In trotting off to cover there is nothing out of the usual to observe, but in the run more attention is demanded. We will, however, at this period confine ourselves strictly to the riding part of the performance.
No fixed rule can be laid down as to the style of seat a man riding across country should adopt, as so many men who probably go equally well ride differently; but it is essential that a few rules should always be observed, and amongst these are-
1st. A good firm seat, maintained by sitting well down in the saddle, with the knees in such a position that they are ever ready for instantaneous grip, whenever occasion requires. Most men incline well forward, standing in the stirrups with their knees pressed tight to the saddle when the horse is galloping, giving and taking at the horse's mouth according to the kind of mouth their steed possesses. Without the ability to do this, no man can have what is termed good hands. When the horse is going at a good half or three-quarter speed, and nearing a fence, the rider should change the position of his body from that of forward, to that of leaning slightly backward, quickly but quietly, keeping a firm and steady hold of the horse's head, and steadying him when he is about twenty yards from the fence, again allowing the horse to put on more pace as he approaches the jump, and always be on the look out for a refusal or a blunder in jumping, and a "peck" on the landing side.
If the horse stumbles on to his knees and nose, and blunders on for a stride or two, the utmost endeavour should be made on the part of the rider to retain his seat, and this may be done by inclining backwards and keeping the strongest possible grip on the saddle from the thigh downwards, and a quick and forcible pull at the horse's mouth, to help him, if possible, in raising his head from the ground.
Many people will, perhaps, disagree with this advice as to trying to raise the horse's head; but hard-riding horsemen firmly believe that they have averted many a fall by timely and judicious assistance with the reins, which, though hard to explain, is held by them to be a practical fact, and is, therefore, pressed for adoption.
When a horse falls in jumping, it is, as a rule, better policy to try to retain the reins. If it is a very "ugly" fall, and the horse rolls on to his rider, all that can be attempted is to try and get out of the horse's way as quickly as possible, which cannot always be accomplished; but no part of a moment should be lost in endeavouring to get hold of the reins the instant the rider's feet are on the ground.
The kind of obstacle the rider is about to meet will be his chief guide as to the pace to maintain as he approaches it. If it is a sound bank (an on and off), a good half-speed gallop; if it is a wall, a good "steadier" is, as a rule, required; but if it is an open ditch, or water, the pace must be increased considerably. In hunting, most people take a pull at their horse when he is about twenty or thirty yards from the fence; and the pace is again increased as the horse nears the fence; this slackening the pace gives both horse and rider time to see something of the kind of fence they are about to attempt to get over, and to clear it. If it is an impossible fence, or if the rider discovers wire in it, he has a chance of steering away from it. Different horses require to be ridden differently at their fences; for instance, a free jumping horse requires nice handling, and riding at an easy pace, probably; while a sluggish horse will require a reminder or two with the whip and spur; but a horse that runs out and refuses, needs to be ridden very determinately, yet not too fast nor too roughly, as either method would give him greater opportunities of running out or doing what he wished to do. If the horse is lazy, and dislikes jumping, he will slacken the pace of his own sweet will, and try to refuse; while other horses will, on nearing a fence, commence to rush as though they were ever so eager to jump, and either refuse or run out at the last moment, running out generally to the left. This can sometimes be avoided by the timely appliance of a cutting whip on the left side, or by showing the horse the whip on the near side of his head, at the same time bringing in the aid of Mr. Latchford (the spur-maker) on the side you expect your horse to turn. It is said that horses can jump walls and timber highest and safest when they are just well into a canter, say when they have had a trot of twenty yards, and have got into their second or third stride of a canter.
Horses when tired or blown require easing and nursing while galloping, and more steadying when they are put at a jump, as well as a little more of the rider's energy to let them know he is in earnest, and means to get over the obstacle. This is what is commonly called "pulling a horse together."
It is always wise to steady a hunter, if he is not very fit, over the first few fields, no matter at what pace the hounds are going; as to over-exert a horse at this period of the hunt often unduly fatigues him, and impairs his energy for the remainder of the day.
An instance of injudicious riding may be given. One day very recently while in a fast drag hunt, a man rode his not too fit horse to a standstill, and just as the hounds had checked he put his beaten horse at a rotten bank, which he was unable to get over, and so fell into the ditch on the other side. A judicious momentary walk, considering the hounds were not running, would have prevented the catastrophe, which spoilt the unfortunate man's sport for the rest of the day, as the horse had to be pulled out of the ditch, a very dirty one, and some considerable time elapsed before the saddle was clean enough to get into again, Needless to say, the gentleman was young in experience.
Another kind of rider, the opposite to the one just mentioned, is the man who mounts himself on the best horse he can obtain, and never ceases to assure his friends that he has got the best horse in the world, and (if you had not been present yourself) that he had been going like the wind in front of everybody; whereas, as a matter of fact, he never rides a yard, and is always ready to say, as an excuse for being out of a fast run, that he has been helping a lady out of a ditch.