Have you ever been to a hunter/jumper show and realized you had absolutely no idea what was going on? Maybe you read a prizelist for a local association’s show and been totally stumped by the various division names. Or perhaps you’re just a mom or dad who would love to know what the heck your daughter or son is talking about when they bring up horses. The world of hunter/jumpers can be a very convoluted and confusing place if you’re not familiar with basic hunter jumper terms. So I’m here to shed some light the basic principles of these disciplines. Below are some hunter jumper terms you might hear or see at a show, a lesson or even just in conversation with an equestrian.
Basic Hunter Jumper Terms
Hunter classes are judged subjectively based on the horse’s performance [not the rider], over a course of eight to 10 jumps. Hunter rounds should appear effortless to the spectator, with the horse and rider working together to make the course flow from one jump to the next. Show hunters should possess good style over the jumps, consistent pace throughout the course, as well as quiet manners; these are the qualities that judge’s look for when placing a hunter class at a horse show.
Today’s hunters compete over jumps that simulate the type of obstacles one might find out in a fox hunting field such as fallen logs, gates, stone walls, hedges and coups. Riders wear classic outfits that resemble traditional hunting ensembles and impeccable turnout of horses is imperative.
Equitation classes are a hybrid between hunters and jumpers. The types of jumps and elements of an equitation course resemble those of jumper classes, but the judging is subjectively based on the rider’s position, form and style. Equitation classes were originally developed to prepare riders to compete in the upper level jumper divisions by teaching effective jumping position and how to navigate difficult courses. Now, they are a division all their own, with classes starting as low as the beginner rider classes, going as high as the nationally recognized Medal Finals, where the jumps reach 3’6” to 3’9”.
In these classes, judges look for proficiency, accuracy and correct judgment in the use of the aids (hands, seat and legs), as well as an overall impression of complete and quiet control, demonstrating skilled horsemanship. The horse is regarded as an equal partner in these classes, but it ultimately is the rider in which the judge is “judging.”
Jumpers are in some ways the antithesis of hunters; these classes are judges objectively based solely on the horse’s athletic ability over fences. A jumper’s only job is to clear all the fences in the course as quickly as possible without knocking over any rails. A horse incurs faults for each mistake made: four faults for each rail knocked down, four faults for every refusal and 1 fault for every second past the time allowed given to complete the course. The horse with the least amount of faults and the fastest time wins.
Hunter Jumper Divisions
When the hunter jumper term “Junior” is used in a division, it refers to the age of the rider which must be 17 years or under. Examples include Small Junior Hunter or High Junior Jumper.
A “Child” or “Children’s” division is restricted to youth competitors age 17 or under. Typically these divisions will jump lower heights than “Junior” divisions. Examples include Children’s Hunter or Low Children’s Jumper.
These divisions are restricted to amateur (not professional) riders who are over the age 18 or older. Typically “Adult” classes such as Adult Amateur Hunters or Adult Amateur Jumpers do not jump as high as Amateur Owner classes like Amateur Owner Hunters or High Amateur Owner Jumpers.
The hunter jumper term “green” refers to the amount of experience a horse has in the show ring and is generally only used to describe hunter classes (not jumper or equitation classes). “Green” classes are generally open to any type of rider (professional, amateur, adult, junior or child) as long as the horse is eligible. There is a strict progression of green classes horses may enter: Baby Green, Pre-Green, First Year Green and Second Year Green.
When a division includes any of these hunter jumper terms, it describes the height of a horse or pony eligible to compete. Ponies are not baby horses [those are “foals”], but instead describe the height of an equine. All ponies must measure 14.2 hands high at the withers or under. Ponies are further classified into three sizes: Small ponies are 12.2 hands high and under, Medium ponies are 12.3 hands high to 13.2 hands high and Large ponies are 13.3 hands high to 14.2 hands high.
Sometimes Junior Hunter divisions for horses (14.3 hands high and over) are further divided by size as well: Small horses are 15.3 hands high and under; Large horses are 16.0 hands high and over. There is no “medium” division for horses.