Hunt seat equitation requires a higher level of balance and timing
between horse and rider. The class may require a pattern with some rail
work, or just working horses on the rail.
Breed circuit shows usually require both a
pattern followed by rail work. Most open shows leave it up to the judge
to decide so you may or may not be asked to complete a pattern.
In a hunt seat equitation class the judge focuses more on the rider,
and the rider's position through various maneuvers and gait
The guide below discusses what to expect when showing in a hunt seat
equitation class, what the judge generally looks for, and some helpful
hints to get ready for a hunt seat equitation class.
As stated above you may or may not have to perform a set pattern for
the judge. Likewise, you may or may not have to complete some rail work
with your horse. You will be expected to perform one or the other, or
If a pattern is expected, it should be posted for viewing at least an
hour before the class begins. Patterns typically include a combination
of walking, trotting (sit and/or posting), cantering (either lead),
stopping, backing, pivoting, and possible lead changes.
If a pattern is posted there may also be a running order in which
riders are randomly chosen to complete the pattern in an order. This is
typically used at larger shows to save time. If you are not present and
accounted for when it is your turn, you can likely be disqualified from
As an exhibitor you will be judged individually while you work through
your pattern. Once you have completed the pattern you may be excused or
asked to find a place on the rail.
If asked to find a spot on the rail you will be performing some rail
work at the discretion of the judge after all the patterns are
completed. Depending on the judge you may only have to ride in one
direction at all three gaits.
If you are riding only rail work you will be asked to walk, trot, and
canter in both directions before being excused. Keep in mind this is
not a pleasure class and though your horse's movement is a factor, the
judge is judging you as the rider.
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When competing in a hunt seat equitation class the rider is the main
focus of the judge. When seated on your horse your hands should be
positioned just in front of your horse's withers and slightly above.
Your reins should form a straight line from your horse's mouth to your
hands. You may want to maintain an appropriate bend at the elbow. About
90 degrees give or take should suffice.
You want to keep your eyes up while riding, shoulders back, and heels
down. Pretty much everything your riding instructor will correct you
for is mentioned in the AQHA handbook for appropriate riding position
during a hunt seat equitation class.
While walking, the horse should be moving
at a four-beat gait. In the posting trot, you must demonstrate posting
on the correct diagonal. So if your horse is traveling around the ring
with his right leg closest to the wall or rail, your rear end must be
out of the saddle when the right leg and shoulder of your horse is
During the canter and sitting trot, you need to be positioned only
slightly in front of the vertical point. You don't want to be too far
in front or you will throw yourself and your horse off balance. Make
sure you sit deep in your saddle to maintain contact with your horse
and prevent yourself from bouncing around too much.
Hunt Seat Equitation Pattern Work
Horse & Rider Faults
There are a few things you want to keep in mind to prevent
disqualification from a hunt seat equitation class. You must wear a
correct and visible number either on your back or one on each side of
the horse's saddle pad. If you choose to pin the number on your saddle
pad, make sure you have one on each side or you will be disqualified.
Other grounds for disqualification from a hunt seat equitation class
include excessively schooling a horse or abuse to a horse, falling off
your horse, or using inappropriate or prohibited equipment. If you are
showing a breed circuit make sure you consult the rule book.
You may not be allowed to physically touch your horse while showing.
You can also be faulted for the behavior of your horse. If your horse
kicks at other horses or exhibitors, bucks, paws, or rears you will
likely be faulted by the judge.
When getting ready for a hunt seat equitation class the practice should
begin before you even throw your horse on the trailer. When riding at
home make sure you practice your balance and body position in the
saddle. You want to first get comfortable with your horse at all three
gaits with transitions made to each gait.
Once you feel you have the basics down, you can work on some simple
pattern components. Serpentines, figure eights, and circles with
diagonal changes are usually a part of the hunt seat equitation
When at the show, get a copy of the pattern (it is always better to
pick up a pattern book) so you always have a reference to practice.
Don't try to memorize the pattern or you may end up reinventing the
pattern later. Nothing worse than questioning what the pattern is while
watching a few people ride it in front of you. If you can't get a
pattern book copy it down on a sheet of paper.
When practicing the pattern before your class, practice only bits and
pieces of it. You never want to run through the entire pattern over and
over because when it comes time to be judged on the pattern your horse
may anticipate what you are going to be asking before you ask.
That’s it! Good luck out there and remember if you need more complete
information about this class or other classes, make sure you read
through the association rulebook.