How long does it take to 'make' a hunter?

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As per the title really. Am interested in people's experiences in how long it has taken them from introducing a youngish horse to hunting, to feeling like they know their job (ie stand when necessary, queue to ditches and fences, walk and not jog, be chilled enough for the rider to relax as well, plus of course be good with hounds / surrounded by other horses). We are quietly bringing a youngster through and he is definitely starting to settle but I would be interested in other people's experiences, good and bad! I'm a great believer in keeping going til it seems boring but are there some horses that never settle? Any tips?
 

AdorableAlice

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Two seasons. First season extensive cubbing. Miss opening meet and boxing day, there is no need to get a young horse mixed up the 'all the gear and no idea'. Then pick your days to give the young horse a taste of types of going and country. Don't exhaust him, he needs to think its fun, don't ask him to jump trappy fences unless he is well schooled on the flat and handy. By the end of the season he should be confident, reasonably balanced and polite.

Spend the summer schooling him, lots of cubbing and by then he will be totally balanced, able to work things out for himself, fitter, stronger and able to answer bigger questions out hunting. By the end of the second season he should be a rolls royce and sound because you won't have hammered him.
 

Michen

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I know the theory is, as AA says above totally correct but its not my experience with my sharp young connie though I think I got very lucky and I also spent a long time installing manners into him before I thought about testing him with hounds. I went cubbing twice a week for about 3 weeks and then into full on hunting. He both drag hunts and trail hunts (again, supposedly not the norm), does gates, will leave the meet politely if asked, jumps everything even if there's a pile up in front of him, flawless with hounds/other horses. He will go 2/3 weeks no hunting and then go and be just the same.

That said I'm careful to not put him in a silly situation and I was careful not to take him out for too long, when it was too wet/shivery etc as I just don't see the need for a young, lean horse to spend hours shivering in the pouring rain.

He's a very sharp horse but an absolutely superb hunter.

I did break my ankle coming off him the other week when we landed in some deep ground and he pecked slightly, my fault for not sitting up enough I just went out the side door and landed on my feet.
 
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Many thanks both, yes I think we are on the right lines re keeping out of trouble and negative situations. And his schooling and balance are coming on well. Except I have been in a dilemma whether to keep him going til he naturally 'tires' (ie hopefully settles) or to take him home at half time. Either way at the moment he is still buzzing and jogs all the way back to the lorries, and has to be wrestled to get his tack off. Michen, you talk about 'installing manners' before testing him with hounds - what do you mean you did exactly? Our boy is quite a bolshy ID, who when he is calm is pretty respectful, backs up, leads nicely etc but when he is buzzing it is like trying to control a dinosaur - he walks over you, slams you with his head etc. Have you found that becoming more mannerly and calmer at home has translated into hunting? (sorry perhaps a daft question!) Thanks again
 

Michen

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I had similar issue in that mine was eventing fit. He’s now insanely fit, he absolutely never tires physically but I think they do mentally and even if they are still full of running I do think it’s wise to not over do it, I always bear in mind that he is still a baby really.

Mine is buzzy when he gets back to the lorry, his only fault really. I think you just find your own way of dealing with it, for me it’s better to just whip tack off and rug on and put him straight on lorry, and wash off at home regardless of distance. I personally feel that you can get into a viscous cycle of over correcting them and expecting perfect manners when their brains just cannot cope with it. I don’t let him barge over all over me but equally I work quickly and efficiently with what I do with him (racking up etc) and don’t muck about faffing. For me the importance is that he stands on the lorry, which he does. He is totally mannerly on the ground when eventing. I wouldn’t dream of taking him if he wasn’t at least mannerly at home!

I more meant under saddle re manners. Have to say his ground manners when being handled out hunting are what let’s him down most, he is buzzy for sure but settles as soon as you get on board- just wants to crack on even if that means standing at the meet. Under saddle I spent a lot of time boxing for hacks, group hacking, solo hacking, making him go in front and behind and hold back. Walking often even in “canter spots” so he never just assumed he would be cantering in the same place. Lots of eventing so he was used to a buzzy atmosphere. Often long reined whilst I walked the dog so he was used to something around his feet. Ensured he would have a horse canter close alongside him and tolerate it etc. Of course all these things could still have gone to pot on the hunting field if his brain had been blown, but his manners do seem to (touch wood) have held firm. I actually mixed cubbing with hound exercise so had a combo of either quiet low key cubbing at 6am with maybe 5 other horses but also a busy bustling hound exercise with our local drag so he got used to both situations.




