Hunter Jumper Shows – Do you want to show?

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Showing your horse can be a rewarding experience

If you have ever thought of taking your horse to a horse show you should remember that you will get out of the experience what you put into it. If you what to have it be a positive rewarding experience then you must commit to putting some time into the preparation of your horse and learning what is required at a show.

If you are not experienced at showing or are learning the ropes about showing then consider going as a spectator to a few horse shows to familiarize yourself with the show. Here you will be able to watch and learn what the competitors, judges and stewards do. 

Finding a Horse Show

If you don’t know where a horse show is, consider contacting:

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Hunter Under Saddle should have a smooth ground covering stride

  • Local equestrian organization
  • Nearby riding or boarding stable
  •  Community tack shop

They will be able to assist you in finding an appropriate show for you to watch.

Entering a Horse Show

If you have never entered a horse show before your first show can be a daunting experience. First thing you should do is discuss the possibility of going to a show with your coach or trainer. They will be able to assist you in deciding which classes to enter.

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Show Ring Hunter – Why Getting the Correct Striding Is Important

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Having the correct striding shows the judge that your horse has a comfortable flowing stride.


If you are riding a show ring hunter or showing in the hunter jumpers then getting the correct strides between fences is important. Most horse shows have the strides between the fences set at 12 feet. This means that when you are cantering the number of canter strides between the fences will be a multiple of 12, PLUS the distance for a correct take off and landing.  

For example:  

If the course designer has a distance of 60 feet between fences then the number of strides the judge is looking for will be four -12 foot canter strides. This allows 4 canter strides and then 1 canter stride will be taken for the take off and landing of the jump.  

Why getting the Correct Number of Strides is Important  

If your horse adds a stride in the line of fences; for example, putting 5 strides in a 60 ft line when 4 strides is required, this signals the judge that:  

  1. Your horse could be short strided and could possibly be an average mover and unable to make the distance because it is not too athletic
  2. Your horse has a short stride and is not moving forward enough to make a good jump. If your horse is underpaced it may leave the ground for the jump at a bad spot, off one leg or a spot that is too close to the fence and make the form over the fence not very good.
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    Course designers build courses to help make the best horses stand out.


  3. Your horse is unwilling to open up the stride making the line look choppy and stilted.

If you make the distance and get the correct number of strides between the fences then it signals to the judge:  

  1. The horse has a comfortable flowing 12 foot stride and is suitably athletic to get the distances between the fences
  2. The horse has a natural flow without too much speed or pace to get the correct striding
  3. The horse can make the distances look inviting and smooth

If your horse leaves out strides (i.e. does 3 strides where a 4 stride is called for) it signals to the judge that:  

  1. The horse is long strided and possibly going too fast, forward or out of control
  2. The horse is rushing and will probably jump flat and in poor form
  3. The horse is tense and not showing a relaxed even stride.

Having a good round and getting the correct striding is important. It reflect on your horse as an athlete and on you as a rider. If you get the correct striding, look the part and your horse has good form over its fences then you could win a ribbon.

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Major Hunter Jumper Faults

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Hunters should have good form and have their knees up and even


Hunters are judged on their jumping style, manners and way of going in the competition ring. Usually judges score hunters on a percentage basis and assign horses a score that reflects the way the hunter round was presented in the ring. 

Based on the horses jumping style – the horse should have a round, symetrical arc over the jump and use his head and neck to make a smooth jump, with his/her knees folded up- the judge will assign a score and the horse with the highest score wins. 

When there are similar rounds the judge must decide which horse is the better jumper and which horse will win the class. The judge determins which faults and mistakes are major, minor and which faults they can live with. 

Major Hunter Faults 

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A refusal is considered a major fault


Some major faults that will cause you to be eliminated are: 

  • Fall – falling off is instant elimination
  • Off course – going off course or not jumping the proper posted course is not allowed
  • Jumping an obstacle before it has been reset
  • In back to back classes, riders must jump the first course first and the second course second.

