Horse's first hunt - setting up for success

Hi all - I recently moved my dressage horse to a hunting-centric farm and we have discovered a passion for hacking out across our beautiful countryside. Our hunting barn-mates keep egging us on to join one of the upcoming hunts as part of the third field (which for this hunt is apparently mostly W/T with cantering in open areas where folks are comfortable). I’ve got to say, I’m very tempted as hunting has been a bucket list item for me (even though this would definitely be the weenie version)! We’ve done a couple of hunter paces which he has absolutely loved, and he’s been able to see the hounds at work a few times as they live across the road from our farm.

Is there anything specific I can do/should know prepare him for a successful first hunt? I’ve read our hunt’s rules and guidance and will be sure to chat with my barn-mates, but would love any other suggestions. Thanks in advance!

Make sure he is good with dogs. While you’re unlikely to have too much contact with them third field, it’s imperative you have a horse that is okay with hounds running by and howling. A hunt horse should not be noise reactive - there are lots of noises during the hunt.

I say if you’ve done hunter paces and he was in control/rateable and you enjoyed it, that a hunt is not too much of a leap. If he was strong or out of control, it is not a bad idea to go with a running martingale or some stronger bit set up (that he has been in before).

I’ve found that horses that are fine with hunter paces are good with hunting. Good luck and have fun.


How exciting! Love @beowulf response --but would add that if at all possible, go with a steady, experienced horse and rider who will stay with you during the hunt. I took a brand new OTTB on his first hunt --he was good at the start but then had a meltdown. My “partner rider” ended up having to pony him back to the hunt club with me astride (oh, the humiliation!). The OTTB buried his head against the Pony Horse unable to face the confusion of horses and hounds. Had my partner-rider not been with me, my only option would have been to dismount and walk the terrified fellow 7 miles back to the hunt club. Ultimately, while he never did make a good hunt horse, he found his calling in 3-Day eventing where he excels to this day.

The partner-rider ideally has a quiet, experienced horse and knows the hunt country so he/she can get you back to the hunt club if necessary. I have been the one to do that for numerous rider --sometimes it is guests who choose not to continue, sometimes it is fractious horses --it happens–but always good to have someone with you.


I would say before you take your horse out hunting, see if you can go out on an experienced hunt horse. You need to learn about hunting before your horse can, otherwise you can end up in a bad situation for you or your horse. What would be worse is creating a bad situation for another horse and rider in the hunt. Things happen very fast in the hunt field and you and your horse need to know what to do and be able to execute it quickly.

I’ll disagree with others about hunter paces. They are great for introducing a horse to riding across the country-side but they are no way a simulation of the hunt field.

Don’t take this wrong, I want people to come out hunting and I want them to have a great time. To do that, you have to be prepared. If you can go trail riding with someone that has dogs, do it. All of my hunt horses start out by hacking out with our dogs. A dog running around and showing up out of no where can be quite the experience for an inexperienced horse. The first time for what is now my very experienced hunt horse that one our hounds ran past, the horse was up in the air with all four feet off the ground. Another one of my hunters when introduced to our dogs used to try to strike out when they ran by.

It is really hard to explain how much adrenaline is flowing through hounds, horses and people when a hunt starts up. A green horse is going to be really up. Borrow an experienced hunt horse and then work with your horse on the side to prepare him for a possible hunt.


FitToBeTied has an excellent point about gaining exposure for yourself on an experienced horse and I strongly concur.

We owe it to our horses to have enough knowledge that we can help them to learn safely. Since you asked such a good question, I believe you will understand these answers and act accordingly. Good for you.

Happy hunting!

  1. Your horse should be comfortable riding in company (more than 5 horses).

  2. Your horse should be comfortable being passed by other horses. (This can be staff riding by or another field coming by.) Keeping your horse’s haunches away from the passing horse can help avert a nervous kick.

  3. Your horse should be comfortable with the sound of hounds in full cry.

  4. Your horse should be comfortable with hounds popping out of tall grass/woods, following behind, passing you, and possibly bumping into your horse.

