The Masters of Foxhounds Association boasts 165 organized hunting clubs in the United States and Canada, including packs in 37 different states. In fact, over 130 million people worldwide enjoy the sport today! While the numbers are encouraging, foxhunters have an obligation to continue to grow the sport and ensure it is available for future generations to enjoy. The soul of the sport teaches proper stewardship of hunted lands (both public and private) and the protection of quarry and the environment and is truly a sport which brings together communities throughout the world.
But how do we cultivate new membership? Where do we find the soon to be committed, dyed-in-the-wool members of the field? What action can the community take to recruit fresh faces, young and old(er), to our beloved organizations?
Here a just a few ideas to ponder- perhaps your club is already actively recruiting new members and you’d like to share your strategies with e-Covertside- please do let us know what has worked for you and what has not. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foxhunting clinics/camps are popular events and are offered by packs nationwide. Invite people from stables or riding schools in your area to participate, at a nominal fee, and learn about the sport firsthand through a combination of classroom style instruction and mounted lessons, including a kennel visit and mock hunt. Educating newcomers on hound work, history of hunting with hounds, etiquette in the field (it’s not just galloping and sipping from your flask, after all), and introducing them to masters, staff and subscribers prior to their first time out is a positive and fun way to get them started. Upon the conclusion of camp, host a cookout or cocktail party for all participants and instructors.
The United States Pony Clubs now offer a Foxhunting program, along with their already established specialties in Eventing, Dressage, Showjumping and Games. Your area Pony Clubs are a tremendous source of enthusiastic families who may be eager to hunt, but just aren’t sure how to get involved. Hunting is truly a family sport that can be enjoyed by everyone- hone and maintain the interest of pony clubbers and their parents, whether new to the sport or not, and help them establish a tradition.
Trail Rides, of course, are held regularly throughout the country in the off season. Not only do trail rides allow current members and friends to start legging up their horses for the season, they also provide ample opportunity for new folks to get to know everyone in a relaxed atmosphere. Advertise trail rides at your local tack shops, feed stores, even gas stations and the post office. You never know who might notice the sign and turn up. Encourage folks from all equestrian disciplines to participate. They just might be convinced to give hunting a try.
Hound Walks (Mounted or Unmounted) are yet another way to get people involved. The opportunity to be up close with hounds and staff and to get to know who they are is invaluable. The more casual ambiance may encourage new people to give it a go and get involved. Some clubs host a pot luck following afternoon hound walks, further engendering good spirits and camaraderie amongst participants.
Hunter Paces/Pairs Races are wildly popular, of course. People come from all over for the opportunity to ride across country, test their skills, and maybe even win a prize! Many times held in conjunction with point to point meets, this type of event is easily publicized and appealing to a myriad of riders.
Open House at the kennels is yet another community outreach option. Who doesn’t smile at the sight of happy hounds singing in kennels? This also provides another educational opportunity for people to witness firsthand how hounds are cared for, where they live, what they eat, etc.
Membership Options are a strategy that often entices new people and may actually convince the wavering bodies who want to hunt, but balk at making a large financial contribution. Some clubs offer discounted membership fees for the first year, while others offer special rates for juniors and/or college students. Social memberships are popular as well, as they permit those who support the hunt but don’t ride to hounds to keep tabs on all the happenings like hunt balls, point to point races and various other activities throughout the year.
Landowner appreciation picnics are held by numerous hunts during the summer and are a way to create interest in the club as well as thank the very generous landowners, without whom we could not enjoy our sport.
When in doubt, throw a party. Ensure that your club’s friendliest supporters are in attendance. Utilize the creative skills of your current members and secure a sponsor for the celebration or charge a nominal fee. Develop a party theme (wine or bourbon tasting, or perhaps a Mardi Gras soiree), or just have an old fashioned barbeque. After all, many a great idea has been hatched over a beer, and countless individuals have been inspired to do great things after a few cocktails.