Hunting on horses is an ancient sport, as numerous paintings and tapestries attest. In many regions of the world, sportspeople continue to hunt from horseback, both to retain ancient traditions and because it can be exhilarating, challenging, and extremely fun. However, not all horses are suited to hunting. A hunting horse needs to have a unique set of skills and abilities, and riders who are acquiring a horse for the first time should consider the purchase carefully. Such a horse should also not be confused with a hunter class show horse, although many hunters are suitable for hunting, since the same skills demonstrated in the show ring are needed in the field.
Temperament is an important trait in a hunting horse. These horses need to be able to handle loud noises, varying terrain, and sometimes confusing commands with equanimity. This type of horse is sometimes referred to as bomb proof, since it takes a lot to rattle a well trained ones. If the rider intends to hunt to hounds, a horse should be familiar and comfortable with hounds. A hunting horse must also be interested in the thrill of the chase, and willing to commit large amounts of energy to his or her rider.
In terms of skill, a hunting horse needs to be able to jump over a variety of obstacles and handle a range of terrain. Hunts do not follow set or established trails, so horses may encounter fences, hedges, walls, creeks, and very uneven ground. The horse should be extremely surefooted and confident. In addition, stamina is a must, since a hunt field can travel quite a distance in pursuit of quarry.
Popular breeds for hunting include thoroughbreds and quarterhorses. Some riders work with larger breeds such as warmbloods with success. However, extremely heavy horses like draft horses are not advised for the hunt field. Very small ponies may also have difficulty, especially crossing high fences. However, a small sturdy pony can be an excellent choice of hunting horse for a small or new rider, especially if he or she rides with the hiltoppers, behind the main hunt field.
To pick out a good hunting horse, it helps to talk to the hunt master who oversees your hunt. As a general rule, people who are interested in taking up the sport should seek out a local hunt, and ask to ride as a guest, sometimes borrowing horses from other members. Once someone is accepted into a hunt as a member, he or she can look into the purchase of a horse suited for the regional terrain. The hunt master may have recommendations for breeds of horses, trainers, or even a specific horse available for sale.