If you’re an inexperienced rider then your chosen mount should, ideally, be sensible enough to understand that you’re still learning and be able to compensate appropriately. Chief Rookie Aside: My Aqua gelding, Monkey, has been borrowed-back several times by his trainer/prior owner to pack out hunting carcasses.
Originally bred by English settlers in the seventeenth century, they were used as everyday horses, but were also raced over the wooden tracks along the unpaved village streets. Want a horse that won’t spook around livestock: The Quarter Horse is the equine equivalent of a sheepdog, they have natural cow sense and will happily round cattle up on their own.
Hold your horses : Quarter Horses are known to suffer from a few genetic conditions such as PSM (polysaccharide storage myopathy) and malignant hyperthermia that can cause muscle weakness and abnormalities. As a result, it’s important to check they’re not carrying any of these genetic markers before acquiring one.
Mustang Taking its name from a corruption of the Spanish word ‘mustang’ which means ‘stray horse’, many horses still run freely across 34 million acres of land, mainly in the Western United States. Originally from Spanish and Iberian horses, many other breeds have influenced the Mustang over the centuries which is one of the reasons why they’re so good for mountain hunting.
Not only have they inherited the best characteristics from other breeds, but they’ve also evolved to survive on their instincts. Want a horse that knows the land: Many Mustangs have grown up roaming free which means they’re better adapted than any other breed to the rough mountainous terrain.
Want a conversation starter: While Mustang ownership is becoming more and more common, they’re often a good talking point with many people. Their four-beat ambling gait makes them extremely comfortable to ride all day.
Want a do anything horse: Originally bred to carry people over rough, uneven terrain, the Rocky Mountain Horse is widely used to work cattle and pull buggies in and around the Appalachians. They’re capable of happily carrying an adult all day long without tiring.
Want a pony that was born for mountain hunting : The Highland Pony has a long history with deer stalking, they’re surefooted, have a calm nature, and can easily carry a fully grown man over the rough, uneven Scottish hills. Want a horse with a royal connection: Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is a massive fan of the Highland Pony and even has her own stud at Balm oral Castle in Scotland.
Want a breed with history: Not only has the Highland Pony been influenced by a number of ancient breeds such as the Arabian and the Norwegian Fjord over the years, but its own history can trace back to ponies that were living in Europe during the last Ice Age. Hold your horses : If you’re interested in owning a Highland Pony it’s important to check their confirmation, some ponies suffer from stifle problems that can cause joint issues.
Wrongly said to be stupid and stubborn, they’re not only highly intelligent (thought to be more so than both horses and donkeys), but are also very hardworking. Even today there are many parts of the world where mules are still regularly used in place of vehicles due to their ability to cover the most unstable of terrain.
Want a dependable mount: The mule was originally bred to carry people and their luggage over rocky and uneven ground so mountain hunting is their bread and butter. Hold your horses : If you’re looking to breed from your mountain hunter, then a mule isn’t for you.
Hunting deer from horseback is often much easier than hunting on foot because many prey animals see the horse as another prey animal and don’t consider the rider. In Great Britain, the Queen has a herd of Highland Ponies that have saddles designed especially to carry deer.
Ensure horses are trained and comfortable packing, gunshots, and the smell of dead animals prior to your trip. Many hunters are on the heftier side, and carrying additional equipment only adds to the load (unless you have separate packing horses or mules).
In many regions of the world, sportspeople continue to hunt from horseback, both to retain ancient traditions and because it can be exhilarating, challenging, and extremely fun. These horses need to be able to handle loud noises, varying terrain, and sometimes confusing commands with equanimity.
This type of horse is sometimes referred to as bombproof, since it takes a lot to rattle a well-trained ones. A hunting horse must also be interested in the thrill of the chase, and willing to commit large amounts of energy to his or her rider.
In terms of skill, a hunting horse needs to be able to jump over a variety of obstacles and handle a range of terrain. Hunts do not follow set or established trails, so horses may encounter fences, hedges, walls, creeks, and very uneven ground.
As a general rule, people who are interested in taking up the sport should seek out a local hunt, and ask to ride as a guest, sometimes borrowing horses from other members. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.
In the London flat where I occasionally stay, I am lucky enough to be able to drink my morning coffee looking at a watercolor by Lionel Edwards of two of the besthuntinghorses, a gray and a bay, jumping a hairy-looking place with hounds far away in the distance. I am especially fond of the gray, who is being ridden on a long rein and is obviously both taking care and looking ahead to where hounds are running.
