How are hunt seat classes judged?

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How are hunt seat classes judged?

This is a discussion on How are hunt seat classes judged? within the Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation forums, part of the English Riding category

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    02-15-2012, 12:21 PM
How are hunt seat classes judged?

I normally do dressage but thought beginner hunt seat classes (on the flat) would be fun to try. What do the judges look for in these classes? I have about a month to practice.

Also - what does it mean when the class contains a "horsemanship pattern"? Is that something they instruct you to do in the class or something I should already know like a dressage test?
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    02-15-2012, 08:41 PM
Honestly, I'd avoid them.

Anything "hunter" is judged completely subjectively. At least in dressage there is a standard for each movement and the judges are trained to that standard.

No such thing exists in hunterland.

As far as I am concerned, if I want to show on the flat I'll ride a dressage test. If I want to show over fences, I'll do jumpers where the clock is the judge. If I want to do both, I'll go eventing.

Hunt seat has zero appeal to me
    02-17-2012, 10:26 AM
Hunt Seat is an Equitation class, meaning it is primarily judged on the rider. Working Hunter (or pleasure hunter) is judged on the horse. If it's a local show they may call things differently.

Either way, the ride should be flawless and a pleasure to watch. Nothing should really stand out. The horse should be forward and walk and trot, relaxed at the canter, not completely on the bit (think almost long and low). All requested paces should be picked up in 3 strides (or less) and in a quiet manner.

As for the rider, your job is to just look like you're there enjoying the ride. Legs and hands should be quiet. That's the biggest issue as a dressage rider you may have if you're used to moving your heel/lower leg.

I came from Hunters and now ride Dressage/Eventing, local shows can be fun and a great way to get you and your horse more used to the hubbub of an event without having to worry about pinning. It is subjective to some extent, but if you are going with your own goals in mind, who cares.

Oh.. horsemanship patter, you will like. It's a predefined patter you will either get that morning or the judge will set up. Usually it involves a sitting trot on a straight line, a rising trot changing diagonals in a circle and a canter figure eight... or some sort of variety of that.
    02-17-2012, 11:16 AM
At least in dressage there is a standard for each movement and the judges are trained to that standard.
No such thing exists in hunterland.
You couldn't be more wrong. There absolutely is a standard, and it's similiar to ones used for dressage. Judges are rated "L", "r" and "R" at least at most rated shows and any shows held in compliance with USEF rules.

Have you ever seen a hunter judge's card, and do you know how to interpret the marks and scoring? I have both attended and given clinics in how to mark and how to read a card. Are you familiar with the standard by which hunters are judged? Are you aware that many judges use a straight numerical system, and score rounds as points out of a hundred? Or that Hunter Classics and Derbies have numerical scores posted immediately after the round, a separate score from each judge? Take a look at the rule book on the USEF site, or better yet, read Anna White-Jane Mullen's excellent book "Judging Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation."

It is not about who has the fanciest horse and the most expensive breeches, believe me.

I don't mind that people don't care for hunters as a discipline, but please, learn an iota about the discipline before dismissing it out of hand.


Not sure of the venue that the OP is competing in, but "Hunt Seat" can cover a multitude of classes, not all of which are equitation. Based on the OP's description of the class containing a showmanship pattern, I'm guessing this is a 4-H show, or a local breed show and that it probably is equitation.

OP, if it is beginner hunt seat equitation, the judge will be looking for overall correct design of position, quiet, tactful control of the horse with a light, passive contact through the reins, correct diagnols and correct leads.

Overall impression counts too - tidy, workmanlike turnout, relaxed but forward horse, happy, balanced rider.
    02-17-2012, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by mildot    
Honestly, I'd avoid them.

Anything "hunter" is judged completely subjectively. At least in dressage there is a standard for each movement and the judges are trained to that standard.

No such thing exists in hunterland.

As far as I am concerned, if I want to show on the flat I'll ride a dressage test. If I want to show over fences, I'll do jumpers where the clock is the judge. If I want to do both, I'll go eventing.

Hunt seat has zero appeal to me
I think you are talking at a lower than local "club type" of level where the judges are not really qualified to be judges. Even so, at that level, the fairness in judging would be at any discipline.

In reality, even Local level shows have criteria to follow. Now, just because one might not agree with the judges decision, does not mean they aren't following a guideline...
    02-17-2012, 12:32 PM
This is a Pony Club show - it's a fundraiser. I'm at an eventing barn, I don't event (although I love my barn), so I don't get to go often with my barn-mates to shows. They're going to this one for the jumper classes and since this one has the beginner flat classes I thought I might give it a go.

