Martingales are not generally required for hunters, but when they are they should always be of a good length, so as not to interfere with the horse's head when jumping.
Kings on the reins are sometimes used, instead of a martingale, and they answer tolerably well for some horses.
Saddle-cloths of different materials are, according to circumstances, occasionally used. Those of felt are most useful when the saddle stuffing has become thin, or when the horse's back has become sore. Leather saddle-cloths chiefly preserve the lining of the saddle; but, as a rule, a saddle looks better, is lighter, and less liable to give a horse a sore back, when well stuffed, than when a saddle-cloth is used.
It is a very good plan, and is also a custom with some men, to have the coat left unclipped on the horse's back under the saddle.
Whilst speaking of the horse's coat, it may be mentioned that leaving the legs unclipped is a most admirable and humane practice, as it preserves them from scratches of thorns, and from mud, wet, cold, etc., and hunters fare very badly if they are deprived of this protection.
Holding the reins is a matter of little consequence. The ordinary way of placing one rein outside the little finger of the left hand, with the remaining three between each of the other fingers, that is, when a double bridle is used, is the most convenient method while walking and trotting; but when the pace is increased to a canter or gallop, both hands must be used, and the right rein must, after leaving the right hand, pass across to the left hand and vice versa, which arrangement connects the two hands firmly, but not too tightly together, and consequently affords the rider much more power in his arms than he otherwise would have without such connection.
When a horse is jumping, both hands should be kept on the reins, instead of leaving go with one hand, as so many men do, throwing the unemployed hand in the air, as though putting up a signal to those behind that there is a drop, or formidable ditch on the landing side of the fence, besides making their seat less secure, and being less prepared to assist the horse in case he should make a mistake. This habit of leaving hold of the reins with one hand in jumping cannot be too strongly condemned; as there is another habit which it leads to, that is, clutching hold of the saddle behind, which is the worst habit any young rider can acquire. Men have been seen nervously clutching the back part of the saddle at every small ditch or obstacle they went over, not because they were afraid of falling off, but merely from force of habit.
The Hunting Crop is generally held in the right hand, about six inches from the loop, with the hook downwards, the lash coiled up and held in the same hand. This is, of course, when the crop is not in use. A good saddle and bridle by a good maker have a great significance for hunting men, and, for perfect articles, one need go no further than in I recommending the saddles and bridles of well-known London establishments, which are of the best quality and shape in every way. The fashion is to have plain flaps, which look very much neater, and wear longer, than flaps with rolls, on account of the leather being thicker; but it is doubtful if they are quite so comfortable, therefore it is a matter of choice between appearance and comfort. Rolls are a great help in steeple-chasing, so also is the doeskin saddle.
There are various kinds of safety bars used for stirrups, but many men do not believe in them, as riders have been seen hung up in them frequently, and more especially on the opposite side to that on which they have fallen, the bars not having given way as they were expected to do. Their superiority over the ordinary bar, with the spring latch let down, is very questionable; and it may be asserted that if a man has a stirrup iron large enough for his foot, he will rarely get hung up in the stirrup. It should be large enough for the foot to turn round in, in every direction, without getting stuck fast when pushed home to the ankle. With this precaution there is scarcely a possibility of the foot ever sticking in the stirrup, no matter how the rider may be thrown. Leman's patent safety stirrup is greatly used in Ireland, and highly spoken of by those who use it.
Having mounted, the rider arranges his position in the saddle, which should be with the feet well home in the stirrup-irons (unless the riding is to be on a hack along a road, when the stirrup may be kept under the ball of the big toe), toes turned slightly outwards, stirrups of medium length, neither too long nor too short, as either extreme is very uncomfortable for both horse and rider, as well as looking very unworkmanlike: the weight in the former case being thrown too far forward, in the latter too far back on the horse's loins.
The body should be fairly erect, but without any approach to a military seat, which looks very awkward, and is unbecoming to any man not riding in a military saddle, not to speak of the discomfort it must occasion the horse when a man sits in such an uncomfortable and constrained position.
It is unnecessary to attempt to describe the means by which a man must give himself a firm seat, while the horse is plunging and jumping, as such knowledge can only be acquired by constant practice and experience, which will teach the rider that a firm grip with the knees is the best means of sticking on, and leaning backwards or forwards as circumstances may require. The management of the reins under similar circumstances depends on a man's hands for doing the right thing at the right moment, and practice alone can give hands and teach the rider how to manage a restive horse.
The elbows should be kept almost close to the sides, and the hands under ordinary circumstances should be from six to eight inches from the body, but they should never be stiff or held in any fixed position, but yielding, and ready to give and take to every movement of the horse's head.