On starting for a day's hunting, it is better to ride at a walk for at least the first mile, after which you may increase your pace to a covert "jog trot," which should not exceed between five or six miles an hour, and, if possible, on the side of the road; this should be frequently alternated with walking.
On reaching the meet, if you are riding your hunter, and especially if you have come a considerable distance, endeavour, if possible, when you arrive there, to put him up in a stable box, or shed, littered down. If you can only do this for three or four minutes, it is often sufficient, and the dismounting will often refresh your horse greatly. It is a good plan to examine your girths and tighten them up, if they require it, before trotting off to covert, and it is well to do the same after a long run; or if the horse is much blown they should be lengthened a hole, and tightened up again after the animal has got his wind.
When trotting off to covert, never ride too near the hounds, nor get into the way of them, more especially if you are on a horse that is not accustomed to being with hounds, as he is apt to kick them; and always have a pleasant word for the huntsman and whips. They are very civil men, as a rule, and appreciate a friendly remark or two, more especially if these are in praise of the hounds, or their own mounts; for to be huntsman or whip means for them having days of real hard work, as well as days of enjoyment.
On reaching the covert side, always keep with the rest of the field while the hounds are drawing. If you ride off alone, as so many do, you are sure to be riding where the places are left clear for the fox to break covert, and the less noise you make the better.
Always be ready for a good start when the "gone away" has sounded; but be sure to let the hounds get well on the line before you begin to race for a good place.
Never ride too near the hounds, nor on to them in their wake, but keep clear of them and well to one side. Masters of harriers know from bitter experience what a nuisance eager riding men are, and they have generally experienced the greatest difficulty on bad scenting days, in keeping even the worst men to hounds from riding over them. With fox hounds it is less important, as a fox generally goes straight, whereas hares twist and turn about in all directions; but it is just as essential that a hunting man should keep well out of the way of fox-hounds as he should of harriers. He is sure to incur the anger of the master and the huntsman, and probably the majority of the field, if he rides over the hounds at every little check.
It is not good policy for a beginner to take a line of his own; but as he gains confidence in his knowledge of the sport, and in his own judgment as to the character of the country and capabilities of his horse to carry him, it is perhaps better to do so.
We will now presume that the young sportsman is fairly settled in the run. Now one of the most important things to bear in mind is to economise the horse's strength by easing him over heavy ground as much as possible. This he can generally do without giving up his place for more than a moment; for he who allows his horse to go at top speed over heavy plough, deep grass, or up a steep hill, will most surely pay the penalty before he gets to the end of it: that is, if there is any bad ground worth speaking of, for his horse must take more out of himself by far than if he had been saved till the sound going is reached again.
In some countries a great deal depends on a man's judgment and management to get through a day's hunting well. Where, for instance, the most part of the ground is ploughed land, the headlands or furrows are the places to choose, and even then the pace should be slackened somewhat, as nothing is so likely to bring a horse to harm as permitting him to become blown; which condition is very easily reached, if the rider is not careful, in a heavy country, and unless the precautions alluded to are taken. If a horse falls when blown or tired, he does so awkwardly and heavily. In some parts of Ireland (Kildare, for instance) the ditches are very wide and deep, and when a horse gets into them, especially if tired, he requires a great deal of pulling out.
Elsewhere an opinion has been given about the pace that should be adopted in riding at the different kinds of obstacles met with in the hunting field; but, here again, so much depends on the pace hounds are going at, and the position the rider holds in the field, that no fixed rule can be laid down; so that the pace the hounds are keeping must be the guide. Never jump unnecessary fences; for instance, if a gate is on your line, and you can open it easily, do so, unless you are on a good timber jumper and the pace is very hot, or unless the fence looks very tempting on one or both sides of the gate.
When hounds are running it is "every man for himself," and every true and good sportsman tries to be well up with hounds; for unless he is he loses the chief pleasure of foxhunting, which is to see the hounds work; and if in the event of a kill the rider has been well up throughout the run, and is in at the death, he is rewarded by the greatest pleasure a fox-hunter can have.
A few words of advice about things that ought to be observed after the hunting is over, and the rider has started on his way home, may not be inadmissible.
For the first few miles the horse should be allowed to walk, and, if the rider is accompanied by a friend, the pace should be accommodated to his, that is, if he is a sensible hunting man; as nothing is so annoying as to have a companion who goes off at a sharp trot, and nothing does a horse so much harm as unsteady riding on the road. If, after a hard day's hunting, the rider has to push his horse a long distance home, it is advisable to call at a wayside inn - that is, if one is on the way - and get him a little gruel (all the better if there is a quart of old ale in it), the horse to be put in a bedded-down stall, or box, if possible, while waiting for the gruel. The pace home should, under ordinary circumstances, be about the same as going to the hunt, unless the horse is very tired, when it ought to be slower, and the rider should get off and walk now and then, in order to ease his horse's back. Some horses, when very tired, are liable to stumble; this, of course, the rider mast be on the look-out for.
On arrival at home, it is every sportsman's duty to see his horse "done up," and made comfortable for the night, unless he has a very trustworthy stud-groom; and a careful examination for thorns in the horse's legs should always be made. The back should also be carefully inspected, in order to ascertain that the saddle has not galled it. This, with a good dressing over, a good bed, and other cares already noticed in stable management, will complete the horse's toilet for the night.
It is scarcely necessary for gentlemen, at least, to be reminded that the hunting horse should be treated with kindness and consideration at all times, and especially when in the field. Thoughtfulness in this respect is amply rewarded by the better wear and greater usefulness of the animal, and the kindly sympathy engendered between him and his rider, which is in itself a source of pleasure and gratification to the true lover of the noble beast. To spur and to punish, by bit and by hunting crop, a willing horse, or one which perhaps does not quite comprehend what is required of him, is not horsemanship, neither is it creditable; while to push a horse on until he is exhausted and reels and staggers, perhaps falls and dies, is unfeeling and brutal, and deserves the severest condemnation. Men who can be guilty of such cruelty have no business on horseback - in the pursuit of our own pleasure we have no right to inflict such pain. The real sportsman is he who knows how to get the most out of his horse, without distressing or breaking him down. "When it unfortunately happens that a horse shows signs of distress - heavy in hand, floundering and swaying action, laboured breathing, etc. - he should be pulled up at once, the girths and throat strap loosened, the bit dropped out of the mouth, the saddle eased off the back, and the face turned towards the wind. If there is any water near, a mouthful or two may be allowed, or a handkerchief dipped in it may be made to swab out the mouth and moisten the face and nostrils, while if the rider has any brandy in his flask, a little may be poured into the mouth now and again. The best remedy when a horse falls exhausted from congested lungs, and death is imminent, is copious bleeding from the jugular vein; but few amateurs could perform such an operation with safety.