I just didn't really have a clue what's important to work on since it's not something I do. I've watched a couple videos and gotten a better idea - I just don't like the idea of going into a class without being throughly prepared.
    02-17-2012, 01:53 PM
Remy, here you go -

Hunter Seat Equitation defined by the USEF rule book.

"Hunter Seat Equitation is a division that is judged on the ability and the style of the rider. The riders can be judged both over fences and on the flat. In over fences classes the riders are judged not only on their ability to negotiate a course of jumps on their horses, but also on their style and position while they do it. The rider should demonstrate that they have a good understanding not only of what the questions of the course are, but how best to answer them. They are trying to execute a smooth and consistent round, using invisible aids, and trying to make their round seem completely effortless. Their position should remain both accurate and stylish throughout the round. On the flat riders are tested at the walk, trot and canter at the lower levels, and at more difficult gaits, such as strong or collected walk, trot, and canter, or counter canter and hand gallop, in higher level classes. They are to demonstrate proper riding of the horse at all these gaits, as well as accurate and stylish position. Hunter seat equitation riders can be tested in both flat and over fences classes. These tests are outlined in the USEF Rule Book and include such things as halting, backing, trot jumps, riding without stirrups, etc."

And Hunters and Hunt Seat in general:

"Hunters over fences are judged on performance and soundness. Judges are looking for great jumping style, quality of both looks and movement, as well as willingness, manners, and suitability of horse and rider. The round over fences itself should be judged on evenness of pace, as well as consistency of distances. In over fences classes hunters are judged over fences that simulate fences found in the hunt field such as coops, walls, gates, etc. Some hunter classes over fences are what we call Handy Hunter classes. These classes emphasize tight turns, creative approaches, brilliance and pace. Hunters are also shown on the flat. These classes are called under saddle classes and are judged both directions at the walk, trot, canter, and sometimes the hand gallop. Movement, manners, and quality are judged at all gaits."

Pony Club places the emphasis on a happy rider on a happy horse, and tends to emphasize safety and suitability over qualith, but otherwise will probably adhere to the guidelines above.


Oh, and good luck and post back and let us know how you do!
    02-17-2012, 03:50 PM
Originally Posted by maura    
It is not about who has the fanciest horse and the most expensive breeches, believe me.
You cracked me up, maura! Isn't it true about dressage as well? (or at least we have people complaining about it)
    02-18-2012, 12:08 PM
Just for reference, for future members who click into this thread because of the title (and honestly, because some of the attitudes expressed here about hunters irritated me and I can't let go), here's a terrific reference on judging hunters -

Scorecard Secrets

A judge’s insights demystify seemingly subjective hunter rounds.

By Cindy Hale

“The judge just doesn’t like my horse.” Unfortunately that’s a common rationalization when a rider is perplexed about her horse’s lack of a ribbon in a hunter class. However, a prejudicial judge isn’t usually the problem. Instead, it’s often a lack of understanding about how hunters are evaluated and how the judge actually keeps score.

Clarifying Criteria
Most competitors can recite the basic traits of a successful show hunter, which mirror the qualities originally found in field hunters ridden with hounds. The most important is the manner in which the horse jumps the fences. Anything that detracts from a smooth, safe trip around the course will lower the horse’s score. For example, poor jumping form such as loose or dangling front legs is heavily penalized because it could result in a dropped rail. Each fence should also be jumped from a consistent take-off distance. A tiny stride added at the base of the jump—known as a “chip”—interrupts the flow of the performance. The horse’s pace is also important, as it is a reflection both of manners and ability. A horse that is rambunctiously raring to go is not representative of a pleasant mount to ride. And if a hunter cannot make it through the lines on a course in the prescribed number of strides without launching into warp drive, he probably doesn’t possess the long, ground-covering step that is sought after in show-ring competition.
With so much going into evaluating a show hunter’s performance, it seems like there should be a wealth of information jotted down on the judge’s scorecard.

“I’ve had classes with 110 hunters, each one needing a score. There isn’t time to write a chapter of comments for each horse. It’s impossible! As soon as one horse finishes the last fence, the next horse comes into the arena,” explains Meredith Kistler, a United States Equestrian Federation hunter judge since 1981.

