Secrets to Excelling in Hunter Under Saddle

Secrets to Excelling in Hunter Under Saddle

Eight hunter under saddle tips from AQHA Professional Horsewoman Leslie Lange.

sorrel horse in hunter under saddle (Credit: Journal)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Alexis J. O’Boyle

Have you ever wondered, “What is hunter under saddle judged on?” You should know that in hunter under saddle, the goal you are training for is to highlight the best prospects for fox hunting, and the requirements of the class mirror the kind of horse that would be successful in cross-country fox hunting.

  1. Conformation. When it comes to showing or field work, conformation is the building block of success. A solid and reliable horse will exhibit proper leg, hock and skeletal structure. Remember, if your horse has poor structure, it will be much more difficult for him to perform.
  2. Expression. Does your horse exhibit the “willing to work” attitude? The indications are a soft eye, relaxed jaw, forward and listening ears, and a soft, supple body.
  3. Movement. For a young horse, learning how to create propulsion from its hocks can be challenging, but it is a key factor in the long-strided, fluid, forward horizontal movement needed in the hunter realm, a direct correlation to proper frame.
  4. Frame. A hunter’s neck line should run horizontally with the topline of the horse, while being broken at the poll with the nose slightly tipped in front of the vertical, a headset also known as “looking through the bridle.”
  5. Transitions. Smooth, butter-like transitions are another trade secret when it comes to being competitive in the hunter ring. Smooth transitions make for a prettier ride but also make for a safer ride.
  6. Cadence/Rhythm. Both cadence and rhythm are signs of a good mover. A horse that has a cadence that is too fast or a rhythm that is offbeat can become a horse with a poor, hollowed out frame. Being out of beat can also lead to rough transitions or a lack of communication between horse and rider, all of which could contribute to a dangerous ride. The walk should be a four-beat gait, the trot a two-beat gait and the canter a three-beat gait.
  7. Contact. A hunter is intended to be ridden in-hand. To create the perfect balance, the rider must have both leg contact (calf down) and proper hand-to-mouth contact, with the leg controlling the rear of the horse (its impulse/propulsion) and the hand helping keep the gaits in proper cadence/rhythm and properly guiding the horse in a safe manner.
  8. Show ring presentation. When it comes to the hunter ring, keep your look classic. The rider should sport knee-high field boots, classic jodhpurs and a properly fitted hunt coat.