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The excitement is palpable. Hounds, horses and riders are back in work, hunting kit and tack has been checked, cleaned and repaired. The mornings are fresh and some fit horses are already getting a little keen – the autumn trail hunting season has started and we are all now raring to go.
As opening meet fast approaches, many hunts have wisely tuned into the fact that busy mounted subscribers want to be as prepared as possible for the season ahead but that they don’t always have the time available in the working week to get out schooling and jumping their horses. The answer for those who want a refresher course can be found in offering hunting clinics, with knowledgeable and experienced cross-country and jumping trainers (who understand the requirements of those who ride to hounds) coaching small groups. This can help to build rider confidence, tune-in horse and rider partnerships, get one’s eye in for the natural fences and generally limber-up for the main season ahead.
Such clinics are usually held at the kind permission of a hunting landowner, generously permitting hunt members to come and enjoy the favoured country to practice without the “haroosh and big-day nerves” ahead of opening meet. With smaller groups and no hounds to follow, the focus is mainly on the individual horse-human relationship without having to be concerned about keeping up with the field master, queuing for jumps or keeping your horse away from the hounds until more confident.
Renowned hunter judge, rider and trainer, Julian White, has been coaching hunting clinics for a number of different hunts for many years, as well as training riders for other equestrian disciplines. He believes the clinics are a vital part of preparation for the season:
“Focused clinics help riders get back in the groove, learn their spatial awareness, find their ‘place in the field’ where horse and rider are confident in control.”
“Not all hunt fences are to be jumped at speed, many hunt countries require being able to trot to a rail - or pop a fence and turn. This is where clinics can help hunting riders to gain the key elements to any riding discipline – control, rhythm, balance, straightness – to enjoy their day to the full.”
These events act also as a great social get-together, usually incorporating a lunch or picnic, where groups can celebrate their achievements and laugh about what may have – or have not - gone to plan. Fundraising is a beneficial element as well as it being an opportunity to promote hunting to a wider audience, with many riders from other disciplines taking part to see if trail hunting is something they’d like to try with their horse.
Polly Portwin, Director of the Alliance’s Campaign for Hunting, agrees it is a great way to promote your hunt to a new audience whilst ensuring regular supporters are well-prepared for the season ahead:
“These excellent training clinics give your own supporters the chance to refresh their riding skills or get to know a new horse without putting any pressure on themselves, whilst the clinics also provide an opportunity to encourage those from outside the hunt to gain experience appropriate to a days’ hunting.
“By welcoming those who may not have hunted before, these clinics can be the first steps to introducing newcomers to trail hunting, with many hunts following up with a dedicated newcomers’ day which offers people a taste of what they can expect from a days’ hunting. We appreciate that some people like to dip their toes in to see if they enjoy something new so being able to talk to hunt members and see how your horse responds in a relaxed environment is a great way to start.”
Get in touch with your local hunt to find out if they are running a hunting clinic, hunt ride, or ask about Countryside Alliance Newcomers’ Week, taking place nationally from 21st-28th October. For more information, click here.
Image credit: Hattie Austin Photography