Horse Showing

Hunter Under Saddle Strategy

June 15, 2011

Here are a few tips to help improve your hunter under saddle show-ring strategy.

By AQHA Professional Horseman Chuck Briggs in The American Quarter Horse Journal

hunter under saddle horse

Catch the judges eye in a good way from the time you enter the arena. Journal photo.

In hunter under saddle classes, judges find their favorite horses during the first direction around the ring. In the second direction, they place their horses. That’s why we call the second direction the “money direction” – that’s when it’s all said and done. Getting your horse shown well in both directions requires a little defensive driving on your part. Here’s what I tell my amateurs to do:

  • Make That First Impression

The first impression the judges get of you is the most important in a hunter under saddle class. Do your schooling outside the ring. When you go in there, be ready to show.

  • Avoid the Crowd

The biggest problem anyone has in a hunter under saddle class is avoiding a crowd – if you end up showing in a crowd of three or four horses, you won’t get your horse shown. Do everything you can to get out of the crowd.

  • Start Out Well

If you start with a bad rail position, you are more than likely going to have a bad position for the entire class. The best time to get to a good spot on the rail is right before the class begins.

AQHA Professional Horsewomen Carla Wennberg and Leslie Lange point out, with step-by-step instructions, what they view as most important in a hunter under saddle horse — not just in movement but in conformation and expression. Learn more in the “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD!

  • Show on the Rail

You can’t hug the rail all the time, especially when there’s a fair amount of horses in the class. But you are supposed to show on the rail, so find your spot and work to stay there.

  • Know Your Horse

Plan your strategy around your horse. If you have a big horse with a big stride, you don’t want to be on the inside of the ring because it will look like you are passing everyone all the time. Take that horse to the rail, stay on the rail and make him look slower.

  • Know Your Competition

Be aware of the other horses you are showing against. If your horse doesn’t canter the best, you don’t want to be positioned next to one that canters really nicely – you want to be on the other side of the ring.  Likewise, if you know there’s a horse that doesn’t walk well or can act up a little, avoid it.

  • Use Your Gait Changes

When the judges call for a gait change, they want you to do it immediately; when they say canter, they want you to canter. But you can use that transition to improve your rail position. If they say “canter” and you’re in a great spot off by yourself, then go. Don’t wait for the other horses to go by you, because then your horse is going to want to go with the crowd. You can also use a reverse in the same way. You need to be courteous to the person judging the class, so don’t take all day to do it. But you can walk out a little and take your time in the reverse to improve your rail position. The walk is a good place to get rail position. If you see a spot that’s wide open, walk up a little and then turn.

  • Know Where the Judges Are

Most judges are going to pick the place they judge from, and that’s where you need to show: in front of them in that spot. Know where your judges are all the time. If you need to correct or fix your horse, be aware of where they are looking before you do it. They’re more likely to watch you when you come out of the corner and come down the straightaway, so have your horse ready to come out of the corner.

In the “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD, AQHA Professional Horsewomen Carla Wennberg and Leslie Lange comment on horses competing in a hunter under saddle class so you can see exactly why a judge makes certain decisions, and why he or she might place one horse over another. Order your copy today!

  • Backing

If you know your horse gets a little nervous in the lineup, or when the crowd claps, have a plan for that. Know how the judges run the class; watch the class before yours and see which end of the ring they start from when backing horses in the line-up. If your horse gets nervous, plan it so you back early and enter the line-up on that end of the ring. Then your horse is done, and the judges are headed to the other end. Don’t be the first to back if you know your horse doesn’t back well.

  • Schooling

If you are going to school your horse in a class, never ever let it interrupt the flow of the class. When the judge calls for a canter, you’d better be cantering. Likewise, if you have a horse that’s a problem, get it out of the way. Don’t canter slowly, cramming him on the rail, making people go around you. That’s rude.

  • The Benefit of the Doubt

It’s too easy to think people are being intentionally rude to you in a class, when most of the time, they aren’t aware of it. People are often nervous, and you don’t think when you are nervous. It’s usually just an accident. You’ve got to give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time, it’s not going to make that much difference in the class anyway.

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