The show hunter competitions are horse shows specially designed for hunter horses. Unlike halter horse showing, show hunters are shown in movement, trotting and jumping.
Show hunter competitions feature horses shown in hunt seat. The hunt seat style determines which movements the horse will need to perform. The show hunter competitions are divided into classes.
In the flat classes (which are classes without any jumps) the horses are shown at a walk, trot and canter. Additionally, the rider’s abilities are tested when the rider is asked to refrain from using the stirrups. The rider must maintain proper grip on the reins throughout the entire showing.
In the hunter classes (or over fences classes) the horses complete a course of fences. The course is typically made up of 8 to 12 fences and the judges grade the horse on the smoothness of the jumps and the overall movements.
Judging in hunt seat shows is based upon the overall performance of the horse, the conformation, the soundness, and the temperament of the horse. In order to score high marks, the horse must have an even temperament and be well mannered. A horse that jumps well but refuses jumps and generally acts out will not win a show hunter competition.
In the hunter division of hunter shows, there is a jumps course set up to showcase the jumping ability of the horses. The fences are generally made of natural materials. The fences used are similar to those in show jumping. Verticals, which are jumps with poles balanced horizontally, are commonly used. Oxers are made up of two vertical jumps placed at some distance, which requires the horse to jump both vertically and horizontally. Some jumps will include natural elements, like brush and shrubs. Certain jumps that are considered more challenging are not used in show hunter.
As the horse begins the jumps course, the pace should be even. The horse does not walk nor gallop, and the pace should be somewhere in between. Each jump should be smooth. If the horse jumps too soon or too late, the jump will appear awkward, which will result in a point deduction. The jumps have a certain number of paces between them. Keeping pace is very important because the horse should keep the same amount of paces between the fences. Miscounting strides will result in a penalty.
Form in Movement and Jumps
Form and movement are the most important aspects of a show hunter. The horse must have good movement and form in all areas, but particularly over the jumps. Good form over a jump includes bent knees. The horse’s knees should be pulled in tight, rather than hanging or swinging. Additionally, the horse’s should maintain good balance.
Bascule is a term used to describe the correct body positioning of a horse over a jump. The bascule form is arched. As the forelegs go over the jump, the horse’s back is arched as the back legs pull over the jump. A flat jump is not only less effective, it also reflects bad form in a show competition.
Hunter horses must have excellent movement. The horse should have low, lopey canter. The horse should appear relaxed, while still covering the line and taking strides across long distances. The horse should take its strides from the shoulder and hip, rather than in the joints. This helps the movement to appear fluid, rather than choppy. The horse will appear to point the hooves in the long stride. The stride appears to almost be lazy in the highly relaxed position, which also helps to maintain endurance.
The body should appear low the ground and the horse should exhibit a long trot that sweeps across the ground. The horse’s knees should be slightly bent, which is known as “daisy cutting.” The hunter horse must be prepare to jump at any moment, which is reflected in the long stride and balanced frame. The long stride stretches out the body of the horse so that extending the trot or canter over a jump just appears to be the natural progression of movement.
Tack and Equipment
Hunter shows use the English style tack and equipment. Horses must use a bridle and bit. Acceptable bridles include Pelham, double or snaffle. Different bits are acceptable so long as they are considered humane for the horse. Reins must be made entirely of leather. In general, tack for hunter class is very plain and should have colors or jewels or anything flashy.
Show hunters use English saddles. English saddles are much smaller than western saddles and do not have quite so many parts. The English saddle has a seat and a twist that separates the seat from the pommel. The stirrups are made of iron, and are of a smaller size than the heavy, wooden stirrups of Western style stirrups. The stirrups also rest higher in hunt seat riding.
The body position of the rider is in a forward-leaning position with knees bent. When the rider is leaning forward over the jump, the horse is better able to jump in bascule form, rather than jumping flat because the weight of the rider is pulling backwards. The rider should also have contact with the inside of the legs and the knees. The knee roll is a part of an English saddle that helps support the legs. Some knee rolls have grips for the rider’s knees.
The rider should wear proper English style attire in hunter shows. Proper attire includes a jacket, either black or navy blue, typically. Sometimes, specific riding clubs will have a crest that goes on the jacket, but otherwise the jacket is plain. Riders wear safety helmets that are black. The helmets fasten underneath the chin for additional safety. Riders also wear breeches, which are generally white or a light colored tan. Jodpurs and white hunting stock are also worn. English riding boots are worn in either brown or black.
Typically, show hunter events are split up into divisions. A Green division is for newcomers. The horses in the green division jump lower fences. A regular division is for all horses. Children and junior competitions are for young participants. Amateur competitions are for adults past the green division and working towards professional riding. The pony division is reserved for horses standing 14.2hh or less. The specific layout of jumps varies for this division. Whatever the division, all of the contests showcase the beauty and jumping power in the show hunter class.