Today, I’m bringing you everything you need to know about foxhunting, straight from an expert! My friend Rachael is an avid hunter who’s hunted in South Carolina, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas; she worked as a full-time hunt staff member for years, and can still be found working as a whipper-in or teaching new whips the ropes. I asked her to talk about her experiences hunting, how newcomers can take up the sport, and what you should expect when you go hunting.
SP: What kind of riding background do you have?
RP: My riding background is a mixed bag. I started out taking lessons at 7 doing hunter/jumpers. I’ve barrel raced. I was rodeo queen. I’ve evented. I’ve dressaged. I’m an avid trail rider. I’d like to do some endurance riding!
SP: How did you get involved in foxhunting?
RP: I was in school in Iowa and my vet was very involved in the hunt. He invited me to one of their summer rides and I was hooked.
SP: You worked as a member of the hunt staff for several years. What did you do? What were your responsibilities?
RP: I was Kennel Huntsman for five years for Harvard Foxhounds. I took care of fifty hounds, including daily feeding, cleaning kennels, and walking. I also kept the staff horses ridden and fit. And all the daily chores of the farm were also included in that title. At that time Harvard hunted twice a week. I whipped in to the huntsman, and if for some reason he couldn’t hunt, I hunted the hounds.
SP: Can you describe what a whipper-in does?
RP: A whipper-in helps control the hounds. They keep the hounds going where the huntsman wants them to go. They also stop hounds from running the wrong game like deer. It’s a big no-no for a foxhound to run deer. And they stop hounds from leaving the territory or going where they shouldn’t be for safety reasons.
SP: How do you stop hounds?
RP: Usually, just getting in front of the hound will turn them. Sometimes you have to pop your whip and get loud with your voice. Some hounds are harder to stop than others. Some you can yell at and they will stop and others not so much! This is one reason why the hounds are walked daily. They are walked as a pack and they learn all the voice commands like ‘pack up’, ‘leave it, ‘get to him’, etc. and they also learn to respect the hunt whip! Of course, if they are on a line opening and hot on a chase it can be very difficult to stop them. Sometimes even if they are doing the right thing, you have to stop them for lots of reasons- mainly if you are at the edge of your fixture or a road.
SP: What type of horse makes a good foxhunter?
RP: I think any horse can foxhunt. Most people start out on the horse they own at the time. For me, that was a crazy Saddlebred mare. She was awful in the field but turned out to be a fantastic staff horse. She was very surefooted and you could point her over any type of country at any speed and not have to worry. I’m pretty sure she saved my life at least a thousand times! And she would jump anything- and I mean anything! It also depends on your country. The draft cross is very popular because they are usually very hardy and calmer than say a straight Thoroughbred.
SP: Are there differences in the type of horse who’s a good field horse versus a good staff horse?
RP: A staff horse needs to be able to keep up with hounds and stop them if necessary; if you know what you are doing and position yourself correctly you don’t have to be on Secretariat. They also have to be confident enough to go out alone and tolerate the whip. A field horse has to be able to behave in a group standing and at speed.
SP: What kind of conditioning work does a hunting horse need to do?
RP: I condition my horses using trot sets and trail riding.
SP: How does hunting help horses?
RP: I guess if they survive hunting, anything else you want to do with them isn’t going to be a big deal!
SP: How can someone start hunting? Can you just email or call the secretary of your local hunt and inquire about attending, or do you need an invitation from a member?
RP: You can call the hunt secretary and ask to go hunt. Most hunts are very welcoming of new people. They key to keeping foxhunting alive is new members!
SP: Why do foxhunters like port so much?!
RP: Port is a tradition. You will find a lot of things foxhunters do are from traditions or superstitions. For example, I only listen to country music on the way to a hunt. And I won’t hunt without having at least one Saint Hubert medal on me.
SP: Have you ever jumped anything REALLY nuts?
RP: I jumped a ditch big enough to park my Tahoe in once. We were on a run for the history books- I was riding my crazy Saddlebred mare. She was FAST! And out of nowhere came this ditch. I really thought there was NO WAY she could clear it. I think I even closed my eyes expecting to crash! But she cleared it and we finished unscathed one of the best hunts I’ve been on.
SP: Do you have any advice for first-time foxhunters?
RP: My advice is don’t wait! Go try foxhunting today! You won’t regret it!!
Many thanks to Rachael for her time! Are there other questions you have for her? Leave a comment for her!