The best hunting horse needs to be just that, bred for the job, ideally three-quarter bred with the rest Irish Draft, and 16hh-17hh with plenty of bone and heart room, a good shoulder, a short back and legs, a large engine behind and enough of a front to make you feel safe. He or she should have the scope to keep up with hounds over any country, clear hedges with the ditch towards and find a fifth leg if there is a drop on the landing side, as well as the toughness to handle long days, the intelligence to cope with uneven ground such as furrow or moorland.
However, what constitutes the best hunting horse today isn’t what it was in the days of “seas of grass”. Show hunters, glorious as they look in the summer, have diverged from the actual animal on which most people will follow hounds, much as show dogs (even those of working breeds) differ from real working dogs.
That isn’t to say that you should not look for good conformation and, of course, many lovely horses that have been shown and have won in hand do go on to make some besthuntinghorses, but very big horses who catch the judge’s eye may not be as practical as smaller, tougher individuals. My beau idéal as a child with the Cottesmore was the late Colonel Steven Eve who rode big, home-bred hunters fit for a Christmas card.
“But they also need to be able to turn away from everyone else and jump a narrow place or a tiger-trap without falling into the middle of it.” She adds that horses that are too competitive may not settle in the field or queue. Mary Gordon-Watson’s Cornish man was one; another was the Strikers’ George, who I am told (although by then quite old and shaggy), jumped an in-and-out of level crossing gates on a visit to the Cotswold and, unrecognized at the meet, duly astonished the field.
At the same time, some people feel that a “hunter” is a good description for an evener or show-jumper that has not quite made the grade. This attitude annoys Connors, who feels that the best hunting horse is valuable in itself, needing to be brave and calm.
She feels this practical apprenticeship, similar to nurses being trained in the ward not the lecture theater, is worth a great deal of schooling. “When we were dealing, we quickly knew what we were sitting on by cantering down the grass verge to the meet.
He was not keen on the now-very-popular, modern Continental warm blood breeds, but the individual horse was more important to him than its papers. He famously asked potential purchasers who inquired into the antecedents of any animal, “How would you like him to be bred?” You could try his horses over natural hedges and ditches on the farm and out hunting.
Writing in 1932, Lady Diana Shed den and Lady Apply, authors of my bedside bible To whom the Goddess, wrote, “The advertisement for a perfect hunter may materialize into either a well-bred utter weed or a big, heavy common brute.” Still true. The traditional time to look for one is during autumn hunting but it can be a good thing to see a horse towards the end of the season when it is fit and, crucially, to see how sound it is.
Everyone, however saintly and honest in other walks of life, will try to sell you some awful horse before giving unbiased advice. In my case with the Ludo, this is a middle-aged, colored horse, insultingly referred to as a “pikey pony” by one of my grander neighbors.
For a heavy man to find a quality hunter can be expensive and difficult but if your horse is not up to your weight, it can be like a large man driving a Mini on a long journey, and the horse won’t be able to stand long days. A horse that is part-Irish Draft is the traditional answer for many but there are other options: part-Cleveland Bay or part-Shire, or if you really hate hairy heels you could go on a diet.
Reading old hunting books about tremendous five-mile points on old turf with never a strand of wire to be seen and hedges that have not been cut by machines, it is clear that blood horses were needed if you were going to keep up, but today you may need to jump wire, go along roads, or get on and off to open and shut impossible gates. Your horse may be asked to do three days a fortnight or more for a number of seasons and you may need to be able to load him into a trailer by yourself in a remote spot.
Cobs have long been a good option but people even hunt Arabs and all sorts of colored horses and ponies. “Ex-racehorses can make wonderful hunters and if they have withstood the wear and tear of the racecourse they often benefit from the change of career and some seem to find it much to their liking,” she says.
Junks concludes that what you need, above all, is a horse you can trust as, although her own two beloved “commoners” tend to be more sensible than her thoroughbreds, with sturdier legs that withstand thorns and knocks better, any breed can be a wimp. A couple of years ago I was shown round the immaculate Devon and Somerset Stag hounds hunt kennels and saw one lovely bay thoroughbred after another, many of them ex-racehorses but, of course, they are suited to their job and their country, where roadwork is mercifully rare.
They should tremble with excitement when they first see hounds at the beginning of the season but stand stock still in anticipation rather than exploding or, heaven forbid, kicking.