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Field hunter conditioning/fitness requirements and workload by field?

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    Field hunter conditioning/fitness requirements and workload by field?

    I have an eventer I'm going to be looking at selling soon, and am wondering if hunting would be a good match for him. Personality-wise, it's a yes: good in the field, good with dogs, good out alone and in a group, safe point and shoot jumper, good with banks/ditches/water. He has a prior stifle injury and some mild SI pain that I've been trying to figure out long-term management for over the last few years - trying to determine what a comfortable workload would be, for example.

    My gut right now is telling me he should not be pointed at competitive training level eventing or 2nd/3rd level dressage again - he was at this level before we stepped back to manage the stifle, and we are touching it again in our regular work now, with better management and conditioning than before. I think the collected work in the dressage is the biggest risk factor for his soundness, second risk being the bigger jumps (which is a real shame because he is *delightful* to jump over 3' when you start really feeling his athleticism).

    He could possibly have a long happy career as a BN/N packer. The big *if* there is if he's kept conditioned appropriately. I suspect the best situation for him will be with more hacking out than drilling in rings, and I'm thinking that might not be the right match for someone who is at the BN/N level and wants a horse to learn on. So I started wondering about field hunting.

    Just reading some things online, sounds like 2nd and 3rd flight would be very doable for him. What about 1st? How many hours does a hunt normally go? What is the intensity for 1st flight? How many jumps and at what heights? Can you compare it to eventing levels?

    Wow. It really depends. In my area, where we drag hunt, the hunts are not that long (most are 1.5-2 hours because the route is pre-determined) and the fences are probabably novice/training height. But there are hunts that go out for many hours and jump much larger fences. Live hunting is much more unpredictable.

    The biggest change for a horse used to eventing is being part of the field rather than out by themselves. Some horses are fine with it, others can get very wound up by the energy of all those galloping horses. The best hunt horses can go anywhere in the field and not lose their minds. My Trakehner was just about perfect because he would go in the first or second field or even whip. He stood at the checks and kept a good gap between the horse in front of him. My OTTB had some mental challenges coming to terms with the idea that every gallop wasn't a race and he wasn't supposed to win. It took a four hour hunt to convince him that it was fine to stand still at the checks and catch his breath.

    Where in the country are you located? If your horse is sane and happy being out in a crowd, you could either try hunting him yourself or ask someone from a local hunt to take him out and see how he responds. Typically it takes about 6 hunts to figure out whether your horse is suitable. The first few they are a bit shell shocked; then they start to settle in and understand the job. My horses have always loved hunting but not every horse is suitable.
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      Original Poster

      I guess I should have suspected as much! I'm in the midwest. I believe the closest hunt to me does live hunting. There is one a few hours away - I'm not sure what they do.

      He hasn't been out running with a big group, unless you count busy xc warm-ups. He might not know how to deal with it the first time out, but is very level-headed, and very much the type that can take in a new situation and go "ok, I guess this is my job now" and then just go do it. May take a few tries for him to internalize it as the new normal, but I feel fairly confident he'd settle in readily and enjoy it.

      I'm much more worried that *I* wouldn't be able to handle it (I like courses...), so yeah, maybe the thing to do then is start putting out feelers at the local clubs and see what they say.

      How do people buy/sell field hunters? Is it mostly through word of mouth?


        Here in the UK former eventer are commonly used as hunters (and young potential eventer often learn about xc out with hounds) so your horse is a potential treasure for some lucky soul. How about looking up you closest hunt and contacting the Sec or a Master as they might know of someone looking for a new horse and they would also know something of the potential new owners ability in the saddle.
        "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths


          Ditto Bogie's advice. It will take a few hunts to see if the horse can accept all the audio and visual stimulation happening around it. And even then, many people will ride a horse new to hunting in a slow field the entire first season while other do a few hunts in a slow field then move the horse on up to where they want to be.

          Your best route is to speak with the Hunt secretary of the hunt where you wish to give it a try, that is called Capping. Tell them you are new to hunting, as is the horse, and see if they will partner you up with an experienced member who can ride with you that day. My hunt does that for people who ask for help.

          As for buying and selling field hunters, word of mouth is usually the safest bet. It's a feather in the horse's cap if a Master or two from the hunt where the horse has hunted will vouch for the horse's experience in whatever field it is advertised as being suitable to hunt in.

          Good luck!


            A lot depends on the specific hunt. Here in Northern Virginia, there are a lot fewer and a lot lower jumps than most people expect. The biggest issue is that, with a large field and a narrow path, you end up walking where the footing is good, and cantering where the footing is awful. The hunt often last 2 hours, but a lot of it is walking or standing still. The most important skill is the ability and willingness to stand STILL at the checks.

            Note, I do not hunt on a regular basis, but I have "capped" quite a few times over the years. And I sold one of my low level eventers as a fox hunter.
            Last edited by Janet; Sep. 5, 2019, 09:04 PM. Reason: left out word

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2019.


              Originally posted by strangewings View Post
              I guess I should have suspected as much! I'm in the midwest. I believe the closest hunt to me does live hunting. There is one a few hours away - I'm not sure what they do.

              He hasn't been out running with a big group, unless you count busy xc warm-ups. He might not know how to deal with it the first time out, but is very level-headed, and very much the type that can take in a new situation and go "ok, I guess this is my job now" and then just go do it. May take a few tries for him to internalize it as the new normal, but I feel fairly confident he'd settle in readily and enjoy it.

