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Hunter Round Do’s And Don’ts

Have you ever been upset or at least confused about a placing that you have received after a hunter class? If so, a common response to not placing in a class is “The judge doesn’t like my horse.” “My horse is a paint and the judge doesn’t like paints.” Usually a response like this comes from a lack of knowledge about how hunter classes are judged and how the judge keeps score.

What the Judges are Looking For

There are many different criteria that judges use to evaluate a hunter class. Most competitors know that the basis of a hunter class is to show off the same traits that fox hunters had. The most important thing the judges look for is the manner in which the horse jumps. Hunter horses should jump from the correct take off distance, make a round bascule over the jump with their body, the knees should be up and even, his body shouldn’t twist or lean in the air, and the horse should land smoothly on the other side.

Show hunters should be calm and attentive to their rider. They should have soft, fluid movement in the canter as they travel on course. The horse should travel smoothly from one fence to the next and look like a pleasure to ride over fences. Hunter horses should have a long, ground covering step that will take you to the next fence quickly without looking rushed.

Common Mistakes

Hunter horses should have an easy, flowing gait between fences. Rushing is never acceptable in a hunter class as the horse must have the appearance of being a pleasure to ride. While some horses naturally have a quick stride, they may not be suited for hunter classes. Although, if they have good form over jumps they may be more successful in a jumper class instead.

Unruly horses never make a good impression on the judge. Before the show, take special care in your training to make sure the horse always minds his manners. Refusals can also happen while on course and can result in disqualification if you have more than one. If you have one during a round it will automatically result in a score of a 30. If this continues to be a problem have your horse checked by a vet or your horse may not be suited for jumping.

Rubbing rails is not a major fault but it can mean the difference between first and second place. Practicing gymnastic exercises at home and showing at a level lower than you school at can help. Switching leads in front of the jump is a common mistake that novice riders may not notice. Practicing lead changes on the flat and while jumping will help you get the feel of what each lead feels like. This is a fault that will fade with time and practice.

One of the worst faults your horse can have is poor jumping form. If your horse’s front legs are loose or if one of them is dangling it will result in a large penalty, as the horse could catch a leg on the jump and knock it down. This is not only a major fault, it can also be dangerous as the horse could fall if he catches a leg on a rail. Lastly, breaking gait automatically results as a 50. In most hunter classes if the horse trots on course, even a step or two during a lead change, it will be penalized. Schooling flying changes at home and getting your horse in front of your leg will fix the problem.

Deciphering the Scorecard

Hunter judges each use their own unique shorthand while placing a class. Judges write down how the horse jumps every fence, then writes comments on the positive and negative aspects of your round. Usually the top placings are separated by only fractions of a point. Don’t get discouraged if you did not win yet placed in the ribbons, as you still presented a beautiful round. Not all shows allow you talk with the judge after a class, especially at large shows with many competitors. But, if you do get the chance to speak with a judge at a small show they can give you advise on what to improve so you can do better next time.

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