Hunters Explained: What Are the Judges Really Looking For? Presented by Back On Track

For riders who do not compete in hunter classes, photos that show a rider seemingly throwing themselves at their horse over the jump tend to make observers think that hunter riders are “dramatic” or lacking in solid position. It’s a debate that has supporters on both sides of the argument, but what is it that a hunter judge is really looking for during an over fences round, and how does rider position play into this?

John Michael Durr, who competes in eventing, hunters and jumpers as a professional with many training and sales horses, commented that the intent of the hunter rider is to allow the horse to show off, which means staying out of their way.

“I want to go in and show my horses off the best I can,” Durr explained. “I want to put them in a position where they can show off. That means little to no interference from me as the rider.”

It was not an easy transition to go from the more defensive position of cross country riding to the softer, go with the flow style of the hunters for Durr. “It was hard for me to not land in a heap — I can tell you I get jumped out of the tack much more often on a hunter than I ever did on an eventer. I had to really get help to soften my landing position without collapsing.”

At the end of the day, during a jump round the rider is not to be noticed by the judge. Perhaps a photo taken at the peak of a jump shows one thing, but the overall appearance of a round as it unfolds should be smooth and flowing, allowing the judge to focus on what they are judging: the horse.

“You never want to do anything on the back of the horse that will draw the judge’s eye away from the horse,” Durr said. “The reason why the rider often ends up in the ducking position is because they’re trying to stay out of the horse’s way and are sometimes jumped out of the tack in the process. But it is the rider’s jobs to put their horses in the best position to draw attention to themselves, not to interfere.”

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