Many thanks both, yes I think we are on the right lines re keeping out of trouble and negative situations. And his schooling and balance are coming on well. Except I have been in a dilemma whether to keep him going til he naturally 'tires' (ie hopefully settles) or to take him home at half time. Either way at the moment he is still buzzing and jogs all the way back to the lorries, and has to be wrestled to get his tack off. Michen, you talk about 'installing manners' before testing him with hounds - what do you mean you did exactly? Our boy is quite a bolshy ID, who when he is calm is pretty respectful, backs up, leads nicely etc but when he is buzzing it is like trying to control a dinosaur - he walks over you, slams you with his head etc. Have you found that becoming more mannerly and calmer at home has translated into hunting? (sorry perhaps a daft question!) Thanks again
 
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I had similar issue in that mine was eventing fit. He’s now insanely fit, he absolutely never tires physically but I think they do mentally and even if they are still full of running I do think it’s wise to not over do it, I always bear in mind that he is still a baby really.

Mine is buzzy when he gets back to the lorry, his only fault really. I think you just find your own way of dealing with it, for me it’s better to just whip tack off and rug on and put him straight on lorry, and wash off at home regardless of distance. I personally feel that you can get into a viscous cycle of over correcting them and expecting perfect manners when their brains just cannot cope with it. I don’t let him barge over all over me but equally I work quickly and efficiently with what I do with him (racking up etc) and don’t muck about faffing. For me the importance is that he stands on the lorry, which he does. He is totally mannerly on the ground when eventing. I wouldn’t dream of taking him if he wasn’t at least mannerly at home!

I more meant under saddle re manners. Have to say his ground manners when being handled out hunting are what let’s him down most, he is buzzy for sure but settles as soon as you get on board- just wants to crack on even if that means standing at the meet. Under saddle I spent a lot of time boxing for hacks, group hacking, solo hacking, making him go in front and behind and hold back. Walking often even in “canter spots” so he never just assumed he would be cantering in the same place. Lots of eventing so he was used to a buzzy atmosphere. Often long reined whilst I walked the dog so he was used to something around his feet. Ensured he would have a horse canter close alongside him and tolerate it etc. Of course all these things could still have gone to pot on the hunting field if his brain had been blown, but his manners do seem to (touch wood) have held firm. I actually mixed cubbing with hound exercise so had a combo of either quiet low key cubbing at 6am with maybe 5 other horses but also a busy bustling hound exercise with our local drag so he got used to both situations.
Thanks again - yes I think the boxing out to hack is a good idea. We do go out for small comps and lessons as well as arena hire but he was very very green to hack when we first got him - has only relatively recently got used to cantering upsides anyone and either going in front or behind. But that is usually with his field mates so going out to other horses / places but not hunting is a great idea. And yes, I agree, you perhaps have to just grin and bear the buzziness for the moment to safely load and get going home.
 
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I think it depends largley on the horse. My 8 year old ISH can still be a handful and get overexcited, he is in his third season and I would say he is quite a way from being 'made'. However, my connie mare has been a total of 4 times. Twice gentle autumn hunting, then opening meet and then took my friend out for her first ever day hunting. The friend rode her rather than my ISH as I felt he was less reliable.

The first time I took my ISH hunting it totally blew his brains as was fast paced and full of jumping. The connie had a much more gentle introduction. She has also evented, hacked with large dogs from our farm, done lots of outings and fun rides so had an excellent grounding in life prior to hunting, whereas my ISH was more green back then in general and in future would only take youngsters that are more established than he was.
My connie's first meet was mostly roadwork so allowed her to get used to large groups of horses and the hounds without anything exciting going on. Then second was some road, a little off road but slow and no jumping. Opening meet was as you would expect, but I kept her middle field and only asked her to jump what I knew she was capable to do and allowed her to watch others and 'assess' the situation before she had to jump anything herself. Last time out she jumped ditches, gates, fences, stiles, the lot. Would wait, open gates and everything else you would expect a hunter to do. She is made for it though and is a fast learner and sensible little horse. The only thing I havent asked of her is hedges, but by the end of the season I'd expect her to be a 'made' hunter, she has never refused a fence. I find they settle quicker if you can be tactical about how you introduce them to new situations to make them appealling and confidence building and not overwhelming. I also never find it beneficial to punish excitable behaviour, sit quiet and let them settle (even if it includes acrobatics!) punishing exuberance tends to create an anxious horse.
I would define 'made' as when you could trust your horse to carry anyone on a day out and behave regardless.
 

Bernster

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Picking up on some of what’s been mentioned. Yours and Michen’s sound a bit like mine in terms of handling!

