Archived Backcopies

by Lisa Le Provost

Traditionally a hack was considered to be a horse that was ridden by a gentleman on his short journey from the stables to the hunt field - a glamorous saddle horse, upon which the gentleman could make an impression and an entrance. Once at the hunt, however, he would change from his hack to his hunter to follow hounds for the day¹s riding over varying terrain. The hunter horse thus was a strong, powerful animal that commanded attention and had the substance and bone necessary to carry weight for long periods of time. Most importantly, however, it had the manners and temperament to make a suitable mount for a full day's riding.

Modern show and working hunter horses are a celebration of the traditional hunt horse and as such must embody the characteristics of their forefathers. Today, hunter judges pay particular attention to the manners, type, bone and movement of a horse to discern whether it would make an appropriate hunt mount. A hunter horse therefore should be alert and eager to follow the aids of its rider. Happy and enthusiastic, it should give the impression of a sturdy and reliable companion.

The typical show hunter workout requires horses to demonstrate changes of rein, transitions both within and between paces and a gallop. To be able to execute these movements with apparent ease and effortlessness the rider must support, guide and help their horse to balance and carry itself. A smooth and seamless workout doesn't happen for those who simply ride the shoulders and the neck of their horse and allow the rear end to trail behind. Before anything else, a rider must learn how to direct and control the horse¹s energy, whilst being aware of what is happening to the horse's body as a whole.

Each workout should be expressive and tell a story of the relationship and communication between horse and rider and have the added element of being a demonstration of what may be required of the horse in the hunt field.
Movements, such as extended trots (different from lengthened trot) and complicated transitions, which would not usually be seen on the hunt field, should not be requested in the hunter ring. Similarly if the horse doesn¹t look relaxed and the whole picture is one of tension this will be penalised as jig-jogging, a jammed neck or hollow back do not indicate the submissiveness required of a hunter. Judges will be watching to see that the hunter horse is accepting of the bridle - moving into and seeking out the contact as well as being responsive and reactive to its rider.

For riders, it is always good pre showing preparation to practice all possible workouts at home that might be asked for at a show. Ideally the horse should be comfortable in what it is doing before being presented to a judge, so it is never a good idea to try to execute movements for the first time on the ring. In the workouts the rider needs to be aware of not letting the horse run instead, counting the paces in their head. When training at home, the rider can listen to music on their iPod as they ride as this will ensure evenness of pace and reduce any tendency to allow the horse to rush. Faster doesn¹t always means flashier especially if in the act of pushing the horse forward the rider causes the horse to fall onto the forehand and to run through the bit.

The secret of presenting a good workout is setting up and riding every moment of the workout. If riders are always one step ahead of their horse, then the workout will appear smooth and planned. One way to train this at home is to practice allowing time in the transitions for the horse to prepare itself by giving a little half halt before the transition to check and keep the horse balanced. Remember, that in the ring transitions don¹t have to be made the instant they are asked for by the judge. Once a transition is called for, the rider can take a moment to ensure the horse is balanced and really listening, as a well executed transition is far preferred by most judges over a hurried transition made the minute the judge indicates.

Transitions are important as undeniably, a series of good transitions can make the difference between winning a hunter class and being left at the end of a line up. One of the most important transitions in a hunter workout is the transition from a contained canter to gallop. Many riders struggle under the misconception that if they stand up out of their saddle and generally agitate their horse that the judge will be satisfied they have achieved a gallop. Nine times out of ten, however, the effect of this is that their horse responds by taking short, rushed steps. A good judge will always be looking for a clear transition between the two paces, watching for the four beats associated with a true gallop, rather than a frantic three beat canter.

The correct way to achieve this is to first have the horse in balance, carrying itself and really listening to the rider so when asked for the lengthened pace it is expressive and driven from behind. At home, riders taking the time to practice riding from a collected canter to a gallop and back again will help to ensure than both upwards and downwards transitions are clear before long the horse will begin to understand that when the rider sits back, relaxes and asks the horse to come back, it should relax into the canter.

A show hunter judge will always ask for a change of direction in a workout and in particular they are looking to see that the horse is carrying itself with the correct flexion. To do this correctly a rider must ride the horse Œfrom inside leg to outside rein¹. Riding in such a way stops the horse falling out through the shoulder and allows its inside hind leg to step up underneath itself so that it can begin to carry the its own weight and that of the rider. When changing direction a judge will look to see that the horse is responsive to the rider¹s new inside leg and shows a corresponding change in flexion. The rider must concentrate on the bend through the horse¹s body as a whole, as this keeps it together through the change in direction. An established competitor will use the corners of their workout to set up the next part, rather than allowing the horse to lean in and string itself out around the bend.

The education of a hunter should not be limited to the show ring or arena - the secret of a good hunter¹s preparation is variety. Riding hunters over uneven terrain and on trails with long stretches ideal for practicing gallops allow them to become more foot sure and bold. Challenging the hunter with small fences encourages balance and improves its general well-being. Every rider should be wary of the 'washing machine effect' of just riding around and around in circles. Using transitions between and within the paces combined with figures of eight, serpentines, ten metre circles, shoulder fore etc. to vary the training sessions will help ensure riders are always progressing with their horse.

Last, but not least, riders should always finish any training session with the ability to name at least a couple of things they have achieved. If the session does not go quite to plan and hasn¹t achieved what the rider set out to, they should not keep pushing the point but return to doing work, which they and the horse are familiar and comfortable with, once they have regained the horse¹s concentration and trust. Every horse has its own way of learning and with each new combination there are always challenges. It is incredibly rewarding, however, and before long riders will find they do come upon that special place where horse and rider have really begun to work as a team.

A Show Hunter horse does not have to be of any specifìc breeding, most importantly it is a quality, upstanding, well schooled, well mannered workmanlike horse carrying more bone and substance than the Show Hack. A good Show Hunter is sound in both leg and wind and is a weight carrying animal capable of carrying its rider comfortably over varying terrain with ease and safety over a period of time without appearing mechanical or dull. The picture should be one of strength, quality and presence with visual appeal to the judge and spectator.

CONFORMATION: Selection should be on; Straight, correctly set legs, front and rear view; short, wide cannon bones with clean, well developed tendons; large, clean, flat joints (especially knees, hocks and fetlock joints); well shaped feet, which are in proportion to the horse; short, broad and well muscled back and loins. A hunter horse over 15hh should carry beween 8-9 inches of bone and a Pony Hunter or Galloway should carry the general attributes of a Show Hunter, with the bone being commensurate to the size of the animal.
Splints and scars should not be discriminated against as long as they do not appear to cause unsoundness.

MOVEMENT, PACES AND MANNERS: Movement should be ground covering, straight, careful and slighty plainer than the extravagant movement of a Show Hack, whilst being smooth, effortless, sweeping, elevated and clean. Extreme and flashy is not acceptable, nor is short, choppy movement or high knee action.

A gallop is expected of Show Hunters and this should always form part of the workout PROVIDING Show Societies allocate adequate space that is not dangerous or wet. A true gallop should be executed - flat strap and out of control is not correct. The gallop should be immediate without any signs of laziness, with the horse covering the ground in big, easy strides and finishing calmly and without pulling.

Rather than requesting a lengthened trot (a big toe flicking extension should not win a hunt class) a judge may ask for a strong trot with some lengthening to be shown.

Manners are extremely important but the Show Hunter should not appear robotic. Deliberate disobediences such as napping, bucking, rearing or refusing to walk or stand in the workout or line up should be penalised.




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