As a result, hunter judges develop their own shorthand: a collection of cryptic slashes, dots, acronyms and hieroglyphics that mean something just to them. That way, they can quickly make their notations as the horse goes around the course. At a glance, they can decipher how they arrived at that horse’s score, if an exhibitor should ask. Being forced to ask the judge to untangle the web of mysterious markings has a benefit, Meredith says.

“I know that at the bigger shows, riders are not really able to approach the judge. But I think that at smaller shows, as long as they go through the show manager or the steward, competitors should take the opportunity to ask the judge what they might do better next time. It helps them become educated competitors. I can explain my marks in a way that isn’t offensive. As a judge, I never want to insult the exhibitor. It costs a lot of money to walk into the arena and ride in front of me. The last thing I want to do is come off as condescending.” Hence, Meredith focuses on noting positive things about each horse. “One comment I might make for a hunter is, ‘rider tense/horse still soft’ because it reminds me that even though, for example, a novice rider seemed a little scared or apprehensive, the horse did his job quietly and took care of his rider. That’s a great quality in a hunter for that level of rider.”

Meredith believes that as exhibitors become more educated, they’ll cease resorting to excuses like their belief that the judge has something against their horses. “Oh, I’ve overheard comments, such as ‘She doesn’t like my horse because he’s gray; she doesn’t like gray horses.’ That’s not true. I owned a wonderful gray hunter. I love grays. But the rider still has to come into the arena and put in a decent trip.” Meredith even offered how sometimes she sits in the judge’s booth and can’t help but quietly ride along with the exhibitor. “Sure, I’ll see a horse come in, start on course, and think, ‘Oh, I like him.’ And then the rider will get him to a horrible take-off spot. Or he’ll look at a jump and stick off the ground, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, don’t do that!’ ”

So it’s not favoritism that decides the ribbons in a hunter class. More often, it’s ability.

Report Card
Meredith offers a glimpse at a typical hunter scorecard. Along the far side is a spot to note the exhibitor’s number. Next to that is a row of boxes where she scribbles marks signifying how the horse jumped each fence. Following that is a blank space where she has a chance to record anything particularly noteworthy about that horse’s performance. All of this information results in a numerical grade, which is placed in the last row of boxes beneath the appropriate column of potential scores. Although it seems that the numerical score is subjective, it really isn’t.

The hunter round is being awarded a holistic score based on the overall impression, with 100 being the perfect score. In fact, there have been a few scores of 100 at major hunter competitions, although they are very rare.

“There are automatic scores for major faults,” Meredith says. “There may be a discrepancy between judges of a few points, but basically we all score major faults the same. A rail down in a hunter class is an automatic 55. If a horse breaks the canter and trots on course, it’s a 50. A refusal gets you a 30.”

All of these scores are analogous to getting a D or an F on a test in school signifying that you need to study harder because you aren’t making the honor roll. Meredith says that there are “little things” that also keep a hunter out of the ribbons in a large class.

“While a baby green hunter might be forgiven for skipping through a lead change, where they take a step behind at the trot to catch up onto the correct lead, in any other hunter class that would be seen as trotting on course, and be scored as a 50.”

Another lead change problem that might go unnoticed by a rider? “A horse that swaps his lead in front of the jump,” Meredith explains. “That’s hard for most riders to feel. They think they’ve put in this wonderful round, and can’t understand why they didn’t pin, but unless they had someone knowledgeable on the rail watching their round, they won’t know what I saw.”

That scenario leads to one of Meredith’s pet peeves, echoed by other judges. “Unless educated exhibitors have a good understanding of how their horses performed, and then saw every other round in the class, they really can’t make disparaging comments about the judging.” Each horse is, after all, judged against an ideal standard, “but ultimately each horse is being compared to the other horses in that particular class.”

Now, I don't use exactly the same notation as used on this card, but I understood this judge's notations pretty quickly after reading the card, and before reading the article. The half moon vs. a straight line vs. a ^ notation for the arc of the horse's jump is pretty much universal, as is the X for refusal. Other notations may be more idiosyncractic to the individual judge. For instance, I usually left the blocks at 1 and 10 open to score my overall impression and the beginning and ending hunter circle and scored the fences in blocks 2 - 9. I also marked blown or missed changes, or half changes on the line between the blocks.
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    02-18-2012, 08:27 PM
Maura, that's the assumption I made was that it was a local/4-H type show, as A's typically don't call a class Hunt Seat. I think it's wonderful that you, a respected forum member are openly nonbias about different disciplines, hopefully others can learn from it.

Remy- Kudos for trying to prepare, but don't forget the most important part.... HAVE FUN!

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