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.
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
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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According to the American Quarter Horse
Association rulebook, a hunter
under saddle class is "judged on performance, condition, and
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
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
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
you may have to help him throughout the class.