If you are new to horses and riding, you may not yet understand the difference between equestrian disciplines. In Central Texas, and even in the Austin area, there are many different styles of riding practiced. At KBF, we practice what is known as hunter/jumper, and hunt seat equitation. At horse shows, classes are specified as either hunter, jumper, or equitation classes. Oftentimes, horses in this discipline are experts in one part of this- meaning they are primarily hunters, primarily jumpers, or primarily equitation horses. Some horses can do two, or occasionally all three. At more advanced levels, for example at nationally ranked shows, the horses more often tend to be specialists in one particular area.
Hunter classes are judged on the horse itself. Specifically, their quality, style, athleticism, grace, and obedience. If you are riding in a hunter class, your task is to present the horse you are riding as well as possible. Although the judge will be watching the horse more than the rider, the rider still must effectively pilot the horse, yet keep all the commands subtle. If the rider is over aggressive, or sloppy, it detracts from the overall picture. Most hunter divisions consist of 2-4 jumping classes and an Under Saddle class. Under saddle classes are group classes in which no jumping takes place. Aesthetically, the horses should look relaxed and pleasant, balanced and engaged. Judges will favor a long topline (stretched out neck and back) and a flowing trot and canter with minimal knee-action. Also, horses must be well turned-out: this means they are groomed to shiny perfection, whiskers trimmed, tack spotless. Of course, the rider should look quite polished as well. Horses will also be judged on their ability to promptly produce and maintain whatever gait is asked of them. In Over Fences, or jumping classes, the horses are judged on the same aspects listed above, as well as jumping ability. The horse and rider must jump a designated course which, in most classes, consists of eight jumps. They should maintain their continuity and smoothness, the rider piloting them at such a consistent speed and flowing, balanced track that the jumps barely change the rhythm at all. Beyond that, the horse’s ability to jump in a classic, beautiful style is also judged- preference is given to horses that are able to pull their knees up high, well out of the way of the jump, and round their body into a bascule. The higher the jumps are set in a class, the more importance is placed on the horse’s jumping style.
Jumper classes, which are what we are referring to when we say Show Jumping, are judged completely differently; they employ a much more straightforward, objective scoring system. The horses and riders are challenged to jump fences on a course which is less predictable and more complicated than in hunter classes. There are different formats of jumper classes, some with two rounds per class (first round and jump-off), and some with only one. In general, for each jump that is knocked down, the horse and rider receive 4 faults. The horses who do not receive faults have their times compared to determine a winner- the fastest fault-free round wins. These classes are usually easier to understand for a person new to the sport, and they are often very exciting. Much of the appeal of the jumpers is the fact that it is free of politics or opinions- classes are scored on a technical basis only. The classes range from 2-3 foot jumps and can go up to 5 foot or higher jumps in Grand Prix classes. Show jumping is part of the Olympic Games, whereas hunters and Equitation are not. This is in part because Hunters and Equitation are only really practiced in America, rather than internationally; show jumping is popular all over the world.
Finally, Equitation is a great precursor to the jumpers. Instead of judging the horse, like in hunter classes, the rider is judged on their skill, precision, horsemanship, and form. Within the equitation division, non-jumping classes are called Flat classes (rather than Under Saddle). Courses are more similar to the challenging jumper courses, designed to ask questions of the rider that allow them to demonstrate good judgement, accuracy, and quiet control. They are challenging enough that a even a well-trained horse must be expertly piloted to execute the courses well. Although equitation rounds aren’t usually timed, a smooth, efficient route, or track, from fence to fence is prized. Horses still must be impeccably turned out, even though they aren’t specifically the subject of the judge’s scrutiny, and good behavior of the horse often reflects the composure and competence of the rider, while a rider that expertly handles a mistake by her horse can also be rewarded.