  5. Your horse should be willing to walk off or back off the track/trail. Sometimes the trails are not wide enough to reverse field or allow someone to pass safely. Moving your horse off the track can allow for smoother flow of traffic.

  6. Your horse should be willing to always face horse and hounds when you have had to move over or off the track to avoid a nervous horse kicking or backing into traffic.

  7. You should be able to keep your horse at least one horse length away from the horse in front of you.

  8. Try to watch what riders are doing ahead of you. This can alert you to changes of pace and trail hazards.

  9. Be sure your horse will cross whatever terrain may be needed for your territory. ie crossing bridges, creeks, ditches, trappy footing, fields with curious cows, sheep, goats, horses etc. (We have one fixture that has emus and another that has zebras and other exotics. While we aren’t in the same enclosure with them, the trails do very near them.)

  10. Hopefully you have a hunting “nanny” that will help you through the first few times. Ideally this is someone with a steady eddy horse that exudes confidence to other horses and someone that knows the territory so you can get back early without interfering with the hunt. It would be nice if the “nanny” is on a horse that your horse already knows and is comfortable with. If you have to trailer to the meet and it’s possible, trailer with the horse/person combo that will be your “nanny”. Horses that travel together can form a quick bond and provide a bit more of a safety net.

  11. Your horse should be willing to stand quietly. Sometimes for what seems and exceedingly long time. A check can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. The longer checks generally allow for a little bit of walking about, while the shorter ones can require a stock still animal.

  12. Try to learn some terminology up front. “Ware…” “Hark” “Reverse Field”

  13. If you do go, be sure to arrive 30-45 minutes early to give you and your horse a chance to walk around and settle. Try to not park near the hound trailer and stay well back when they let the hounds out. But do keep your horse facing the activity.

We don’t know you, your horse, or the group you will be hunting with. It can be hard to say whether it would be a good idea for you to go on your horse, or on a made hunter for your first time. I can almost promise you that you will have a better time going on a made hunter your first time. It will allow you to absorb so much more of what is going on around you. Members that know you, know your horse and know how they hunt and their 3rd field master would be best to guide you.

I do hope you will have an opportunity to go.

Happy Hunting!


Thank you all so much for your suggestions! I will definitely see if there is a possibility of getting out there myself on a veteran first.

@jawa, thanks for your checklist! I do wonder a bit about how hunters acclimatize their horses to some of these elements outside of an actual hunting context (i.e. “Your horse should be comfortable with the sound of hounds in full cry; your horse should be comfortable with hounds popping out of tall grass/woods, following behind, passing you, and possibly bumping into your horse.”) Presumably there is a learning curve for new horses with some of these situations so I’m curious as to your experiences.

To confirm, I will definitely be picking my barn-mates’ brains - but frankly they tend towards just saying “It’s so much fun! You have to come!” so the reality checks are appreciated :lol:

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@ChasseurSauteur do you have dogs come with you out on trail rides? I have found this to be the easiest way to condition horses to the way a dog/hound moves into and out of cover and along the trail. If you haven’t trail ridden with dogs, can you? It is always helpful it the dogs are horse savvy.

If that is not an option, I have found it best to stay at the back of 3rd field, but have someone who can ride behind you to warn you when they hear or see a hound approaching from a direction (hound behind, left) This way you can tip your horses eye toward the direction the hound is coming and tip their hind end AWAY from the approaching hound while saying “hound” or “ware hound” in a soft voice. Lots of pats and “good horse” once the hound is away. If your horse moves to kick, strike or otherwise harm a hound they need to be reprimanded sternly and quickly. They need to know that is in no way tolerated.

If you can, ride with spurs (appropriate to your horses sensitivity) and carry a crop, not a bat for when discipline is needed. This may not be allowed at all hunts, but I ride with a hunt whip all the time. This allows me to dangle the thong around my horse when hounds are near. This acts as a warning for hounds to not come too close. Again, each hunt is different, but I have found it helpful.

@ChasseurSauteur ,

So glad that you’re going to give hunting a try! Lots of great advice in this thread so far.

