted crop fields or on hay that has been cut for baling. -Minimize traffic across fallow (harvested) crop fields when the ground is soft. If you must cross, spread out the compaction damage and divots caused by hooves. -Remove, or at least scatter, horse manure from places the residents are likely to notice, such as on pavement or near homes. Pretend you live there—what would you expect? -Try to avoid riding through covert that has not yet been visited by huntsman and hounds, as doing so can spoil it for the day’s hunting. -Be sure to acknowledge and thank everyone you encounter during the day’s outing. If possible, dismount (“get off your high horse”) to speak with a person who is on foot.
I’d really like to learn the fixtures better. Can I go out and ride on non-hunting days?
Of our hunt fixtures, only a portion of the Kennel fixture and Taft Reserve are available to ride outside of organized hunts, trail rides, and paces, and then only if the ground is dry enough to not be seriously damaged. At the Kennels, you’ll need to contact the MFH for advance permission. The attached map shows the landowners in the Kennel fixture who allow our members to trail ride, including the semi-organized rides during hound exercise. Please respect all of our landowners by not riding where we are not invited, including across the creek and west of the picnic shelter (Dunn’s woods and crop field, particularly near the houses) and in areas that are clearly mowed or landscaped by homeowners. Taft Reserve is administered by the Licking County Parks, whose trail closure hotline is 740-349-4823. The parkland includes the South Reserve area where we park our trailers for hunts, extending north past Ghost Town and all the way to the north entrance on Flint Ridge Road. Park trails are marked with trail numbers and signs. There are no crop fields, deer stands, or residences in the park. If you’d like to learn the fixtures better, please come to our regularly-scheduled trail clearing sessions. There is nothing like walking a section of trail for helping you learn it really, really well!