 Other Major Hunter Faults 

Major hunter faults include (but not limited to): 

  1. Refusal or Disobedience
  2. Bucking and or Rearing
  3. Kicking Out
  4. Jumping in bad or dangerous form
  5. Adding a stride in a combination

Other Major hunter Mistakes include: 

  1. Trotting on course (including trotting to get the correct lead or trotting anywhere on course)
  2. Wrong lead or counter lead
  3. Disunited lead (cross cantering)
  4. Bad take off spot
  5. Hard rubs/knocks (especially with front legs) without a knock down

Minor Hunter Faults 

Some minor hunter faults include issues with the way of going of the horse: 

  1. Tense or stiff way of going
  2. slight loss of form
  3. Poor movement
  4. Tail Swishing or pinning of the horse’s ears
  5. General lack of scope

Some other Minor Hunter Mistakes include: 

  1. Cutting the corners
  2. minor pace adjustments
  3. Slightly late lead changes
  4. Light rubs
  5. Slightly close or long take off spot
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What the Judge is Looking For – Two Point Position

What the judge is looking for, two point position, hunter judge, hunter jumper, hunter judge canada, hunter judge usa, perfect two pointWhen you are in a hunter jumper class your two point position is critical. A pleasing appearance is crucial and having an effective position is important. It is equally important in an equitation class as a hunter over fences class.

What the Judge is Looking For

Avoid drawing attention to yourself by moving from a 3 point position to two-point during the round. Get in a balanced 2-point and stay there. Establish your position during the introductory circle (if it is necessary to have one) and stay there. Moving between your 3 point and 2 point contact draws attention to your body and makes it look like your horse requires more work to ride than is necessary. A still upper body allows the judge to focus on the horse’s movement and allows the horse to jump better.

Worse are the riders that pump with their upper bodies. Avoid swinging and using your upper body, instead, use your legs to activate the horse. At home teach your horse that your legs mean go forward. By keeping your upper body still it will give your round and effortless flow that the judges like to see.

~ TIP ~ Keep your upper body still so the judge can concentrate on your horse.

The Perfect Two Point Position

In the hunter jumper ring the show ring hunter must jump cleanly and in good form. In order to jump its best the show ring hunter must use him/herself and jump in good form. If the rider is in balance, then the horse will jump better and be able to round his/back, pick up its knees and bascule over thetwo point position, hunter jumper, hunter judge, what the judge is looking for
Creative Commons License photo credit: Peter McCarthy fence.

The perfect 2 point should be:

  • In balance over your leg with your heels down. Your two point should be maintained by balance and not by leaning on the saddle or  balancing on the reins.
  • Stirrups slightly shorter. The bottom of the stirrup iron should be at the top of your ankle bone.
  • Back straight. That is neither roached/rounded or arched.

~ TIP ~ To help get your leg stronger for two point position incorporate 5 minutes of straight 2 point into your training session.

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Show Ring Hunters – First Impressions are Important

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You must present your self to the hunter judge as a winner.


Riding and competing show ring hunters is all about getting the details right. From the time your horse steps into the ring till the time you leave, you are ‘selling yourself’, selling your horse and selling yourself as a winner of the show ring hunter class.

Just as a ‘window dresser’ would make up a beautiful window display to draw shoppers into the store, a show ring hunter competitor has to make a first impression on the hunter judge.  You should enter the ring with winning in mind.  I know as a hunter judge, if you enter with mud on your boots, poorly groomed horse and ill fitting tack you are saying to me you really don’t care if you win or not and that you don’t mind if you are dirty or not. 

What Makes a Winning Round?

A winning round is made right at the in-gate. If you present your show ring hunter, or yourself, with:

  • dirty tack
  • dirty boots
  • poorly fitted helmet

To win championships you must look and act the part

I have already made a decision that this rider/competitor, you, is not going to win because you have not made the effort to present yourself as a winning competitor. As a result, my first impression, rightly or wrongly, is carried over to your round and shadows my perception of your performance. 

