Hunters vs Hunters vs Hunters

Hunters vs Hunters vs Hunters

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
  • More!

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.

Photo courtesy Meghann Belser
Photo courtesy Meghann Belser

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!

Photo courtesy Meghann Belser
Photo courtesy Meghann Belser

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!

47 thoughts on “Hunters vs Hunters vs Hunters

      1. They’re used because our classes will easily be 3-5 deep at big shows and it makes life 100x easier on the judge to find a number. At big shows, we often enter down the centerline (mostly used as a lameness check), and that’s when judges get your number. Not always the cleanest looking, but so much better for a judge!

  1. Super email!

    I also assume Hunters means USHJA. But, I have lived in the Northeast all my life. I would say there is very little AQHA/Stock Hunter Under Saddle or Light Hunter Under Saddle found around here. Or maybe I am just moving in totally different horsey circles.

    I honestly think different disciplines are very cool. I was actually looking at the Arabian Hunter class thinking “Neato!!!”

    There is good and bad in every discipline. Period.

    But as far as style goes, that is why we have different breeds, built to suit different purposes. And I think they’re coo!

  2. I thought several other ladies made some good comments on that post as well, so I didn’t bother to add. Breed and AQHA (w)english flats are pretty horrendous. Until I had a co-worker who showed AQHA I had no idea that the english pleasure (hopefully that’s the right division name!) horses actually only wear english saddles to show, otherwise they always school in western saddles. I thought it was so odd!

    Besides focusing more on keeping my shoulders tall , hands up (which I suck at), and my heels down in equitation classes, and letting my horse flow forward more in the hunters, I don’t ride any differently. Same goes for when I’m jumping!

    1. I think a lot of people ride the same for equitation under saddle. Typically I don’t see much of a difference in the horse’s way of going unless the horse seems to easily go in the more eq frame, it’s specifically an eq horse or it’s a super high level medal type class.

    2. Most of the big time hunter under horses will school in their hunt seat tack, but a lot of trainers who ride all-around horses will school them in western tack most of the time because they ride in jeans and aren’t going to put on half chaps or mess up their saddles. At least in my experiences, that was the case!

      1. Going to agree with you there Holly. When you are riding multiple horses that can do multiple disciplines all the time, sometimes you ride in western gear or sometimes you ride in english gear for the day.

  3. I tend to think USHJA, too, but around here – and by “here” I mean almost exclusively Vermont and northern New England – you see a LOT of Morgan-specific breed showing which includes a very particular style of hunters.

    Here’s a good example of it:

    Much more knee action, a much more upright way of going generally, and almost more of a saddleseat feel. By far the most common alternate version of hunters up here. If people do the stock horses in Vermont, they’re going Western.

  4. Excellent clarification! Growing up doing hunters and eq in the Northeast, I was always been confused when I saw stock/breed show classes referred to as hunters. It’s so totally different! Funny how nomenclature can muddle things.

  5. Great post. And of course even in USHJA opinions vary. I was taught you want daisy cutter movement and flat knees. This makes it so hard for me to watch the breed shows

  6. Great clarifications! I, of course, grew up in the AQHA world and I think a lot of people still have the misconception that our hunter horses are just western pleasure horses who go in english tack, which drives me nuts. Today’s HUS horses are bred to do it, have a lot of Thoroughbred in them and are some of the prettiest movers out there. I have a lot of issues with the WP world still, but I think the HUS classes are some of the best showcases of the stock breeds today!

  7. I totally respect what Holly is saying above, but that’s not been my experience locally. I always end up watching those classes and thinking “How is that horse supposed to jump? I’ve seen some really great Quarter Horses shown in USDF dressage and USHJA classes with success, so I know it’s not the breed! I think it’s the judging standard or something. Maybe it’s a local issue.

    I know that some big winning hunters in the area (USHJA hunters) school regularly with dressage trainers and ride their horses in a 1st level-ish frame most of the time. I’d assume it would be easier to get that loose rein look if the horse is schooled more uphill most of the time.

    1. Well I think there’s definitely a disparity between the horses I’m referring to (specialty hunter horses) versus your local show all-around. The horses I’m referring to aren’t really showing at a local weekend circuit – they’re the ‘AA’ version of the breed. The local show horses are definitely a few years behind and most of them are going to be all-around horses, not specialty ones! Can definitely see where you’d see that!

  8. Great post Lauren, and I think Holly hit the nail on the head in that AQHA hunters are often unfair judged. There are a lot of “western” type horses that cross enter at smaller shows, but that is not any different than hunters that school in jumper classes, the opinionated A circuit riders might consider that just as abhorrent as the western horses in english aqha classes. Buttt regardless of who enters the “true standard” horse usually pins the highest, and isn’t that what matters?

  9. Love this post! When I judge the occasional local open horses show, their “HUS” is open. I can have a USHJA horse, an AQHA, Arabians, saddlebreds, and even gaited if it’s a “Go As You Please English” class. I’ve always told myself to judge the BEST of that type or style. It can be challenging and I have to stay open minded and not get biased over a specific style.

