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.