This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
The ambition of a young man who is really keen should be, not to jump a bigger fence than some one else, but always to be in the same field with hounds. Experience only will teach him the shortest way to get there ; but if he is ever on the alert and never funks a fence, he will generally find himself in the right place. You will never learn to ride over a country if you always follow a pilot. Choose your place in a fence, ride your own line, and keep your eye on the hounds. In the beginning this may bring you to grief occasionally, but a few falls should only serve to make a youngster keener, and hard knocks will teach you more than books.
At the covert-side, when hounds are drawing, you must keep all your faculties awake, and never allow yourself to be drawn into a conversation. Many a run has been lost through coffee-housing and not attending to what is going on. Directly the fox is halloaed away, get there as quick as you can, and be ready to start with hounds. I do not mean that you are to gallop off" directly one hound is out of covert, but be on the spot ready to set off. A good start is all-important, and when once you get in the front rank you will find it comparatively easy to keep there.
You must not ride directly behind hounds, but be on either flank, and not too wide ; then, if you always have your eye on the leading hound, you will be able to pull up in time if the fox has turned short. Experience will soon teach you to distinguish when a hound has the scent and when it is only drive that is taking him forward. Nothing upsets a pack more than riding close behind them; it is not only that you may press them yards beyond the scent at a turn, but the mere fact of horses galloping in their wake seems to distract their attention from the business of hunting.
When hounds come to a check, pull up at once, and don't walk on because you see them feeling for the line, but above all never talk. There should be dead silence at a check, but I am sorry to say it is generally the moment chosen for a buzz of conversation.
I am not one of those who think that women are in the way out hunting, and in my experience I have always considered they do much less harm than the men, but the time when they do sin is at a check. They not only then talk themselves, but they encourage men to talk as well, and I have repeatedly seen a woman lead a whole field over ground where the pack intended to cast themselves. The woman, instead of attending to what hounds are doing, enters into a conversation with a man, and together they walk on without paying heed to the damage they may do. My dear sisters, please forgive me calling you to order, but if you would only keep silent when hounds are at fault, and stand quite still, you might perhaps shame your admirers into better behaviour, and thereby be the means of furthering the interests of sport.
There are certain rules of the hunting-field which it is incumbent on you to observe, not only for your own safety, but also for the welfare of the general community. The most important of these is to ride at a direct right angle to the fence you intend to jump. If you espy an easier place either to the right or left, you must look behind first to see if you will cross any one else by taking advantage of it. You should be at least two hundred yards ahead of a man when you cross him, but it is difficult to state an exact distance, as much depends on the pace he is going. If, however, there is room for you to cut in without the man having to check the speed of his horse, you are quite safe ; but remember, when you diverge either to the right or left, you are taking another's place, and it is your duty to see that you do not thus impede his progress. Unless the place directly in front of you is exceptionally strong, your horse will jump it with less effort to himself than by checking him in his stride to find a weaker spot. You must, however, be sufficiently wide of the man to stop your horse if the animal shows any intention of swerving to the thin place in the hedge, but it is always safer to give plenty of room. Of course, if you follow a man, you must always consider the possibility of his falling, and leave sufficient space accordingly. Women have the credit of being careless in this respect, but during many years' experience in the field I have never seen any one jumped on by a woman, though I have frequently observed men committing that offence. However, it does not much matter to the man jumped on who does it, and all he asks is that those who follow him should exercise ordinary care.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the proper pace to ride at fences, and some of the leading authorities appear to hold diverse opinions. The description of fence at which you are riding must, of course, influence you to a certain extent; but my idea is, that the proper pace to ride at every species of obstacle is a hand-canter. In the case of a very wide ditch or brook, you may put the pace on in the last thirty or forty yards, but however big a strip of water it may be, your horse should always be collected, going within himself and not spread out. When I speak of a hand-canter, I mean that a horse is going with his neck slightly bent and his hind legs well under him. At this gait, by making only the very slightest effort, he can bound over a fence like an indiarubber ball, and yet if some unforeseen difficulty presents itself at the last moment, he can easily change his legs or put in an extra stride. A horse cannot jump properly when galloping, and he must either pull up to jump virtually at a stand, or shuffle over the fence with the impetus of the gallop. Of course, I know there is not always time to jump in the proper style, and when the obstacle is not formidable you can afford to gallop over it, but in hunting you never know exactly what to expect, and it is the unexpected which generally brings you to grief. In steeplechasing, both you and your horse know exactly what to expect, but there are few good riders who go full speed at their fences, even between the flags, unless, perhaps, it is the last fence. If there was such a thing as a five-furlong steeplechase with half a dozen fences of fair strength, few horses would complete the course ; but the ordinary steeplechase being always over two miles, no horse is extended at full speed until the finish.