Tends to forget himself when’s he's excited. Has improved but still a work in progress and I suspect he will always bit a bit of an idjit at times. I haven’t done much hunting with him but so far I’ve just limited the amount of time he’s tied up off the box, which is when he’s most fidgety.
 
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I think it depends largley on the horse. My 8 year old ISH can still be a handful and get overexcited, he is in his third season and I would say he is quite a way from being 'made'. However, my connie mare has been a total of 4 times. Twice gentle autumn hunting, then opening meet and then took my friend out for her first ever day hunting. The friend rode her rather than my ISH as I felt he was less reliable.

The first time I took my ISH hunting it totally blew his brains as was fast paced and full of jumping. The connie had a much more gentle introduction. She has also evented, hacked with large dogs from our farm, done lots of outings and fun rides so had an excellent grounding in life prior to hunting, whereas my ISH was more green back then in general and in future would only take youngsters that are more established than he was.
My connie's first meet was mostly roadwork so allowed her to get used to large groups of horses and the hounds without anything exciting going on. Then second was some road, a little off road but slow and no jumping. Opening meet was as you would expect, but I kept her middle field and only asked her to jump what I knew she was capable to do and allowed her to watch others and 'assess' the situation before she had to jump anything herself. Last time out she jumped ditches, gates, fences, stiles, the lot. Would wait, open gates and everything else you would expect a hunter to do. She is made for it though and is a fast learner and sensible little horse. The only thing I havent asked of her is hedges, but by the end of the season I'd expect her to be a 'made' hunter, she has never refused a fence. I find they settle quicker if you can be tactical about how you introduce them to new situations to make them appealling and confidence building and not overwhelming. I also never find it beneficial to punish excitable behaviour, sit quiet and let them settle (even if it includes acrobatics!) punishing exuberance tends to create an anxious horse.
I would define 'made' as when you could trust your horse to carry anyone on a day out and behave regardless.
Yes I think you're right - but it is hard not to get wound up yourself when the horse is dancing about. Do you think your ISH is settling now?
 
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Picking up on some of what’s been mentioned. Yours and Michen’s sound a bit like mine in terms of handling!

Tends to forget himself when’s he's excited. Has improved but still a work in progress and I suspect he will always bit a bit of an idjit at times. I haven’t done much hunting with him but so far I’ve just limited the amount of time he’s tied up off the box, which is when he’s most fidgety.
Thanks for replying - managing the exuberance and limiting the negative situations seems to be key
 
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Would people say it is best to just keep going during the day, given some periods where he is calm and stands, or better just to do a couple of hours regardless of how he is and then come home? Our hunt is quite small and quiet anyway which is good and we are avoiding all high days. I haven't worked out yet, how to get him to walk with the others when he would much rather jog!
 
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I was told to cub them hard (3-4 long mornings for a few weeks to settle them) but then hunting proper I would take an inexperienced horse home after a few hours as it’s more taxing on mind and body. That said if they are the type to get more wound up the longer they are out sometimes they need some long days to learn to conserve their energy!

To me a made hunter takes a couple of seasons and a certain type of horse, a made hunter stands impeccably, waits at fences, jumps a ditch as well as a rail, is quiet through gates, can be galloped and pull up, incredibly sure footed and brave and loads himself at the end of the day. I had the pleasure of hunting a few for people over the last few years and it’s like no other experience. They hear hounds better than a person does!

That’s not to say a made hunter would take your granny round- they don’t tolerate fools! - but they know their job inside and out.

Neither of mine have ever been ‘made hunters’ and probably never will be. They are eventers that go hunting. They learn to stand, que nicely and pull up but will never have that instinct of a true hunter. I often don’t have the time to spend hours out so will set a limit on mine of what time I need to go home. If it’s an amazing day sometimes we go a bit longer, if they are being awful I try to keep them out but if they got dangerous for me or other riders or I’m soaking wet and freezing I’m not ashamed to head home early!
 

ycbm

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I have taken at least ten horses that have never been before out hunting, mainly drag, and I would say it depends entirely on the horse. Some seem born to it, some seem clueless but willing and some it blows their brains. Personally, I've never persevered with one which blows its brains, but the clueless but willing are pretty good fun within about four or five times out. That doesn't make them 'made' hunters of course, that's a specific term as AA described above.
 

