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A Brief History of the
Coach Horn Tradition:
(drawn from "The Coach Horn: What to Blow and How to Blow it" by Kohler and
"Coach Horn Playing at Equestrian Events" by Keith Snell
an excerpt from his book "A Brief History of the Post and Coach horn")
The custom of playing some type of horn at the start of equestrian contests is a tradition that can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. During the reign of Henry VIII, a horn was used to sound the start of the foxhunt. This practice had come from France where it had been practiced in the royal courts of Louis X II, XIII, and XIVl.
During the latter part of the 18th century contests of speed were frequently carried on between the private coaches of the nobility. At first, these races were between the coaches, with the coach guard and many of the family members riding on the coach. The eventual removal of excess weight lead to the removal of the coaches entirely. This left the coach guards out on the track with nothing to do but sound their horns. It is only logical that they be asked to play their horns to signal the start of the race.
Since the noble families were no longer riding in the coaches, they had nothing left to do but have an outdoor party. Entire celebrations were planned around these regional events known as race days or "Derby" days. If it were not for the fact that the Coach Guards were able to play loud enough to be able to call attention to the start of each race, the celebratory activities might cause the race to be missed.
Later, it was evident that there was a need for a set of standardized calls or signals that would indicate exactly what was happening. This was already used in the military for centuries prior. It was only logical to rely on those signals which had already been developed by the military for the same purposes. This explains why a military call like "First Call" has become the traditional signal for the "Post Parade" at racetracks around the world.
A Brief History of the
Hunting Horn Tradition:
(as outlined in "The Hunting Horn: What to Blow and How to Blow it" by Kohler
Coach Horn-made from copper; no longer than 3 feet in length; the bell has a more conical flair; produces a deep tone; some silver-either sterling or German silver
Post Horn-so named because it was used by postal carriers; thinner in construction than the coach horn; much narrower; made from brass; bell flair like a conventional trumpet; slightly longer than the coach horn (perhaps closer to 4 feet); produces a more brassy or bugle like sound
Hunting Horn-made from copper; no longer than 10-12 inches in length; some silver-either sterling or German silver; the belll has a more conical flair as the coach horn does; designed to play only one note