Hunters vs Jumpers

Hunters vs Jumpers

When people find out that I ride horses, if they have any interest in the subject they ask what kind of riding I do.  My immediate response is “I ride hunter/jumper” because it’s the truth.  However, if the person I’m talking to is not a horse person that response seems to bring this image to their minds:

“You JUMP things?!” they say, and they’re amazed.  That image couldn’t be further from the truth.  This is the reality.

This jump is 2’0″ high.  The picture was taken about 5 years ago (or more), and I was about 20 lbs smaller.  So yeah, I’ve got some work to do.

See, hunter/jumper is an all encompassing term – but hunters are actually very different than jumpers.  So for the non-horsey educated person, I present:

The Simple Guide to Hunters vs Jumpers

With hunters, there is not a lot of excitement in the clothing.  In this line up there is one ride doing something radical with her attire, and she decided to go with a charcoal coat instead of navy.  Hunters are all about conformity, and squash any personal expression.  Jumpers however, anything goes.  The rule is you look neat & tidy, but that’s about it.  Feel like wearing a sweater?  Go for it.  Want a bright pink polo shirt?  Rock out your bright pink polo shirt.  If someone over the age of 8 went into the hunter ring with anything bright pink, they’d probably be shot.

With hunters, you’re judged on even pace and a “pleasurable” ride.  Judges seem to think it’s more pleasurable to ride a ‘stop and smell the roses’ kind of horse than a ‘hang on holy hell I hope we all live through this’ horse.  I for one, agree with judges.  In Jumpers, it’s about speed and not knocking down any poles.  You ride your first round near an “optimum” time (which is quick, but not fast) and then come back for the jump off if you don’t know down any rails.  At the jump off, the fastest horse with the fewest faults wins.  I usually gasp uncontrollably at least once when I watch jumpers, sometimes I cover my eyes.

I love buying horse tack.  Love it!  With that problem, being a hunter rider sucks.  Bridles always look the same.  Bits need to be a D ring.  Saddle pads are white.  No boots allowed.  With jumpers – oh they have so much cool stuff!  Ear bonnets, fuzzy boots, sparkly brow bands, fun saddle pads – you name it!  Heaven forbid I ever get over my fear of jumping anything bigger than 2’6″, I will accessorize the shit out of my jumper horse.  You will see us sparkling from 10 miles away – it won’t matter if we can’t get over any fences or not.

I should make one statement to be clear here: Any horse that will safely jump a course of fences for an amateur rider is going to be expensive.  That being said, a hunter horse has to jump and move stylishly.  Hunters are dominated by big fancy warmbloods that can easily cost 5-6 figures.  Jumpers also has expensive warmbloods, but fast and springy little Thoroughbreds off the track often do really well here.  The horse to the right is one at my barn, and is a super star jumper.

The fences hunter horses jump over are designed to resemble what one would find in the field.  So they look like branches, stone or brick.  They’re solid colored, and have a lot of greenery and plain paint colors.  For jumper fences, anything goes.  They are almost always striped with loud colors and fun flowers.  At the higher levels, Jumper jumps get even more exciting.  My two all time favorites are the Budweiser Grand Prix Jump and the Sea World Shamu Grand Prix Jump.

The biggest difference between the two is how they’re judged.  With hunters, you’ve got to look pretty, be flawless and the judge has to agree.  With jumpers, if you get over everything and are the fastest – you are going to win.  The end.  There’s no arguing with either, because the judge’s decision is always final… but anyone who has shown in the hunters has expressed feelings of “Really?!?”  more than once.

So let’s summarize:  Jumpers can wear cool clothing and tack.  Jumpers jump fun fences.  Jumpers (can) be cheaper to buy.  Jumpers are judged objectively.

So why do I ride hunters?

One last difference I forgot to mention – at recognized shows Jumpers usually don’t start until 2’9″ – 3’0″ height.  That’s like jumping a tiny little person.  I am a huge chicken.  When they’ve got jumper Crossrails at 18″ – Sign me up!

8 thoughts on “Hunters vs Jumpers

  1. I liked your post until your third point of comparison. I love hunters and would like to think of the tack as conservative and classy, not “lame and boring”. Also, I would like to point out the horse you claim to be “worth more than gold” is jumping really badly and the horse “rescued off the track” is doing much better despite the rider. I specialize in training off the track thoroughbreds for hunters. I buy them for very little (or get them for free) and train them to go around a course of jumps in a pleasant and well balance way.
    Another point that you have not made is that most hunters go in a simple snaffle or a small pelham with a little leverage, where most jumpers go in huge scary bits with leverage out of hell.
    Now, while this is your blog and you can write what you like, I think a little more balanced analysis would be appreciated.

    1. Absolutely, I don’t disagree with any of your points. I think it’s really easy to flippantly summarize both disciplines (which is what I’ve done here), but there is a lot more at hand than what this quick commentary covers. That being said, this post is all in fun and a high level summary at best 😀

  2. Actually, they do have cross rails at 12″ where I live (at schooling shows)! And I agree that jumpers are more fun than hunters. Especially the fact that you can wear coordinating tack, or random stuff!

  3. Geez you had some crabs posting comments on this one. Lighten up people, come on! (Add in for hunter stereotypes: giant sticks up butts… they ride that way and they act that way. Just kidding crabby commenters, please don’t hurt me…)

    Fun fact about me: I showed rated hunters once, and I made the judge gasp in horror. Also, my beautiful perfectly behaved flat kneed lopey mover placed below all of the bucking/leaping/naughty horses in the hack because the judge was upset that her tail was banged and pulled (as per dressage/eventing, which obviously was what we normally did.) I overheard her making quips about the tail to the people sitting next to her as I was passing around on the rail. Fail…

  4. I really enjoyed this article other than your comment about that horse being “rescued” off the track.

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