palo1

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Interesting thread :) I think it very much depends on what sort of hunting you are doing too. My horse is in his 6th season now and I trust him to look after me but I don't think he is a 'made' hunter! As soon as he thinks we are going he will load himself but also gets quite excited. He is brilliant to tack up, hack to the meet, stands beautifully politely at the meet and is very well mannered and sensible generally: happy for me to jump off and re-mount, will do gates and wait where I ask him to BUT he is still very, very strong and can argue about pace if we are running. We don't have a jumping country when trail hunting (but good in trappy, ditchy country) but on occasions when I have taken him drag-hunting he finds it too exciting to concentrate on jumping and that gets a bit hairy! He will jump nicely if I have time to get all my ducks in a row and I never jump wire, metal or where I can't see what we are jumping into. Those things are my choice of course. I think he is brilliant but I can also see that this does not make him a 'made' hunter (and no-one has EVER enquired about borrowing him...!!) :p:p
 
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I would define 'made' as when you could trust your horse to carry anyone on a day out and behave regardless.
If this is the parameter then i would say my cob is not made and never will be, in her fourth season hunting she will do gates and be held, jumps well but difficult to wait i often turn her back away. I don't take her cubbing as i know she wont come with the standing all she will do is rear and i dont take her to unfamiliar meets or if i am not sure of space or an exit. Shes good with hounds and other horses and if i have let others jump and move away she will jump quietly and now mostly pull up but that's in a bit with two reins. She just about stands at most meets now but not all. She is mostly liked within the hunt and her naughty parts are tolerated as long as it doesn't get in the way.

However for me she is made, she is my mums horse so will live out her days with us and i don't think anyone else will ever hunt her. I know she might rear but i also know she shows a lot of signs now before going up to help defuse her and she is too sensible to go over backwards but i wouldn't trust someone not to accidentally pull her over.
 
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I think, like others have said, it is very dependant on the horse.

I have a 5year old to hunt, bought her as a ‘summer’ project, decided I quite like her and convinced my boyfriend she’d sell better with a seasons hunting under her belt! Have to confess she was a total angel the first 5 or so times out. I had hacked her, fun rides basic schooling with her all summer. After a while she was clearly starting to feel fitter and have to confess she went through a ‘teenage’ phase! I had a few interesting days with her where she bucked, was rude, wouldn’t wait. However, changed her bit and persevered until she settled again and touch wood she’s been out again today and she was back to being very settled and a enjoyable ride.

I would say it takes a season to make a settled horse into a hunter. Those who are more lively or flighty May take longer. My plan is that mine will do the season and then next season I’m hoping she will come out much more established. You need a whole season to see how a horse behaves, past this time in the season those who have been every week/twice a week are feeling fit and well. A fit horse behaves very different to a unfit one at the start of the season.
 
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I think, like others have said, it is very dependant on the horse.

I have a 5year old to hunt, bought her as a ‘summer’ project, decided I quite like her and convinced my boyfriend she’d sell better with a seasons hunting under her belt! Have to confess she was a total angel the first 5 or so times out. I had hacked her, fun rides basic schooling with her all summer. After a while she was clearly starting to feel fitter and have to confess she went through a ‘teenage’ phase! I had a few interesting days with her where she bucked, was rude, wouldn’t wait. However, changed her bit and persevered until she settled again and touch wood she’s been out again today and she was back to being very settled and a enjoyable ride.

I would say it takes a season to make a settled horse into a hunter. Those who are more lively or flighty May take longer. My plan is that mine will do the season and then next season I’m hoping she will come out much more established. You need a whole season to see how a horse behaves, past this time in the season those who have been every week/twice a week are feeling fit and well. A fit horse behaves very different to a unfit one at the start of the season.
Good point re getting fitter and fitter, plus I've noticed the usual difference with a fresh clip!
 

TGM

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We have introduced quite a few virgin hunters to become good hunters now. I agree that to an extent it depends on the individual horse and the type of hunting you wish to do. However, the ideal plan would be to take them out to various group experiences over the summer - shows, competitions, hunt rides, sponsored rides etc. Then a few autumn hunts before going onto 'proper hunting'. It is a case of being careful about picking the right days though, starting off with the quieter ones. Also, to start with avoid the more testing hunts over the hilly terrain such as the South Downs. Tired horses often show it by getting rude or strong, so the trick is to finish before they have a chance to behave like that. All of ours have easily become good hunters within two seasons, and ours have to field-master and whip-in as well as hunt in the field. They are all different though - one of ours is still a bit of a fidget at the meet, despite having about nine seasons under his belt, but will lead the field over the biggest hedges, but also behave over the trappier stuff, will catch loose horses and leave the field to go and look for lost hounds.

Another point to add, is that one of the founders of our local pack has observed that you can tell which hunters have received a decent level of background schooling. When you get to a slippery wooden bridge, a high timber fence at the bottom of a steep slope, or need to negotiate a narrow gap over electric fencing laid on the ground, then you will appreciate having a horse that actually listens to you!
 
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