A recent post brought to my attention that we might not all be on the same page about what a hunter is. For my blog, when I say ‘hunter’ I’m referring to a USHJA style hunter that is judged on style, manners and soundness.
A lot of people show open shows like 4H or generic schooling shows, where the term ‘hunter’ can be a lot more open. I’m going to focus on the under saddle portion in this post, since that has the most variety. For the sake of fact finding, I’m leaving all opinions out of this post. I’ll just say that each discipline (even those outside of hunters of course) has its own merit and appeals to a different kind of person.
The generic term hunter under saddle can break down into the following categories and more:
- USHJA Hunter Under Saddle
- Equitation Under Saddle (Not technically hunters, but I’m covering it)
- AQHA/Stock Hunter Under Saddle
- Light Hunter Under Saddle
Let’s look at some media, and start with what I refer to on this blog when I say hunter under saddle.
USHJA Hunter Under Saddle
The hunter under saddle classes you will see at true hunter/jumper shows fall into this category. They are judged on the horse’s movement, manners and soundness. In a perfect world, any lame horses will be pulled or not pin… and honestly that’s the reason why a lot of horses choose not to “hack” at a hunter show.
Riders will be very similarly dressed. Dark coats with light show shirts is the current style. White fitted show pads for horses, and no martingales or boots of any kind. Horses may or may not be braided depending on the level of the show.
The standard here is a long, sweepy trot… think long and low. You want the horse’s head above peanut roller status, but not giraffe. Reins should have a nice drape in them, and the goal is for the horse to look extremely pleasant and easy to ride. You want a nice long stride with some momentum to show off powerful movement through hunt country.
Equitation Under Saddle
At many local shows, the equitation division will have an over fences and a flat phase. Therefore, the horses might still look a lot like the hunter under saddle group (most cross enter) but they are judged very differently.
Equitation under saddle is 100% on the rider. Yes, the horse must be sound but its movement is not judged at all. Also, the way of go is a bit different. In a hunter under saddle class, you want a looser rein and a long and low horse. In equitation, you want to go in more of what I understand to be an intro or training level dressage frame. It shows that you’re commanding the horse use its body properly, and also gives you more control. In equitation it’s not uncommon to do things like sitting trot, turn on the haunches or forehand, no stirrups or even counter canter.
AQHA/Stock Hunter Under Saddle
Now we’re entering the world of breed show hunters. You’ll also see a lot of these at open and 4H shows, since they are choosing to represent their breed instead of the rated style of hunter.
Stock hunters take long and low to a bit of an extreme. This and western pleasure are where the term “peanut roller” comes from. Though AQHA has done a lot to try and improve the standard, you will still see a lot of horse’s with their heads far below the withers. Riders go with very long reins and sit super upright. They will also typically go a bit slower, although this depends on the type of horse.
Attire is different too. Majority of under saddle horses will have fitted pads that have a tiny square where they can put their number on the side of the saddle pad. Also you will notice that the riders wear hunt caps instead of actual helmets. There are more liberties with makeup, shirt and coat color choices although tack skews very traditional.
Light Breed Hunter Pleasure
This is the opposite end of the spectrum and includes Arabians, Saddlebreds and National Show Horses among other breeds. Like the Quarter Horses, they have their own standard. I’m not as educated in this area, but opposite of the daisy cutter type trot light breed hunter horses want some knee action. They also have a much more upright head carriage.
Attire wise is similar to AQHA, but I see a lot more flexibility with tack. I’ve seen square pads (including black) in hunter under saddle classes and also more of a double or dressage type bridle. Like I said, this isn’t my area so someone please chime in in the comments if you have more to add to this section!
So as you can see, all of these horses featured are called hunters but are extremely different. I guess it can be confusing, but as riders it’s always good to educate ourselves about other disciplines even if they aren’t our chosen favorite!