“FROM THE JUDGES STAND”
BY EDEE WEIGEL
When I arrived home from judging the MHJA/ USAEq show in Dillon last August , I wrote down a few thoughts . This article was written from those impressions and is intended to assist you who show in the Hunter divisions . You can start training now to receive higher scores in the future, as we will have USAEq licensed hunter judges at the shows and we need to be prepared.
I have shown and judged hunters since 1978, and the style of hunters has not changed much , the rhythmical rounds will win the classes. A Hunter is a beautiful, well groomed , and rhythmically striding horse. They are ‘ round’ in their top line and ‘on the bit’ softly . Working a horse in side-reins while lunging will help develop this top line. Ideal hunters look relaxed and seem to float effortlessly around the courses , meeting all of their fences in the ideal 6’ takeoff distance.
A high scoring hunter maintains an even 12’ foot stride to the jumps, as well as around the corners and between the jumps. Rhythm is the number one element for a winning hunter round !
A good hunter round will be scored in the 70’s and very nice rounds will be in the 80’s. Most judges will post their class cards if requested. Hunter judges write down each of the movements and jumping efforts of the hunter on course, using the numerical hunter judging system . I hope that the riders will take advantage of reviewing their scores after the class. Much like a dressage show, these horses are scored from their first step into the ring until the last step out.
At the show in Dillon, only a few hunters wore a properly adjusted standing martingale. Hunters are allowed to wear standing martingales and this piece of tack is considered part of the outfit for showing. I am well aware that many other horse sports distain the use of a standing martingale …but knowing how to dress your hunter properly is a big part of a winning show presentation. There were too many rounds that were spoiled by the horse getting its’ head up on the approach to the fences. Jumping is exciting and a properly adjusted standing martingale helps remind the hunter to stay in a more level frame. Without a martingale, the horses would get their head up and in this inverted frame their strides were irregular and choppy. Remember the most important part of riding a hunter is to maintain a relaxed and consistent rhythm.
A lot of nice hunters in the show were poorly ridden , as the riders cut the corners and brought the horse to the fence crookedly. Hunters are best ridden deep into the corners, to allow them to maintain their rhythm and stride length, and brought to the fences on a perfectly straight line. Some riders rode behind the motion and then jumped ahead of their horses center of balance —causing the horses to not be able to lift their front legs high or to fold their knees tightly. A lot of riders were left behind the motion — pulling back on their horses mouths in mid-flight and sitting down on their backs– again spoiling the rounded arc of a nicely schooled hunter. It is important to learn to ride hunters in the two-point position and not jump ahead or get left back.
Some very usable rounds were scored low by no lead changes or a cross canter — but lowest of all scores were those who trotted in the corners, resulting in the greatest penalty between jumps for breaking gait!!!
I felt like if the riders understood the scoring process better, they would have ridden a different plan and received a higher score.
A good book to read for understanding how USAEq Hunters are scored is ‘Judging Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation’ by Anna Jane White Mullen — a student of George Morris. This book is for sale in most Hunter/ Jumper catalogues. Another great reference book for training and riding in hunter shows is the George Morris classic “ Hunter Seat Equitation”
Riding a hunter correctly is a sporting art, and like any sport we can improve with practice . Set lines of jumps on 12’ strides and practice jumping them smoothly and in rhythm. Count ‘one- two’ ‘one- two’ to yourself , as you ride the line. This counting in your mind, will help improve your eye for a good take off distance. Be sure to ride out all the way to the corners , sometimes halting and letting the horse relax there, some times just riding a nice 20 meter circle in the canter or trot to help the horse re-balance. Most hunter lines are set at 36’ for a 2 stride , 60’ for a 4 stride , and 72’ for a 5 stride . These distances includes the 6’ take off and landing on each jump. This stride length will seem fast at first , but with relaxed horse has a stride that covers more ground. Learning how to jump in stride is the best way to get higher scores in the hunters.
Learn to lounge your horse (see article) on the flat in side-reins to help develop their top line and over low fences with longer side reins ( that do not interfere ) to help him learn to stay more balanced and in rhythm. Get a standing martingale and learn how to adjust it correctly for a hunter. Plan to attend some USAEq Rated Hunter& Jumper shows and watch the hunter classes to see how the professional riders dress their horses and ride them to get the high scores. Enlist a knowledgeable friend to watch you ride and set fences! The surest way to ride poorly is to practice alone, as bad habits will creep in! I never jump alone as it is simply not worth the risk. I can simply lounge my horses in a nice workout over fences if I am alone.
Good Luck and have fun training and showing your hunters !