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What is a Field Hunter?

By Bethney Foster
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A field hunter is a horse that is ridden for fox hunting. The term does not refer to a specific breed of horse, but rather to the horse’s function. A field hunter rides to hounds, which means the horse carries a rider and follows the dogs on the hunt.

The field hunter is judged on its ability to jump and to remain calm on the hunt. It must also be able to reach a galloping speed that allows it to keep up with the field during the hunt. The horse must be one that can be controlled around dogs and other horses and one that is not likely to kick at the hounds.

Most horses need to be at least five years old before beginning to work as field hunters. Attributes that are looked for include straight legs, stamina, and sure-footedness. A horse must be properly conditioned and trained before its first hunt.

The most popular field hunter is the Irish Hunter, also known as the Irish Sports Horse and the Irish Draught Sports Horse. The Irish Hunter is not a specific breed, but a type of horse. It is most often a mix of Irish Draught, Thoroughbred, and Connemara.

Thoroughbreds and draft horses have often been preferred mounts for fox hunting. Morgan, Arabian, and Quarter horses have also been popular as field hunters. Mixed breed horses, and even ponies with the right abilities, are also often used for fox hunting.

Like their riders, who are dressed in traditional clothing for the hunt, the tack of the field hunter is traditional. Tack is the gear that is placed on the horse. It includes the saddle, bit, and halters.

The tack worn by field hunters is of the English rather than Western variety. It is made of heavier leather than other tack and is not decorated or embellished. The saddle is a forward seat, sometimes called a hunt seat. Sidesaddles are not used.

Some field hunters, also called fox hunters, are also show hunters, but not all show hunters are used in the actual hunt. A show hunter is ridden in an arena and will be able to jump certain fences, but must also have appearance attributes that are not required for a horse whose only function is as a field hunter. A field hunter must be able to negotiate footing on terrains that may not be possible for all show hunters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a field hunter?

A field hunter is a type of horse specifically trained for foxhunting and other forms of hunting in the field. These horses are prized for their stamina, agility, and ability to navigate varied terrain, including jumping over fences and ditches. They must also remain calm in the presence of hounds and other animals.

How is a field hunter trained differently from other horses?

Field hunters undergo specialized training to prepare them for the rigors of hunting. This includes conditioning for long distances, learning to jump over natural and man-made obstacles, and becoming accustomed to the sounds and chaos of hunting. They are also trained to follow commands promptly and to stay with a group of horses.

What breeds are most commonly used as field hunters?

While many horse breeds can be trained as field hunters, certain breeds excel in this role. Thoroughbreds are often favored for their speed and endurance, while Irish Sport Horses are appreciated for their strength and versatility. Warmbloods are also popular choices due to their jumping ability and temperament.

What qualities make a good field hunter?

A good field hunter must possess several key qualities: physical fitness, courage, and a calm demeanor. They should be able to jump reliably, maintain a steady pace over long distances, and handle the unpredictability of hunting scenarios without becoming skittish. A strong bond with their rider and responsiveness to commands are also crucial.

Is field hunting still a popular activity?

Field hunting remains a popular pastime in many parts of the world, particularly in the UK and Ireland, where it is deeply rooted in tradition. In the United States, foxhunting clubs continue to operate, often with a focus on conservation and maintaining open spaces for equestrian activities.

How does one become involved in field hunting?

To become involved in field hunting, one should start by joining a local hunting club or organization. Newcomers can learn about the sport's etiquette, the required riding skills, and how to train a horse for field hunting. Many clubs offer introductory events and mentorship for those new to the sport.

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