rat catcher What a wonderful word. As always, this word spoken in the general public would conjure up a very different image than when the word is spoken at a horse show.

From what I can tell from reading the dress code of various hunting clubs in North America and the UK, the term “gear catcher” refers to both a shirt and hunting attire worn during the casual hunting season.

“I have to put my rat catcher on. Where’s my rat catcher?” We say the word like it’s nothing, but it’s a thing, and it doesn’t make sense. We just roll with it because the horse world is so full of quirks. There is simply not enough time to think about the wonders of our world.

Well, I have the time, so I’ll do the thinking for all of us.

Working my way to the source of it all

Now, if we are referring to a dog, say a Rat Terrier, rat catcher is very appropriate because we know that Rat Terriers are bred rats. But in reference to a garment that we pull up tightly around our necks, it’s just weird.

“What is the dress code for this hunt?”

“Gear catcher attire. It’s rat catcher season.”

I can’t say I used the word in this way, but far be it from me to pretend to know everything. Now, during the formal hunting season, women are expected to wear a trapper shirt with a neckband, presumably the same as a choker or stock tie.

I always thought the rat catcher was the choker. The part your mom helped you put on because it buttons in the back, which is confusing. She gently put your choker on, trying not to strangle you, but once she was done, she wrestled it into position and rammed you.

Your supply pin was clamped in her teeth as she looked up the straight eyes. Then she takes the stick pin out of her mouth and begins to force the blunt end of the “pin” through the choker and shirt. Getting the pin through both pieces of fabric kept the choker from rotating throughout the day. But together the material was almost impenetrable.

You could sense your mother’s fear through her trembling hands. The potential for the stock pin stabbing your neck barrel was high. Your fear grew because both parties knew things could turn ugly quickly. You will recoil slightly in preparation. “Just shut up,” your mother would say sharply, which did nothing for your confidence. The pin would break violently through the material and narrowly miss your moist skin.

“There,” your mother would say with a noticeable sigh, “It wasn’t that hard, was it?

At least that’s how I remember a rat catcher and every horse show morning.

The founder rat catcher

So, we’ve established that a rattrap is a shirt, and we know from experience that it has a short, stiff collar with one or two buttons that you put your choker over. However, this is where things get interesting; way back in the 1600’s a rat catcher was a man who started out catching vermin. It was their form of pest control, one rat at a time.

Although his status was surprisingly high in society, he was a plainly dressed man compared to that of the Pied Piper, which I think was a pretty classy outfit. Our vermin catcher wore a collarless shirt with a neckerchief. Big word that, neckerchief.

It seems the rat catcher also had its own theme song. A tune was mentioned The Famous Ratcatcher from the 1600s that people apparently sang while dancing merrily in the streets.

“Rat tat tat tara Rat,” here is the link.

Anyway, that’s where the name for our display shirts comes from.

Sticky-upy collar VS collarless

Even though I said our shirts have a collar, there’s a slight chance I could be wrong about that. It depends, I suppose, on your definition of the word “collar”. If you Google images of collarless shirts, paying attention to the “business” version, you will see a remarkable similarity between the shirts we wear and those online.

I think we wore collarless shirts the whole time.

How did we get from Ratcatcher to Ratcatcher?

Good question.

The bridge that connects the human rat catcher, to the hunting outfit, to the shirt and then to the shirt we wear in the show ring, seems to have been washed away over time. Despite that, I feel we can make some general leaps and find our way there.

I did read on the Fox Hunting Life website that the clothing of the rat trappers, from a few hundred years ago, is similar to what we see worn on the hunts today. Tweed jackets, trousers and hoods, which are similar to half chaps. Even though they wore hoods to prevent rats from scurrying up a pant leg and we, thankfully, didn’t.

Apparently, grooms and farmers of the same era also had to contend with rats and wore the usual rat catcher attire. And this bit of information at least brings us closer to horses. But from there, as with the ponies, I came up empty.

So, for now, until someone digs deep into the annals of rat catcher history, we are left to wonder, I’m afraid. Which is annoying.

I like a conclusion as much as the next person and will try to reach a complete solution with it
the next post. We live in hope.

Sources: Foxhuntinglife.com

Feature image: A Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) pain, The Rat Catcher and His Dogs

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