Is a good hunting horse 'bred' or 'made' may be your question. What breed and size or even colour may be best suited to the sport of hunting?
I love the idea of a hunter like the old English hunting paintings boldly sailing over large hedges and gates but if you ask me what quality is essential in a good hunter, I’d say honesty. There is nothing more sapping to the nerves than a horse that stops. Good hunters may be dull to hack but should love hounds and transform themselves without going mad. They should tremble with excitement when they first see hounds at the beginning of the season but stand stock still in anticipation rather than exploding or, heaven forbid, kicking. And you want a pair of nice, big ears through which you can look at the best view in the world. A hunting horse may vary in size from as small as 13hh to over 17hh as suited to the age and size of its rider, keeping in mind the large majestic big striding horse is also more difficult to mount after opening a gate or stopping for a toilet stop.
Honesty and calmness as well as brave enough to tackle the many obstacles he or she is presented with in the thrill of the chase are paramount. Certain breeds are more suited to coping with the stamina required and the jumping ability if chosing to jump fences as opposed to going through the gates. Ideally an all round good hunt horse has been raised on a station like environment and developed co-ordination and balance to cope with hills and uneven terrain. It has been well socialized to cope with being part of the herd environment yet trained adequately to respect the commands of the rider.
Common breeds used for hunting are Irish Draught, Clydesdale, Shire, Paint, Appaloosa or Warmblood crosses to provide agility as well as calmness of mind. Ex race horses or thoroughbreds can make good hunters depending on the temperament. A highly competitive horse is not ideal as the sport prides itself on respect, turn taking and safety within a group. Soundness is essential to cope with the terrain and the demands of jumping fences, ditches and occasionally crossing boggy ground. Older horses can be found on the hunt field as old as 22 but are rare considering the physical demands of the sport.
To answer the initial question certainly the breed plays a part but correct training and developing a relationship of mutual trust and respect with your 4 legged equine friend are essential to enjoying the sport of hunting. Northland Hunt has spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed from the back of the horse following the hunt either jumping or going through the gates.