Why I Heart Hunter Derbies

Why I Heart Hunter Derbies

Hunter derbies make my little heart go pitter patter.  I love to watch them, read about them, take pictures of them and hopefully soon… ride in one.  Large or small I don’t care, I am pro derby!

Even though I adore them, I know enough about derbies to be dangerous.  Not totally clueless, but it’s not like I’ve campaigned in the derby ring for a season.  In lieu of an “informative” post from someone who’s definitely not an expert, I decided to just write why I’m kind of obsessed with them.  It’ll share a bit of insight to those who really don’t know anything about hunter derbies, but hopefully not make me look like a clueless asshat trying to play pro.


Formal Attire

The derby is a formal hunter/jumper class… which means bring out the shadbellies!  Dressed to the nines is the standard here, especially for bigger derbies.  You will even occasionally see quartermarks, which isn’t so prevalent in the hunter/jumper world.  If a shadbelly isn’t your style, formal whites are also encouraged and you will see them on male riders as well as women sporting the more jumper look.



Natural Fences

Sure, all hunter classes are derived from fences you would see in the hunt field… but hunter derbies are the class where this is really taken literally!  You will see logs (real or faux) in the ring, up and down banks, stone walls, and sometimes ditches.  Depending on what level of derby and where it is there will always be a mix of jumps, but you tend to get a lot more variety than your normal run of the mill hunter class.




A score, a score!

Technically all classes are scored in some way shape or form (and at big shows most riders know their score after each round… not just in derbies), but the run of the mill hunter class I do… I have no idea what that is.  Derbies usually have a classic round followed by a handy or a final round.  Your score is announced after your ride, so the rider immediately knows “Yay 82!” or “68, acceptable!” or “45… jesus!”  Sure, the scores are subjective… but at least they are there!



Handy Options for the win!

Derbies often have a special category for “handy points” or courses that provide “handy options”.  This puts them more similar to the realms of equitation and jumpers than traditional hunters.  Example of handy options could be hand galloping to a fence instead of just cantering it, taking a tighter turn, or slicing a jump.  The challenge is… these handy options still must be done beautifully like they aren’t “handy” at all.



More Pace Please

This isn’t a standard across all judges, but derby scoring tends to allow a LOT more pace than a traditional hunter course. When I first witnessed the WEF Hunter Derby in 2012, I was blown away by Kelley Farmer really going out there and making a good clip. Some went slower, but the top finishers were really rolling right along.


This is just a quick overview, but there really is a lot to love about hunter derbies. Whether your goals are 2’6″- whatever local ones (like me!), 3′ National Hunter Derbies, or the 3’6″+ International ones… I think there’s something to enjoy for almost every kind of rider.

What about you – are you as obsessed with derbies as I am?

33 thoughts on “Why I Heart Hunter Derbies

  1. I love derbies primarily because they are watered down Appointment/Corinthian classes and I really missed my era for horseback riding! 😛

    I really wish I could have taken Carlos into one of these classes he would have had a ball.

  2. I am obsessed! My favorite thing to watch, dream about, etc. I have already been eyeing up the local derbies in the crazy notion that I would maybe dare to enter one later this year. They are just so cool!! You will have to do a full review after your first derby riding experience. 🙂

  3. Absolutely obsessed. haha
    I’ve watched the finals the past few years, they are so much fun to watch. I would love to compete in one someday. Maybe not the International, but I think the National one is a good goal. Also, Jersey Boy is my favorite hunter derby horse <3

  4. In So. Cal they started what’s called a Grand Prix Hunter Derby. It’s similar to a regular derby class but has a time factor like the jumpers. Fastest gets extra points, provided their round is still huntery. I don’t know too much about it, but a horse my friend used to own won the year end finals in San Diego last year.


  5. Looks like a stadium round at a CCI**** event to me, except with shadbellies and braided tails! Teehee, the eventer comes to hunterland!

    Eventing jokes aside, I’d love to compete in one of these, it looks like a ton of fun! Plus it’s probably the only reason I’d ever have to wear a shadbelly!

  6. I love derbies!!! I think they are so fun to watch and one day I do want to try one. Even just a low level one would be fine with me! ha!

  7. I love watching these, although I still don’t really comprehend how the scoring happens – what they are really looking for in hunter-land, that is. But the jumps are a beautified version of XC!

  8. I am not a hunter person but I think the hunter derbies are awesome! I see it like a nice cross between normal hunters and cross country. 🙂

  9. Hunter derbies are very cool! There is a stable near me that has re-started a hunter derby series. They are one of the very few stables that has a course of natural hunter jumps in our area.

    If I were into jumping, that would be my choice with foxhunting mixed in for the fall! I like the idea of hunters being closer to the field hunting/British working hunter origins. Natural jumps are neat too – and I especially like the handy angle. Too bad I am too much of a chicken to jump! lol

  10. I love derbies. Never done one, never seen one in person, but I’m all for anything that requires a little more challenge, a little more, I need to think outside the box on this round to really make us shine. 🙂

  11. I think you like hunter derbies because you’re secretly an eventing junkie. 😉

    In all seriousness, hunter derbies ARE really cool. They are so fancy with the formal attire and the braiding! Have you seen indoor eventing? The jumps are very similar to hunter derby jumps, but it’s so much more casual! Here’s an example: http://youtu.be/gvblVayO-Fk

  12. Waaa that looks so great, I am going to literally hunt for one of these in New Zealand. Would be so cool if hunter derbys were as popular over here as they are overseas!

  13. I LOVE watching hunter derbies, but mostly because I love that they are a lot closer to real fox hunting than what most hunter shows have morphed into.

  14. Haha the commentary in that video…

    Yeah if I went back to the hunter world it’d be to do derbies! Wiz would be good at them I think. It’s like elegant cross country! I have to say the tired old inside outside inside outside of regular fences did kind of get boring sort of quickly (why I preferred eq), so I think derbies would be really neat! I hope you get to do one this year!

  15. I can’t wait to do a Hunter Derby! I really wanted to last year but Armani was just 4 and it was my first show season, so I opted (chickened?) out. Also, my main division runs early and the derbies are usually at the end of the day, so it’s not the nicest timing. Hopefully this year!

    Thanks for this post – gives me something new to watch while I recover from an accident!

  16. This is fascinating to me! I love the idea of incorporating terrain into the course, because that is a concept that really gets to the heart of fox hunting. I love that they ride more forward too. I had no idea that there were smaller derbies- I thought they were all 3’6″ or so.. Maybe I will have to try one, on day!

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