I’ve talked about what you ought to wear hunting, but there’s another important component of hunting dress: what your horse should wear! Fortunately, there aren’t as many traditions and rules for horse apparel as there are for human!
As with apparel, hunting tack is safe, practical, and neat. Generally, hunting tack should be made from thick, plain brown leather without extra adornments or ornamentation.
Your horse’s bridle can be a single or double bridle and should include a noseband. Figure-eight and flash nosebands may be used on the hunt field. Colorful or blingy browbands are not appropriate. There are no specifications on bits- your horse should wear a bit that allows you to steer and stop safely. I’ve seen pelhams, gags, elevators, and all manner of snaffles. Many horses are more forward in the hunt field; moving in a group at speed can make a normally quiet horse excited. Before you go hunting, practice trotting and cantering with a group in the open so you can determine if you’ll need more brakes in the hunt field.
A breastplate and martingale are optional equipment; if used, they should be made from plain or raised leather. Running martingales should have stops on the reins. (I’ve seen very few martingales of any kind in the hunt field.) Breastplates are a useful addition to your equipment. Even if your saddle fits perfectly, two or three hours of riding can cause it to shift. If the terrain you’re riding across has a lot of hills, a breastplate will help keep your saddle in place. I’ve seen a variety of breastplates in the field; a three-point hunting breastplate is most traditional, but a five-point can add extra security.
Saddles should be brown and English-style and suitable for jumping and riding across terrain at speed. Saddle pads should be saddle-shaped and white, buff, or yellow. Stirrups should be plain and polished. Plain fillis irons, jointed irons, and peacock irons are all acceptable. Brown leather or neoprene girths are preferred, as they are easy to clean and won’t hold much water or mud. The fixture I frequently hunt has a large creek that is often crossed multiple times during a hunt- the last thing I want is for my horse to wear a sopping wet girth for two hours. A plain brown leather sandwich case or saddle bag attached to the saddle is appropriate.
Accessories like bell boots, splint boots, and half pads are appropriate for the safety and comfort of the horse; just make sure they’re in neutral, unobtrusive colors. The hunt field isn’t the place for showing off turquoise and hot pink Ogilvy half pads or glittery green cross country boots. Many riders prefer not to boot their horses for hunting- boots can shift or chafe after hours of wear and some styles don’t shed water effectively.
Hunt horses should be clipped so they can thermoregulate more effectively. A traditional hunter clip removes hair from everywhere except the horse’s legs and a saddle patch on the horse’s back. Leaving the leg hair offers some protection from brambles and branches that might scrape a horse, while the saddle patch helps keep sweat away from the horse’s skin.
Braiding your horse is not required, but it’s a nice gesture for high holy days like Opening Hunt. I typically braid for Opening, Christmas, and Closing Hunt. There are varying schools of thought on what style and how many braids is correct, but all agree that a nicely pulled or trimmed mane is preferable to a bad braid job. Braid your horse in the style you’re most comfortable with! If the day is going to be wet and muddy, a mud knot in the tail is appropriate.
Hunting tack isn’t fancy- the focus is on safety, the horse’s comfort, and functionality. That’s a philosophy I can get behind!