The best hunting horse needs to be just that - bred for the job, ideally three-quarter thoroughbred with the rest Irish Draught, and 16hh-17hh with plenty of bone and heart room, a good shoulder, a short back and legs, a large engine behind and enough of a front to make you feel safe. And of course, good feet - as the saying goes - no hoof, no horse. The horse should have the scope to keep up with hounds over any country, clear hedges with the ditch towards and find a fifth leg if there is a drop on the landing side, as well as the toughness to handle long days and the intelligence and sure footedness to cope with uneven ground such as furrow or moorland. Perhaps most importantly they need to have the temperament for the job. Obviously a behaviour can improve through experience and training, but there is no doubt that some horses are better suited to the excitement and challenges of the hunt field than others.
When the hunters come in from the field for the autumn, the first thing you want to do is stop them looking like shaggy bears, with a tidy, mane pull, bath and clip! An all over health MOT is often done before work commences, with dentist, farrier, annual vaccination and a chiropractor, to ensure your horse starts the season best foot forward. Very rarely does hunting involve galloping flat-out for very long, and autumn hunting in particular can involve a lot of standing around. The horse needs to be fit enough to canter up a hill without collapsing, but really doesn’t need to be racehorse-fit. The benefits of hunting is that the rider can go home whenever they like, allowing the rider not to feel compelled to stay out for hours if both horse and rider are knackered. The older your horse is the more important it is that he has the right preparation for the season to prevent injury. Younger horses may benefit from a lunge, or a few sessions in the school to ensure they are not too fresh before you set out on the road work. As endurance is so important for hunters, the work starts with steady walking work hacking out approximately 30 minutes per day, building in the trot work from about week 3 or 4 and the riding time itself increased up to 90 minutes a day. Trot work will be steadily increased as a percentage of your hacking time and hill work introduced as time progresses to get a good cardiovascular grounding.
When out hunting, you may face several unavoidable stretches of roadwork, often at speed, so it’s vital that the horses legs are prepared for this otherwise stress and strain injuries can put an early end to your horses season. A horse who has a good core and hind quarter muscles, and who can easily hold himself in an outline will produce a lighter ride, carrying himself and making your day easier! Mixing in some sessions in a school or sections of a hack with schooling time will benefit your own shoulders later. Some hunters find this easier than others, and it may take about 6 weeks to develop the muscles and see an improvement. Schooling time can also help obedience and aids to ensure you can stop, turn and execute gates easily and in a good partnership.
Pole work and small jumps are generally introduced from week 6 and even hunters benefit from grid work to help with balance, agility and adjustability. These things are key to a safe jumping day. Depending on your country, you can use showjumping for different exercises before you face a natural obstacle.
The majority of field hunters are typically older horses, although eventers may take their youngsters out for experience. For the older athlete, as well as the hard feed a joint supplement may benefit their performance and ability to continue hunting. Epiitalis® Forte gel is an oral supplement that can be given by oral syringe or added directly on to the feed. The supplement consists of the active ingredient Epiitalis® in a soya oil gel suspension with some apple flavouring. It is very palatable, with no known side effects and has undergone trials showing it to be safe for long-term use. It is a very small, once daily dose having minimal impact on your routine and pocket. It is currently sold in 238gm tubes which equates to approximately 2 month supply. although we do recommend a loading dose of 8gms for the first two weeks, meaning the initial tube will last around 6 weeks. Epiitalis® should be considered as valid option to help keep your valuable partner fit and sound for the season. There are also many testimonials showing it being used with success as an adjunct to a rehabilitation programme, especially post tendon injury and penetrating joint injury (those pesky thorn hedges!).
Hunters are more likely than other horses to get types of foot bruising associated with concussion and trotting on roads. Regular, careful shoeing so that the heels are always protected by the shoe is necessary to prevent this foot ailment. Jumping out of plough or deep ground places the fetlock joints under a huge amount of stress. Galloping in a large field carries its own risks, it is not uncommon for a horse that is following too closely behind to strike into the hindlegs of the one in front. That is a simple common-sense issue, as is galloping through muddy gateways — another common site of injury. Problems arising from hunting conditions can be strange and specific and they can also be insidious in their onset. The first sign of trouble might be a filled leg, then the next day the horse might be slightly lame. Minor injuries can quickly develop into serious ones if they are left untreated.
Fed everyday, Epiitalis Forte gel can provide the best environment in the joint to address the effects of daily wear & tear. You can also rest assured that it is completely safe for your horse and has veterinary & vet surgeon endorsement.
Whatever route you follow, remember you wouldn’t be able to take part without a very special partner. They literally have your life in their hands. The least you can do is take care of them.
Have a great season and Tally Ho!