I’d also advise that you check in with the hunt club for their advice and suggestions. For instance, they may let you ride out with a knowledgable person while they road hounds; that is an easy, non stressful way to start the process. The club I currently hunt with did a 3 day new foxhunter’s clinic where they covered manners, etiquette and expectations, had the group ride out in the open and practice safe following distance, reverse field, ware staff, etc. and had a mock hunt on the third day. The mock hunt including hounds, but not hunting, if that makes sense - the hounds were just out for exercise, not hunting - and they encouraged new members to bring the novice horses up towards the pack. I thought the clinic was a wonderful intro for new hunters, but it was last month/beginning of this month, before fall hunting started in earnest. But do ask THIS club what they offer for new foxhunters and what they recommend.

I do have to second the advice that it’s best to ride an experienced field hunter first. There’s a LOT going on - a large group of horses moving in, hounds, the horn calls, etc. If that’s not an option, and you take your horse out on your first outing, I’d like to add that your companion should commit to staying with you the entire hunt, and/or going in with you early if it seems like the wisest course. Essentially, you’re asking someone to give up their hunting pleasure to ensure your good experience and safety - it’s not a small ask. However, most veteran foxhunters are so eager to introduce new people to their beloved sport they’ll do it willingly.

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I definitely second/third going out on an experienced hunter for your first few times. Hunting is unlike most other horse activities and you will need to understand what is happening so as to help your own horse when he goes out for the first time. It is really helpful to have an experienced nanny ride with you, so you can ask all your questions and have informed responses as you go along. But: WARNING hunting is highly addictive and it could change your life!

There is lots of good sense about introducing your horse but, I’m in the UK and probably a bit more seat-of-the-pants about hunting. So, if your horse is in a busy barn with dogs and chickens and cats and lots of horse movements, if you show and he sees crowds and vehicles and tents and PA speakers, if your horse is generally a good character with sound training then he should manage. Even the hounds shouldn’t be an issue, particularly as your job is to keep your horse away from hounds. This is where your previous experience will help your horse though: if you don’t jump at hounds appearing out of the bushes then he won’t be so concerned. If you are out with horses from the same barn it is quite likely your novice will fix himself beside a stable friend and stay in that safe place.

As much as possible, take it easy and don’t overface him. If he deals with a situation, carry on, but if he shows any sign of over excitment, stress, tiredness etc then take him home so that the experience is only good. You can build gradually. There is always another day.

An alternative is to ask one of your experienced barn-mates ride him the first few times.

I took a riding school pony out once. He was used in beginners lessons, W/T/C in the arena, and some hacking with all kinds of riders. I doubt he had ever been hunting but he proved to be wonderful, really interested, polite, careful of other horses, completely unfazed by hounds and sounds. He was also fit enough, as a Welsh D, to keep up with TBs until he told me after a couple of hours that he’d had enough. I was really impressed and very proud of him.

Just wanted to thank you all so much for your generous advice! Will keep you posted if this ends up materializing.

^^^This is the number one thing!! If you have a nanny/babysitter, everything else on this list gets easier. Make this your priority.


You’ve gotten great advice here. I’d like to add that you should regard your horse’s first three-to-five hunts as “new experiences.” It’s not unusual for the horse to perk up considerably after the first time or two. Hunting is FUN!

Starting my young horse last year (I’ve started several before), I had a “nanny” for ten hunts because that was what I needed. He’s hunting well now.

Good luck and enjoy the journey!


Lots of good advice. I will also add, for you as a rider, to pay attention outside your field/horse during the hunt. A lot of hounds being kicked or other startle reactions can be avoided if the rider is actively watching and listening for hounds in the vicinity and directs the horse’s attention to them (and hindquarters away). It’s not a trail ride, but it’s so easy to fall into that mindset. As has been mentioned in passing, you WILL be expected to discipline your horse immediately if it strikes out or otherwise does something that could endanger hounds or staff. I teach my horses about “doggies” and tip their nose toward dogs, and once they get used to hounds as “doggies” it’s pretty non-eventful. You’re also missing the point of the hunt, which is the hounds and what they’re doing, if you slip into group trail ride mode.

