Sit forward as the horse rises and back as he lands. Failing to observe this rule is, I firmly believe, one cause of a beginner getting into the habit of pulling at the bridle when in the air. Just think for a minute and you will see this is reasonable. The action of the horse rising from the ground throws you back, and the instinct of self-preservation prompts you to clutch what is in your hand—which is, of course, the reins—to restore your balance. The horse has meanwhile reached the summit of the arc, where the slightest touch on the bridle must lessen the width of his leap. The involuntary pull which you took on the reins has more than restored you to an upright position, and you are slightly forward of the perpendicular. The horse then descends, and the whole weight of your body, which is already inclining in that direction, goes forward and either lands you between his ears or brings you heavily to the ground.
You will therefore see that you risk making your horse fall, in the first place by checking him in the air, and in the second by throwing your weight on to his forehand at the moment of landing; and that, even if he does not fall, it is highly probable that you will "cut a voluntary".
A gallop after hounds is the greatest pleasure that riding can afford, and I therefore hope that it is your intention to take the field. Even if the hunting instinct is entirely absent from your composition, you will find pleasure in galloping over fences, though the sport itself does not appeal to you.
I should always advise a boy to begin his hunting in a provincial country, where there is no crowd and where he can gather some knowledge of the sport. He should learn to take an interest in the doings of hounds before he thinks of the fences. Let him learn to sit his pony over a fence, and gain perfect confidence in himself; then he should start out with the sole idea of keeping as near hounds as he can.
When you go hunting, you must keep your eyes and your ears open. Don't waste your time in admiring your boots and talking to your friends. Every moment you are out you may learn something, and you will do well to cultivate a habit of observation. Be on the alert and ready to start directly there is a " Holloa-away !" Then get after hounds as quick as you can and do your best to stick to them.
Pick your place in the fence, and ride your own line. You will probably often come to grief, and experience only will teach you the place to choose; but, if you always follow, remember you will never get any better. Pick your place, and don't hesitate or change your mind. Keep your eye on the pack, and watch closely the leading hound; you will soon learn to know when he has the scent and when it is only drive that carries him on. Directly you notice him faltering, take a pull at your horse, and then, when the rest of the pack reach him, you will see if they have overrun the scent.
Of course when you first begin hunting you will not often be in a position to watch the leading hound if it is a difficult country to cross, but you will be able to see him occasionally, and you must make the most of your opportunity. Masters and huntsmen would be saved much needless anxiety if their field had been educated in this important point before they attempted to follow a pack.
In riding at a fence, always go straight at it, as by swerving off to one side or the other you will endanger your own life and that of the man behind you. If the fence in front of you is found impracticable on nearer approach, and you wish to choose another right or left, look first of all if by doing so you are likely to interfere with the man behind you. It is an unpardonable offence to cross a man or to take his place.
These are all the general rules of the game, and apply to the man as well as the boy, but I think the latter would like further details.
School authorities are very inconsiderate in fixing the long holiday when there is no hunting, but it is generally possible to get some cubbing before returning to school. You must, however, remember that cub-hunting is meant for the education of young hounds, and not for your amusement; but it is also an excellent time for educating you in the sport.
Let us then suppose your pony is ready, that you have learnt in the paddock to sit him over a hurdle, and have ascertained where hounds are to meet, as well as the time. You have arranged with the groom to call you, and the kitchenmaid has promised to have a cup of tea with some boiled eggs ready. Don't start out on an empty stomach, or before many hours have passed there will be a craving in that region which will entirely spoil your pleasure.
It is a morning in early September, and, as you ride out of the stable-yard, the sun has not yet risen, but there is a glow in the east that is already dispersing the darkness of night. A slight chilliness in the atmosphere will make you button your coat, but a few minutes' jogging in the saddle will warm the blood. It was rather a drag turning out of bed at such an early hour, but now that you have once started, you wonder why you have wasted such precious time between the sheets. There is an invigorating freshness in the air, and the birds greet you with the full sweetness of their early morning song. The hedges that border the lanes are still full of leaf and are glistening with dew. Perhaps you may be too young to notice these things, but you drink in the beauty of them unconsciously, and they have an exhilarating effect on the spirit.
A six-mile jog lands you at the covert, a wood of twenty acres ; at the same moment hounds arrive. The sun is now over the horizon, and no delay is made in putting the pack into covert. You will make acquaintance with the huntsman, and he may perhaps entrust you with the important office of watching a ride.1 Let me impress on you here, when you undertake this task, never to take your eyes off the ride for one second, for, if you do, at that moment a fox will surely cross. To-day this responsibility is not thrust upon you, and you are at liberty to follow the pack into covert.
1 i.e. a path through the wood.