Presenting yourself with dirty equipment, horse or badly fitted attire, you are actually telling me that you don’t think you deserve to win because you don’t care how you look. My mind is set and prepared

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Turn out does matter

 to see a poor performance because you have not taken the time to prepare yourself.

You should enter the ring prepared to win, not coming in hoping to win and then fighting to get a ribbon.

The horse’s performance, form and manners are being judged but how you look and how you present your self and your horse influences the hunter judge. Just as a boy scout will polish an apple to make sure that they get the best price, you should also have your horse polished and presented with oiled hooves and braided mane.

A judge has very little time to decide on a winner. If there are 20 horses in the ring you have to make your horse stand out. As a hunter judge I want to see:

  • good performance
  • good movement and
  • good manners.

If a horse is dull, listless and has bad fitting tack, you will not be noticed by the judge and will be passed over for a fresher, shiner horse with polished equipment and oiled hooves.

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What the Judge is Looking For

There are many things a Hunter Judge has to consider when judging a hunter over fences class. Take for example the form of the horse over fences. We all strive to get our horses to round over their fences and keep their knees even. Here we have the opportunity to have a picture to learn what the judge is looking for.

Usually a judge has a split second when a horse is over their fence to decide if they have ‘snapped’ their knees up. Take a look at one of the many things that a Hunter Judge is looking for.

A picture is worth a thousand words and your photos are important. Keep them coming in. You can send them to or .

Learn what the judge is looking for and improve your placings at your next show.

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Hunt Seat Equitation – What is the Correct Stirrup Length?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: renrut

When riding in the Hunter Jumper ring or in a hunt seat equitation class it is important to present the best picture possible. This can be helped with the proper stirrup length. Remember that in the hunt seat equitation class the judge is focusing on the rider and the rider’s position. The horse’s performance is judged as a reflection of how the rider is presenting it.

One item that gets overlooked is the correct stirrup length. Having an incorrect stirrup length can cause disastrous problems. Stirrups that are too short can cause riders to pop out of the saddle and stirrups that are too long prevent riders from moving correctly with the horse.

The Correct Stirrup Length

A good rule of thumb for the hunt seat equitation rider to find the correct stirrup length is to have the stirrup hit your ankle bone. While sitting in the saddle, take your feet out of the stirrups and allow the stirrups to bump against your leg. The stirrups should hit approximately at your ankle bone.

It is important when doing this that you are warmed up and your muscles are relaxed. Before checking your stirrup length, walk and trot around the arena or enclosure for 5 minutes to warm yourself up.

Then take your feet out of the stirrups and line the bottom of the stirrup iron with the bottom of your ankle bone. This is a good place to start for a proper stirrup length for flat riding. When performing hunt seat equitation over fences the stirrups should be adjusted shorter. If possible have someone help you adjust your stirrups to make sure the bottom of the stirrup is in line with the bottom of your ankle bone.

Correct Stirrup Length for Jumping

When preparing for the hunter jumper ring or for hunt seat equitation, your stirrups should go up two holes for jumping. This means approximately an inch or two depending on the spacing between the

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correct stirrup length

holes on your stirrup leathers. This means poles, cross rails and cavalleti should be jumped with stirrups at jumping length.

As a rule of thumb for jumping once your stirrup leathers are shorten for jumping length they should be shortened one hole for each foot over 2 feet.

For example if you are jumping 3 feet then your stirrups should be shortened approximately 3 holes from your regular riding flat length.

Keep Stirrups from Stretching

To prevent stirrups from stretching swap over the stirrup on the left hand side of the saddle with the right hand side leather every 2 – 3 weeks. (I do this the beginning of every month).

The left hand stirrup leather usually stretches more because riders mount from the left hand side so the left hand stirrup leather stretches more because it gets more use. To prevent the necessity of making holes between holes, swap the leathers from side to side on the saddle to even out the stretching.

