The Hunter/Jumper sport is made up of two disciplines: Hunter and Jumper, also known as Show Jumping. Each year more than 1,000 US Equestrian-rated and countless other local Hunter/Jumper competitions take place across the country. Each show offers competition for riders of varying skill levels, and each offers Hunter, Jumper and Equitation classes. While Hunter and Jumper classes judge the horse, Equitation classes judge the rider.
The origin of the show ring hunter can be found in the sport of fox-hunting where horse and rider galloped over miles of countryside with varying terrain negotiating natural obstacles (fences, hedges, stone walls) encountered along the way while in the pursuit of the game. Modern hunter classes were designed to test the qualities and attributes of a successful hunt horse. These classes are subjectively judged based on the horse’s performance over fences as well as its quality of movement under saddle on the flat. Show hunters should possess good style over the jumps, consistent pace throughout the course, as well as quiet manners. Hunter rounds should appear smooth and effortless to the spectator with the horse and rider working together to make the course flow from one jump to the next. Hunter courses typically consist of eight to 10 jumps that are more organic in form and generally lower in height than fences used in jumper classes.
Jumper classes are scored objectively based solely on the horse’s athletic ability over fences as measured by time. A jumper’s only job is to clear all the fences in the course as quickly as possible without incurring any faults. A horse incurs faults for each mistake made: four faults for each rail knocked down, four faults for every refusal, and 1 fault for every second over the maximum time allowed to negotiate the course. The horse with the least amount of faults and the fastest time wins. Jumper courses, which are technical in nature and typically consist of 12-16 jumps, require strategic riding in addition to a swift pace.
Equitation classes are judged on the rider’s ability, form, and skill to allow the horse to perform at its best, but the horse itself is not judged at all. The types of jumps and elements that make up an equitation course can resemble those used in either hunter or jumper classes, but the judging is subjectively based on the rider’s position, style, proficiency, accuracy, use of the aids (hands, seat and legs), as well as an overall impression of complete and quiet control.