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Training Your Horse – Show Ring Hunter, Common Mistakes to Avoid
According to the rules all hunters are to be judged on their jumping form. This means that their jumping style, that is, knees up and rounding, or their bascule, is the number one priority.
Competitors show over a course of minimum of eight fences that simulate jumps found in a field hunt. Jumps such as stone walls, hedges and coops are often used as well as natural colored poles. The horse, however, must be able to knock down the top element of the obstacle.
In addition to their form over fences, hunters are also considered on their manners and way of going during the round.
When showing in the hunter ring you are judged from the moment you enter the ring and the judging stops when you leave the ring.
As a judge critiques your round, they keep score with their own personal series of cryptic symbols to remind them how the horse performed. Each fence is marked with a code to reflect how the horse jumped. The fewer the marks the better the score.
Remember that the Hunter Round starts as soon as you get into the ring and ends when you leave so everything that you do in the ring can and will be judged. So if you go into the ring, and immediately pick up a wrong lead, that will be scored. Likewise, if your horse balks, or resists, at the in-gate that will also be considered as part of your round.
I’ve judged my fair share of hunter rounds. Some were wonderful. Some, well, they need help! If you avoid the following ten things you will most likely be in the ribbons every time.
A horse should jump with its knees up and square, or even. Uneven knees or ‘hanging a leg’ is reason for not pinning in a class. A horse is said to ‘hang’ when the forearm is in a more vertical position (knee pointing toward the ground) as opposed to horizontal position (knee pointing straight ahead) over a fence. This is undesirable as a horse that ‘hangs’ could be dangerous because it may hit the jump with its forearm and cause a terrible accident.
If your horse has good form but has one bad fence where he ‘hangs a leg’, it could knock you out of the ribbons depending on the size of the class and severity of the bad jump.
To improve your horses form over fences you can use gymnastics. This type of training should be under the supervision of your trainer or coach. The type of gymnastic that you use will depend on the jumping form you are trying to treat. Check with your trainer and develop a systematic training program to cultivate your horse’s form.
Refusal and/or Run-out
To be considered for a placing in a hunter class you must complete all the fences. Having a refusal, meaning stopping in front of the fence without jumping it, is a major fault and will be scored as such. A run-out, when a horse goes past the extended horizontal line of the jump is also a major fault. You must approach and jump the fence to complete the course.
A horse must get to each jump and its form over the fence is considered. If it cannot get over the fence then it is a serious fault. A circle at the beginning of a round and a closing circle at the end is permitted however, any other circles will be counted as a refusal. I use the symbol ‘R‘ on my judge’s sheet to note a refusal and will not place a horse that has an ‘R‘ unless I really have to.
To prevent refusals and run-outs at horse shows, work with your trainer to ensure that you and your horse are ready for competition. Know the requirements of the level you are showing in and practice this height of fence at home. It is also helpful to have similar types of fences to school over when training so your horse is not surprised by flowers, brush or coops when they are at a show.
If there are few participants in a class a refusal or run-out may get a low placing.
A fence is considered to have been knocked down when the pole is no longer resting in the support. A knock down is a major fault and is scored as such. A perfectly good round can be destroyed by an untimely rail. A knockdown is considered a major fault. If I see a ‘K‘ on my sheet I will not place this horse unless I have to.
To prevent knock downs while on course prepare your horse for the show season with a systematic training program to develop your riding and your horse. Gymnastics will develop strength and agility and also prepare the rider for the courses.
Breaking or Trotting
Break into a trot any where on course and your score will go down or you will be placed lower. I write ‘BROKE‘ on my sheet to keep track. One horse I judged had a winning round. The rider was enjoying his beautiful canter and he looked up and as he looked up his horse broke into trot for two steps! He lost the class!
Having a wrong lead around the ends of the arena can make the horse unbalanced and they often have a bad fence after. Wrong leads will certainly knock you out of the ribbons. I mark “XL” to note horses that have wrong leads.
Also a disunited canter “DIS” or cross canter will also lower your placing.
Adding in or Leaving out Strides
If you have a four stride line and do it in three strides at mach1 with the second fence HUGE, you have an athletic horse and have the great makings for a jumper. You may wan to consider changing disciplines. If you leave out strides I mark it with a “[-]“.
When you add strides, I mark my judge’s sheet with a”[+]” to show that they added.
Missed jump/bad spot.
To be considered for placing, particularly in a large class, a ‘chip’ (a short stubby stride just before the fence) will ruin your chances. Likewise for an overly long or reach on take-off. I use the following symbols for chips “Λ−a”C ” or jumps long “∩a”C.”
My first reaction to a hunter round should be, “that was a nice even round.” If I’m holding, white knuckled, onto my chair, chances are you are going too fast or steadying in the corners and zooming down the lines towards the jumps.
If you are speeding toward the jumps in a rushing fashion I will mark my page with a “aa” to represent speed.
This is a difficult one. So, if you’ve got to the jumps, good form, even rhythm, right striding and your correct lead. That is great, however, if your horse is an average mover up against a pack of superior movers of the same jumping ability, the horse with the correct form and better movement will place higher.
I mark a poor mover with the symbol “↑↓“.
The icing on the cake is the turnout. You and your horse should present themselves in a clean professional manner according to the specifications of the class. Braiding is always acceptable and shows off your horse. Tails well prepared and tack shining. A finished picture with hooves oiled is a pleasure to see. If there were ties a tie breaker would be turnout. I simply write ‘lovely turnout’ if I think it would make or break a winning round.
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