  10. Great, great post! I also think that while AQHA is doing a lot to try to change some of the standards, these things take time and flow from the top down. All of my recent AQHA experience is from Quarter Horse Congress, where I typically only watched the finals and saw the ‘best of the best’ which often isn’t seen at the local level.

  11. I do ride horses, but I’m more of a model horse hobbyist and I found this very interesting and informational. Thank you so much for posting this 🙂

    1. Though I think THEIR definition of a show hunter is different too! Looking at the horse I would say in the US, he would be more of an eventer type.

  12. What a great post! I had no idea martingales weren’t permitted in HUS classes.

    My personal experience with hunters is limited, but 4H and the local Bridle & Saddle Club were big things where I grew up and were FULL of peanut rollers. I would occasionally take one of my horses in these classes just to get them out and about and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb!

  13. In Australia hunter is something entirely different.
    In “hack” shows there is show hunter. It is a weight distribution. A show hunter is a heavier type than a hack. Hacks are usually thoroughbred type. Show hunters are often warmblood cross tb or just heavier tb. Both show at walk trot and canter. High head, arched neck, need lots of shoulder reach and a straight forelimb action. Show hunters may be asked for hand gallop. Breed shows (esp native pony) have breed class, show hunter ( plaited, shown as per above), breed hunter ( eg welsh hunter) shown natural should be the type to hunt, powerful movement, looks like it can jump. Finally working hunter. This has a flat workout (walk trot,canter, hand gallop) and a short course of 6-8 hunter type jumps.

  14. thanks for writing this out (do you plan to do an over-fences version too?)

    i only ever did schooling type stuff so a lot of the true nuances could be lost. but this is good bc it kinda reaffirms my feelings that the descriptors of ‘long and low’ and ‘easy, pleasant way of going’ do not describe my mare at all – she’s very expressive, which i love, but it’s not at all the ushja ‘hunter’ way lol

  15. But…but…aren’t the horses in all the types under a saddle???

    Seriously though, I think I understand it a little bit better now, so thanks! It’s not only hunters that confuses me though, I still can’t keep eventing CCI and CICs straight…

  16. I can tell you that Morgan “hunter pleasure” horses these days are simply saddleseat horses wearing huntseat tack. They have long toes, weighted shoes, long shanks and extremely high “headsets.” They would never make it over a fence, much less survive a real hunt.

  17. I love the british hunter classes and horses! I’ll be the odd one out that didn’t mind the original post – I understood what she was trying to say re the mechanics of leaning on your horse’s neck and getting jumped out of the tack, even if the breed show hunter pics took it off on a bit of a tangent. It’s all just opinion and I do like to watch a nice hunter round. Nice post – it does seem to be a bit of a regional thing as to what you could expect to see at a local hunter class.

  18. Interesting, thanks from the clarifications. Coming from Ireland/UK terminology Hunters are a different ball game again O.o
    I did know that the Hunter classes the majority of blogs I follow are similar, but i didn’t know about the other differentiations within the USA showing world…

  19. I was going to chime in about the Morgan hunt classes as well. Seems very popular in New England and the surrounding areas. Some of it looks very nice and the horses are using their backs and not crunched up and hollow like in a park class but some of it does look like a park class but with a slightly rounder “headset” (their term).

  20. Also, hard to say whether ANY of these particular types could make it through an actual fox hunt. Things can get pretty hairy out in the actual landscape

  21. I have shown Arabian hunters. You can only use a single bridle (ie snaffle, kimberwickes are common).

    Knee is permitted. Forward moving style. Neck is upright and tends to be curled pretty tight. Some pretty fun colors for breeches/coats as long as the breeches are lighter than the coat.

    There is also sport horse under saddle hunters, which is similar to open type hunters with the long sweepy stride.

  22. I used to show in the Morgan hunter classes and it is entirely different than USHJA hunters. Obviously the horses way of going is much more upright in the headset and knee action, a breastplate is their version of the “extra tack for the sake of looks”, and a black saddle pad or even just a thin half pad often replaces the fitted pad. The rider attire is entirely different as well. It is common to see brightly colored shirts from yellow to maroon to hunter green, the coats are often grey or very light colors with fancy collars, hunt caps, and the breeches are often not tan and are black or navy. I love this post for clarification for those who don’t know the difference.

  23. I grew up showing in AQHA shows, now I do the USHJA hunters and I foxhunt. To me a “hunter” should ultimately be a horse that would be nice to ride when following hounds, since that is what it is actually named for. Ironically my “show” horse (TB) now is a rather horrible foxhunting mount, but my retired AQHA reining horse is thriving as a staff mount! In my hunt there are a myriad of breeds, but the commonality is athleticism and a good brain.

  24. I grew up in the Saddlebred world, but also dabbled in Hunter Seat as a teenager. I think the breed and open shows should be judged on the closest to the USHJA ideal. Of course, Saddlebreds will be more likely to be high headed and the stock horses will be lower and more prone to being downhill, but the intended use of the division is the same. Open show judges should allow for some breed deviation, but for breed shows, adding in the criteria more typical of the breed’s typical discipline makes it a costume class.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.