Correct Stirrup Length For Younger or Novice Riders

Younger or more novice riders usually have a slightly shorter stirrup to help maintain a better angle at the ankle knee and hip. Novice riders stirrups are also somewhat shorter because their legs are not relaxed. Once they have a more relaxed feel their stirrups can be lengthened.

There is no one correct stirrup length. It depends on the:

  • Conformation of the rider
  • Conformation of the horse
  • The type of riding being done

All these are factors that need to be considered.

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How Should I Ride in a Hunter Under Saddle?

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Hunter Under Saddle should have a rhythmic flowing gait

This is one of the most popular questions that I get asked. As a Hunter Judge, in the Hunter Under Saddle class, we like to see a horse that has good performance, good movement and good manners. There are different criteria for each section.

Good Performance

To be considered a winner in the Under Saddle Class the horse has to be a quality animal. Its first impression on the judge is very important. It must perform walk, trot and canter each way of the ring. Once all the horses are in the ring and the gate is closed the command “judging has now commenced” is usually announced.

~Tip~ By the time this is announced the judge has spied the horse that they would like to see win. It is usually the one that is well turned out and catches the judge’s eye at the first walk around the ring. Horses that jig-jog at the walk are usually passed over for horses that show a long flowing ground covering walk.

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A hunter under saddle should have good performance, good movement and good manners.

The performance includes trot as well as a canter each way of the ring. If your horse takes a wrong lead then you will probably not pin if it is a large class. If there are few horses in the ring an incorrect canter lead is a performance fault and will be heavily penalized and will most likely be placed after the horses that had correct leads. Leads may be forgiven if it is considered a ‘baby-green’ class and the rider corrects the lead immediately.

Horses that break from canter to trot are also heavily penalized. This is of particular issue and could be considered a manners issue.

Good Movement

The winning horse should have three ground covering gaits that are smooth and rhythmic. They are graceful and should appear to float effortlessly across the ground. Their shoulders should be free flowing and the horse should reach forward with a daisy cutter action. In good company, in a large class, an average moving horse may be over looked, and not placed, in favor of a good moving horse with good manners and good performance.

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Disobediences such as bucking and rearing are big "no-no"s

High knee action and choppy striding is not the ideal hunter under saddle and will place lower than a nice mover with similar performance and manners.

~Tip~If your horse has impeccable manners but may not be the best mover, you will still have a chance at a ribbon. Judges will place a steady solid, well mannered horse over a beautiful mover that acts up or goes on a wrong lead.

Good Manners

Good manners are of paramount importance. If a beautiful moving horse shows bad manners in the form of:

  • Bolting
  • Stopping
  • Rearing
  • Bucking
  • Breaking gait

It will be placed at the bottom of the other competitors. Bucking or a playful buck can be at the judge’s discretion if it should be overlooked in the placings.

~Tip~In a green or baby horse class, a playful buck can be seen as a minor offense and placed accordingly.

Bolting, stopping or nappiness (particularly near the in-gate) and rearing are severely penalized and if they affect the other horses in the class the judge may excuse you from the ring.

If you have more questions please feel free to send them to me at Laura @ Id be happy to answer them for you.

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Get the Judge’s Attention – Show Your Horse

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To get the judges attention - show your horse off to the best of its ability

HOw do I get the judges attention?

This is another popular question! Get the judges attention by showing your horse to the judge. Make your entrance shine. If your horse has an excellent trot, show off your horse as soon as you get into the ring. Trot into the ring at a smart trot to find a good place on the rail. If your horse has a nice trot it is better to find an uncluttered place on the rail by trotting to it rather than, halting or slowing down, pulling on the horses mouth, which causes the horse to toss his head.

~Tip~ You have one chance to get the judges attention.