              I'm much more worried that *I* wouldn't be able to handle it (I like courses...), so yeah, maybe the thing to do then is start putting out feelers at the local clubs and see what they say.

              How do people buy/sell field hunters? Is it mostly through word of mouth?
              Definitely speak to the field secretary at a hunt near you. If you are not keen on taking your horse on his first hunt, I know lots of people who hired pros to give their horses exposure. It's really hard to predict how your horse will react. I had evented my Trakehner before hunting him. He went, sure, this if fun, and was great from the very first time I took him out. I hilltopped him once then moved him to a pick and choose field, then took him first flight. I hunted him in a bitless bridle, too.

              My OTTB was a different story. He jigged and paced and got all worked up about life. I hilltopped him for a season before moving him up to first flight. Even then, he sometimes got overwhelmed by the idea of jumping in a group and I had to be careful with not overfacing him. I hunted him for more than a decade and he became a great horse to whip off of. Sadly, at 22 he's got some soundness issues that meant scaling him back to a less demanding job.

              My draft x mare was terrible, awful, disgracefully bad the first time I hunted her. She alternated between bucking and squealing and stopping and refusing to move. It surprised me because she's normally a very level headed horse that takes things in stride. At about hunt six, something clicked in her brain and she has become a very keen hunter. I moved her up to first field after a season of hilltopping. I don't jump her right now because I'm recovering from an accident, but she's wicked fun to hunt although she gets mad when the hunt moves too slowly.

              Definitely hunters get sold by word of mouth and most people who hunt prefer to buy a horse that has hunted enough times to get the kinks out and figure out the job. The term "hunt prospect" makes foxhunters laugh because you really don't know what you'll get until you've tried.
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              EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                Here in Central NY, we hunt anywhere between 2-4 hours. I have been out as long as 6, but that was an exceptional day. Our territory does not have a lot of jumps.Ours top out at 3 feet, but other hunts go larger. First field takes them all, second takes them as conditions and mood allow, third never jumps. We hunt live for 90% of our season (sometimes go to drag when we collide with deer season)...some days we only walk and trot, some days we take off at a gallop and never really slow down. I would say we average about 8 miles per hunt, but have done as many as 12-15, depending on how the hounds are running.

                In our case, we have several pieces of relatively small territory, so we tend to do a lot of back and forth and recover the same ground many times. We are also fairly hilly and have some pretty rough country for this neck of the woods. Hunts in flatter places have longer runs at higher speeds.

                The first horse I hunted (my own) was an ex-eventer and she did not really appreciate the idea of stopping and standing around in the middle of things--especially in groups. If you had asked me if she would mind that before we started, I would have categorically denied the very thought. It's a skill set...some are willing to learn, some are not.

                Bogie said:
                My draft x mare was terrible, awful, disgracefully bad the first time I hunted her. She alternated between bucking and squealing and stopping and refusing to move.
                The first time I took said mare out hunting she stood up on her hind legs, pawed at the air, and landed in a dead bolt--passing the masters and huntsman like they were standing still. Ladies clutched pearls. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. She made an *excellent* whip horse though--super brave and bold and loved the hounds.


                  Pace of each field, distance, and height of jumps will vary from hunt to hunt. Some hunts have jumps optional and others have well paneled country. Jumps can vary from 2'6"-4'6".

                  Saturday was our first day cub hunting. I was out for 3 hours and covered 13 miles. I called it a day at 2 1/2 hours when the quarry was running away from the meet and we were already pretty far out. 30 minute walk back to the trailers.

                  I hunted today. 7 miles in 1 1/2 hours.

                  I have hunted long hours and long distances 6 hours close to 20 miles and not as long hours, but a blistering pace and covered just over 18 miles.

                  Both days hunting a red fox.


                    Not actually the question you asked, but...

                    In my opinion, it is a mistake to get a horse too fit before introducing them to hunting. Fit enough to do a BN or Novice HT is plenty fit for your first few forays in the back of second flight or out with the hill toppers.

                    Remember that many hunting days are never-get-out-of-a-trot, sit by the side of the covert and watch, wait and listen days. Some days are hurry up and wait days, with short bursts of activity and lots of standing around, reversing field and making way for staff. Some days will be screaming runs after a fox that makes a 5 mile point, but the first two are more common.

                    A horse that is Training or Prelim fit, out in company and exposed to hounds for the first time, might be climbing out of its skin on the first two types of day.


                      It is entirely dependent on your local hunt. Reach out to a secretary and ask. I've ridden with hunts that have a walk/trot field and a very slow and low first field and others that routinely exceed 15-20 miles with 30 jumping efforts from 3' to 4' (mostly 3) over 4 hours and a second field that gallops even further to get around the jumps.

                      The problem is that there is a plethora of aging and unsound hunt horses than need to move back a field and already have the resume and experience so the value of a hunt horse with soundness issues is minimal.
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                        I'm going to emphasize what others have mentioned in that field hunters don't get to choose the route, speed, or footing. In my part of the midwest, the going is pretty trappy and we have a lot of clay. The footing actually gets better when it saturates down to hoof-deep mud from sliding down hills on what feels like a layer of grease over rock.

                        There are certainly places, hunts, and fields where a horse like you describe could make someone a nice all-around fun mount, but there are also a lot of places where it'd be hard to keep him sound.