English fox hunting is a microcosm of hunting culture.
Perhaps the most sophisticated form of hunting to be found is that of fox hunting.
Not simply for meat, trophy, fur, or pest control, fox hunting is as much a social activity as a sport. It comes complete with its own dress code and etiquette, and these strict rules apply to men and women alike.
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There’s a discrepancy in the terminology, and most proper English references use the one-word “foxhunting.” For the sake of our mostly-North American audience, we’ll divide it into two words for this article.
Fox hunting is largely revered as an English sport. Although it was popular throughout Europe, nowhere did it take room deeper than in the British Isles.
There, it was carefully cultivated at a specifically upperclass sport, particularly in the 19th Century, when the industrial middle class threatened to blur the lines between the aristocracy and the masses. As such, the sport became one of considerable expense.
The hunts became associated not only with the pursuit of the foxes themselves, but also with balls, lavish dinners, and the generous payment of farmers, who were encouraged to install exciting hazards on their land to make the hunt more memorable.
In this sport, the spheres that separated men from women overlapped, as women were just as likely to enjoy a hunt as the men. Although their dress code was slightly different, and it was expected that they ride side saddle and, thus, with decreased mobility, they were nonetheless as enthusiastically welcome in the sport as the men.
This is as true today as it was 200 years ago, though women are now permitted a more comfortable riding position.
If you’re going to attend a fox hunt, odds are good you’re going to go as part of a group or club.
These days, each group has their own standards for attire. For some, red is a common color to wear. For others, it is for the staff. Navy is a popular color, but others require forest green.
Some styles of hat are acceptable to some groups but not to others. That said, there are certain standards for dress that remain the same wherever you go:
- Hair: Modern women, or even men, with long hair should invest in a hair net.
- Jewelry: Studs and modest necklaces are appropriate, but both for the aesthetic and safety purposes, dangling jewelry is not allowed.
- Buttons: Buttons can indicate a person’s status on the hunt. The more buttons a person has been presented with, the higher their status.
As with attire, etiquette shifts with every group, but there are a few basics that should carry well from group to group.
Arrive early. Nobody wants to hold up the hunt because you forgot to set your alarm clock. It’s best to acknowledge farmhands, because you’re likely hunting on their land. Be sure to respect that.
Don’t go above a trot unless the situation calls for it. One excited horse could excite the rest of them.
As basic as it may seem, smiling and using simple “Please” and “Thank you”can make a day far more pleasant for everyone. Also, let the master of the hunt know where you are. It’s not uncommon for people to get lost on a hunt. This is as much for safety as anything else, but go a long way in terms of courtesy.
Above all, know your place on the land. You are likely going to be hunting on a farm with livestock or seeded crops. Avoid startling the animals or ruining the fields.
Aside from the fox, a variety of other animals are vital to a successful fox hunt.
Terriers are generally overseen by the terrier man, and the role of these little dogs is to sniff out the foxes and persuade them to run from their holes. Jack Russell terriers are traditionally the favored breed for this.
Once the fox is out, the master of the hounds will set the hounds on the fox to kill and kill quickly.
Horses are common on fox hunts, and it is expected that they be as well groomed as their riders. Tacks must be thoroughly cleaned, any equipment the horse is made to carry stowed neatly and in its place, and garish colors on the saddle or boots are prohibited.
Have you ever been fox hunting? What was your experience like? Leave your thoughts below.