Hunter Under Saddle

What Does It Take To Compete

Hunter under saddle is a popular choice in classes at most horse shows.

If you've ever watched truly conditioned hunt seat horses move down the rail, you may have been in awe at how they seem to float as they move.

This class is actually one of the more challenging classes to compete in for both horse and rider. Like western pleasure, hunter under saddle is also a pleasure class where the horse is the primary focus of the judge.

It is also a class where it looks much easier than it actually is. Below we will be discussing a breakdown of the class, judging criteria, potential faults for both horse and rider in the class, and what to look for in a hunter under saddle horse.hunter under saddle

Class Breakdown

In a hunter under saddle class you will be judged alongside other competitors entered, so all horses enter the ring at the same time and are judged concurrently.

Upon entering the ring, you are being judged at the walk, trot, and canter. Larger shows, at the world and national level, will require you to trot your horse down the center of the ring in front of all class judges.

In this class you want to keep your horse driven forward and collected at all three gaits. Unlike western pleasure, it is perfectly acceptable to move your horse off the rail. Forward motion and passing other horses in the class is more common in hunter under saddle. The last thing you want is for your horse to get lost among the other horses.

You don't want your horse racing around the ring, just forward and collected giving the appearance he is a "pleasure to ride".

In some cases you may be asked to perform a seated trot or an extended trot. Both can be a little more challenging so it might be a good idea to practice in advance. For a seated trot you need to sit deep in the saddle to keep yourself stable while your horse is trotting, or you'll bounce around which takes away from your overall presentation.

The extended trot takes a little more skill. You need to extend your horse's stride while maintaining collection. As a rider you need a lot of balance and strength to achieve this by keeping yourself solid while posting and driving your horse forward.

Once you have walked, trotted, and cantered in both directions you will be asked to either head out of the ring or line up in the center.

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Judging Criteria

According to the American Quarter Horse Association rulebook, a hunter under saddle class is "judged on performance, condition, and conformation. Maximum credit shall be given to the flowing, balanced, willing horse."

Hunter under saddle horses have a longer and more forward strides as they move in the class. Judges put most emphasis on cadence and quality of movement at all three gaits.

Horse and Rider Faults

There are a variety of reasons for a judge to fault you in a hunter under saddle class. A horse with lower quality movement (shorter or quicker strides) or varying speeds at any given gait will affect your overall picture and performance.

You will also be faulted for breaking gaits or missing correct leads at the canter. As we discussed above, it is acceptable to move off the rail during the class. However, you can also be faulted for moving and showing too far off the rail (not good if you come too close to the judge).

You may also want to pay attention to how much contact you have on your horse's mouth. Too much and you may be over flexing your horse at the poll pulling his nose behind the vertical. Too little and he may carry his head too low. You want your horse's head position with his nose just in front of the vertical with his poll not lower than the level of his withers.

You also want to avoid excessive nosing out in front of the vertical. There is a balance you have to find with your horse to keep his head carriage balanced through the class. Depending on how experienced your horse is you may have to help him throughout the class.

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