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Describe Hunter Under Saddle

16 August 2011 No Comment

Describe Hunter Under Saddle
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

What kind of ride is “hunter under saddle”? I am familiar with dressage. What is the difference? Is the horse head up instead of level and the saddle different? I would appreciate and answer. I have to register a horse fairly quickly and people that I can ask are at shows.
Thanks, Barbara Smith
Hi Barbara, Hunter-under-saddle is a class that emphasizes a horses movement and way of going, and also their “type” and conformation. Manners and obedience are important too, but it is not the same as a hunter pleasure class where good manners and obedience are judged more heavily, with less emphasis on movement and “type”. In hunter-under-saddle, rein contact is required as per AHSA rules, so a horse that is being ridden on a loose or slack rein should not place well. In terms of movement, we want to see a horse that does not have a lot of knee and hock action or a lot of suspension as you would see with a good dressage horse. They should move in a way that I call “sweep-and-reach”, also known as being “a daisy cutter”. Basically, the horse just picks up their feet enough to clear the ground and sweeps their legs smoothly forward with nice length of stride at the trot and then sets the feet down again. Canter is the same thing; pick up the feet enough to clear the ground and stride forward without a lot of knee and hock action or big, round scope canter strides. The gaits are flatter, smooth and very efficient, with nice reach at the trot. A horse being shown in hunter-under-saddle is more a “type” of horse then a pleasure class horse is.

If you are at an Open show, picture a big, type Thoroughbred or a well-balanced Warmblood. The quality of movement and “type” conformation will guarantee better success in a hunter-under-saddle class. Horses in these classes should be ridden long-and-low, with the neck coming out of the horse’s shoulders on a slight upward arch/angle or almost level with the withers, but not sloping downward. The nose will be a little in front of the vertical with the rider keeping light contact with the horses mouth, not tight reins, but not loose or slack either. Horses are ridden in a huntseat (jumping) saddle; dressage and park saddles are not allowed. The bridle is usually a shade-of-brown to match your brown huntseat saddle and is outfitted with a regular caveson noseband. No drop nosebands, figure-8 nosebands or flash nosebands are allowed. I prefer to ride horses in a hunter-under-saddle class in a smooth mouth, fullcheek snaffle or an eggbutt snaffle, but a kimberwick or a double rein pelham bit is also acceptable and legal for this class. No fullbridles (2 bits in the horses mouth) are allowed. No martingales, either running or standing, are allowed. Spurs are optional, as is a short huntseat whip/crop (although, I never show in hunter-under-saddle or hunter pleasure classes with a whip).Horses in a hunter-under-saddle class will be required to perform at the walk, trot and canter, both directions of the arena. They will also be required to hand-gallop at least one direction of the arena, usually counter-clockwise, in groups of eight. One of the ways that a hunter-under-saddle class differs from a hunter pleasure class is that in a hunter pleasure class, horses will be judged strongly on their manners and obedience and less on quality of movement and conformation. The rider chooses to ride with rein contact, or on a loose rein. The horse can be ridden “thrown-away” with very loose reins with the nose extended, or in more of a hunter frame, because rein contact is not required in this class. Certain breed shows or Open shows have their own styles, so its a good idea to observe how things are done at the particular types of shows that you will be attending. A judge at an Open show once told me that he likes to see a horse in a hunter pleasure class that is consistent in their way of going and that he would feel safe putting his five-year-old grand-daughter on. He would feel confident that that horse would “pack” that child around the ring and not do anything to harm them. He also went on to say that he judges much more heavily on quality and correctness of movement and conformational type in a hunter-under-saddle class, and less on impeccable manners and obedience. I’ve won many hunter pleasure classes on horses that were good movers but certainly not the best movers in the class, but they definitely were the most mannered, consistent and calm horses. Of course, if you have a horse that’s “the whole package” of movement, manners and looks, success is a given in a hunter-under-saddle class OR a hunter pleasure class. Just remember that hunter-under-saddle is ridden with rein contact that is required and that the horse will be judged strongly on a particular type of movement and way of going, and also more strongly on conformation and “type”. Hunter pleasure has a little less emphasis on a particular type of movement or type of horse and more emphasis on manners, obedience and consistency, but of course, judges always like to see a beautiful, great moving horse no matter what class you’re participating in!

Good Luck,
Laura Phelps-Bell

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