It is the judge’s responsibility to see each and every horse and I know when I’m judging, I try to mark down each horse. I make a particular effort to mark wrong leads, breaks, bolts, rear on the bottom of my page in the “no-no” section. These are the horses that have performed badly and should not place because of bad manners (rear, buck or bolt), poor performance (wrong lead)or poor movers.

Likewise I make similar notes on horses that have good movement and horse’s that I would like to sit on!


Transitions should be smooth and without any head tossing. If the horse appears to be a difficult ride it

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Hunter Under Saddle should have a smooth ground covering stride

may put you down in the placings. The judge wants to see a horse that performs well, has a smooth comfortable gait and easy to ride. Your horse may be a dream but if you make it appear that it is difficult to ride this may put you down in the placings.

~Tip~ Make your horse look like it is an easy ride. Pulling and ‘whoa’-ing gives a bad impression. Likewise smaking your horse with a crop and constant ‘clucking’ will also detract from your ride.

Rein Contact

Nothing irritates a judge more than a horse that could win the class but is not being shown to the best of its ability. A long relaxed frame is the most desirable. This does not mean to let the horse have a completely loopy rein and have him go inverted with his nose stuck out and on the forehand.

Keep your horse calm, relaxed and in an open frame on a soft contact. This will help show him off to the best of his ability. A too loose rein can make the horse appear on the forehand and stiff. A too tight rein will give the impression of being a run away.

~Tip~Start now and teach your horse to go in a relaxed frame. Don’t wait untill you are it the show ring to expect the horse to go with its head down and relaxed.

Two Point Position

Riding in two point position during the canter gives the horse a chance to relax and round his back. Remember as well the hunter under saddle class is meant to be a horse that can be ridden during a fox hunt. Riding in the two point position is permitted and is reflective of the way a horse would have been ridden when out hunting.

Got more questions? Please send me an email laura @ and I will do my best to answer it!

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What the Judge Is Looking For – Disobediences

Before the judge even starts to judge the horse’s form over the fence the horse has to jump 8 fences successfully.

One of the biggest turn offs, for the judge, is a horse that misbehaves. This can be any sort of disobedience. It may be a run-out or a refusal at a fence or a horse/pony that is a gate rat (not wanting to leave the gate area) or being ‘nappy’ on course.

Refusals or runouts on course will be placed very low in the class and will often get a score in the 30’s or 40’s. If the class has few entries then a horse that refuses may have a chance at a placing but it is

What the judge is looking for

Disobediences and REfusals will be placed below knockdowns

uncommon for a horse that has a refusal to pin in a class.

Refusals Vs KnockDowns

Horses that refuse are placed below horses that have had a knock down. This is because the horse that refuses is not trying and it is a reflection of their character. A horse that tries and knocks down a fence is thought to have a good character, better than one that just outright refuses to go over the fence.

Shying and Bucking

Bucking Horse will sometimes be forgiven in a green or novice class

Most judges are willing to forgive a nicely turned out horse in a green or novice class if it offers a playful buck, or an innocent shy at something or some one outside the ring (I once had a horse shy in a class because someone started a lawn mower directly adjacent to the show ring and it blew grass clippings into the path of the oncoming horse!). Unbrellas suddenly opening up, small children and dogs barking wildly come to mind. Allowing the rider and horse the benefit of the doubt on these occassions lets competitors know that you understand that the horse is green and enjoying themselves.


One thing the judge will not forgive is a horse rearing. Rearing is dangerous at best and shows that:

  • the horse doesn’t understand what is being asked of him
  • the horse does understand and doesn’t want to do what is being asked
  • the horse is frightened

Rearing is considered a disobedience and will be looked at in an unfavorable light when in the show ring. If your horse happens to rear, keep the horse moving forward and finish the round to the best of your ability. The rear will immediately place you at or near the bottom of the competitors. Use this opportunity to school your horse in a positive way so that the horse begins to understand what you want and that things are not as bad as you think.

Showing can be a stressfull situation so it is important to understand what the judge is looking for.

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