The hunters. It’s where so many Americans begin their riding careers. From the pony ring to the transition to the equitation arena, the hunters is the gateway to other disciplines for a lot of riders. It also plays a major role in America’s longstanding equitation foundation in high performance show jumping.
I grew up riding in the hunters, so maybe I’m biased. It’s always been the ring I’ve enjoyed the most, even though I also compete in dressage and now eventing. But so many of my dressage and eventing friends turn up their nose at the hunters. I get it – the methodical pace and precision of the hunters isn’t for everyone.
But anyone who calls it “easy” doesn’t understand it as an art form.
I was watching my trainer give an adult semi-beginner a riding lesson the other day. This new rider at our farm wanted to jump, and had goals of competing in the jumper ring sometime soon. “I want to go fast!” She said excitedly when my trainer asked her why the jumpers instead of the hunters.
“Anybody can go fast,” my trainer replied.
Little did this new rider know, but my trainer was going to make her graduate from the hunters before she allowed her to compete in the jumper arena.
“Anybody can ride in the the jumpers. But everyone should start in the hunters. It teaches you to be light in the aids.”
The first time I heard my trainer explain this, it really stuck. It makes a lot of sense to me. The hunters teaches the rider to ride light in the saddle and on the bit. It trains the rider how to find a distance and ride confidently for the number. It teaches the rider how to balance a horse properly without forcing an artificial “frame”.
The hunters get a bad rep for a number of mostly valid reasons: the drugs, the insufferable body standards, the high price tags of the horses.
Dressage and eventing bring their own complexities, of course. There’s no fair way to compare one style of riding to another. But in its purest form, the hunters is the most challenging type of riding I do. I am a better rider in the dressage arena and out on the cross-country course because of the foundation I logged in the hunter ring.