I should clarify the terminology. In England, 'hunting' means 'foxhunting' - riding a horse in pursuit of a fox (nowadays, only the scent of a fox). What Oscar Wilde described as "The Unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible". Mike informs me that, in his experience, you would have to be pretty damn hungry to eat a fox. (Being experimental in college had a whole different meaning for him). What we Americans term 'hunting' - going after birds or deer with a gun or bow - is called 'shooting' (birds) and 'stalking' (deer) in England.
Semantics or no, I've never been foxhunting. But one of the local hunts crosses our land, and I thought it would be fun to go and watch the horses and hounds running over our little piece of England. Landowners who support the hunt are invited to attend hunt meets and sent a list of dates. The MFH (Master of the Fox Hounds) also called to ask if she could put a jump on our land for the day, so it looked like it could be a promising show. Particularly for an American who still finds British traditions a great source of hilarity.
But hunting is considered a rather upper class pursuit. And I didn't want to embarass the hosts by making too many faux pas (or is it fox pas in this instance?) Hurrah then for a guide to the British upper class - Debrett's.
I consult Debrett's - the bastion for etiquette and manners - for information on social matters. They publish books and have a handy website. They are the very definition of antiquated snobbery - in the nicest possible way.
In the appendices of its Correct Form guide is something called the Table of Precedence. This guide arranges everyone in England according to rank and status. Having a dinner party and you're not sure whether to seat your Baron or your Viscount at the head of the table? Why, simply check your Debrett's guide. (It's the Viscount in case you were wondering). There are even Tables of Precendence for ladies, and for Scottish people.
I guess, then, the starting point is finding your place on the list.
At the top of this list is HM The Queen, and at the bottom of the list is 'gentlemen' (and 'ladies'). Because we own land, we are raised one rank above 'gentlemen' to 'esquire' (and 'wife of esquire'). Only 90 places or so below the Queen! And to think, last year we were 91 places below Her. We're still below sons of knights and circuit court judges, but I'm begining to feel my own sense of self-importance growing. I may even start ironing my tractor overalls in keeping with my new status.
Armed with foxhunt how to's, I was ready to attend my first hunt meet. As with everything I arrived late, and my first image of the hunt was this -
And a second later, to this:
Then suddenly all the other spectators except us went running off in some pre-ordained direction to intercept the hunt at its next location and watch the whole 10 second spectacle again. So we just followed the pack, not unlike what the hounds were doing.
By the way, I am told they are called 'hounds' not dogs'. And they have a 'stern' instead of a tail.
I think that it's similar to watching professional cycling races like the Tour de France. A few seconds of frenzied excitement as the participants whizz pass at speed, followed by long periods of lull. I don't know about cycling, but a hip flask with homemade sloe gin is essential for watching the hunt. I'm glad I knew this bit of information before we set out for the morning.
We watched The Field (as the group of horses and hounds are called) ride off to our field (of the grass variety) and jump the hedge jump. Then it started raining again. That dampened my enthusiasm to follow them any further. I think I got the jist of this hunting thing, even if I haven't masterted all the terms yet. The next task is to actually get on a horse and join in. I have a plan for that too. Tally ho!