This may or may not apply to your horse and this hunt, but don’t be afraid to ride in fields besides third/hilltopper with a green horse. Guests/green horses are often relegated to the back of the group which adds its own special level of challenge (I’m being left behind! I’m gonna get eaten by the hound running up behind us! Gah! Gah!), but a forward-thinking horse may be less stressed if you let it run a little instead of yanking its jaw off to stay behind a slower group. I find that starting the hunt with 20-30 minutes at a stiff trot in the back of second field settles a lot of TBs, takes the edge off enough they can process what’s going on without freaking out. If your horse starts to run out of gas, you can drop back to a slower field. And, with a green horse, don’t be afraid to retire partway through when his or her brain gets full. (All occasions where it’s super-helpful to have a mentor riding with you so you can observe the necessary protocols.)

All that said, have fun! That’s the whole point. :slight_smile:


Lots of great advice so far, I’ll add -

Don’t overfeed them
A good hard ride the day before can be very beneficial to take the edge off - I usually just do one of my normal canter interval training sessions
Some of them will lose their minds if they are over tired - including being mentally tired, not just physically tired - so know your horse

I had one young Irish sport horse that this was exactly the right thing to do for any outing where she might be a bit “up” (all outings until she was well into her 5yo year :lol:) The first dressage outing I took her to I ended up trotting her up and down the back driveway for 20min as the warmup area was far too exciting.

Good luck! It’s great fun and terribly addictive :smiley:

A couple of thoughts for when you bring an inexperienced horse to their first few hunts. (1) Arrive in plenty of time. Nothing will put a horse on edge then being rushed off the trailer in an exciting environment. (2) Saddle the horse at home and travel to the hunt that way. It’s awfully hard to tack up an excited horse at a hunt meet. Years ago I saw a Big Name Eventer show up to hunt and was trying to tack the horse. They never made it to the field. (3) Put the bridle on the horse on the trailer and the halter over that. Don’t be the person yelling loose horse because the horse got away while tying to be bridled.

Just a couple of things to make life at the hunt a little easier.


So it turns out our hunt is putting on a clinic for newbies next weekend, so we will be attending! As part of the clinic, we will also get to participate in a ‘supported’ hunt with a nanny/babysitter - so looks like we have a plan!


That is awesome that your local hunt is putting on a “Hunt Camp”. This will allow you both to practice what a typical hunt day may entail. Hopefully they have some sort of “meet and greet” of the hounds for you and your horse.

Be sure to introduce yourself to the Masters and any hunt staff that may be helping to put on this event and thank them for the opportunity to learn. These events take a lot of work to organize.

One thing that has not been suggested and that I have seen done is to bring your horse to a meet, but not actually hunt. Some of the folks I’ve seen doing this have brought horses and not let them off the trailer, but opened the window or escape door to allow the horse to view the activity from a safe space. Others have brought their horses and had them off the trailer, not tacked, to be around the atmosphere. You would need the permission of the masters to do such a thing.

Wonderful news, Chasseur! Post back and let us know how it goes!

@jawa, back in the day, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I could hack to many meets, my favorite way to introduce young horses to hunting was to hack to the meet with others from the barn, stand around, have my ham biscuit and hot chocolate, and then hack home on the road, progressing to hacking to the first cover, then staying as long as the horse was calm and managable. However, that method requires a lot of knowledge of the territory, meets in hacking distance and the ability to go home early without crossing unhunted ground.

In the absence of those conditions, I think your method of introducing horses to the excitement of the meet is an excellent one.

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Fox hunting is so much fun, I hope your horse takes to it well. Starting out in the hilltopper W/T field will be less stressful. Of course it all depends on the hunt. I didn’t see this mentioned but may have missed it, but it’s a good idea to check in with the secretary or master, letting them know you want to give it a try and ask them for recommendations. Each hunt is different and no one knows better than the hunt master.

Whoever recommended to arrive early is spot on. Plan to be on your horse 15 minutes before hounds move off. You will be way less stressed this way. And horses do pick up on that.

Have fun and report back!