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Hunter Jumper Horses - Horse Breeds & Info

Characteristics of the Hunter Jumper Horses Hunter Jumper Horses Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Jumping did not become a feature of hunting until late in the 1700’s. This was largely due to a basic improvement in horse breeding.


Following the importation of Arabians into England, breeders produced a horse that could easily gallop and jump at speed and foxhunting became very popular. Prior to this time no one dreamed of teaching their horse to jump. The development of the light horse that could be used for many purposes, at speed, was the key.

It was the French however who took jumping into art form and throughout the 1600’s to the 1800’s the principles of riding that are used today were evolved. The style of show jumping called Grand Prix first took place in France in 1866.

But from the onset of fox hunting in England, there has been no stopping this popular sport and hunter jumper horses , inside the show ring an out, thrive as highly popular disciplines all over the world today.


Although it was in 1906 that the congress of the International Olympic Committee decided that equestrian sports should be included in the Games, it was not until 1965 that the first Grand Prix took place in the Untied States.

Since then many, many Grand Prix events are offered with several millions in prize money. Today there are millions of horses in the United States and millions of riders. Show Jumping is a sport where people meet as competitors, regardless of sex or age.

No two Grand Prix courses are ever the same and a course designers alters courses according to the level of competition making the course a real test of both horse in terms of jumping ability and the rider in terms of timing and judgment. Distances between fences will vary, various types of combinations are employed and the actual placement of fences can alter the direction of how the course must be ridden and jumped. (A combination = two or more fences known as double and triple combinations). Often a Grand Prix rider will ride more than one horse which is a real test of skill as each horse requires different handling and has different skills.

All jumper classes use the same scoring systems. Horse and rider must take fences in a specified sequence. Their goal is to cover the course with no faults within the time allowed. The style of horse and rider is not a factor and does not affect scoring. However, the rider must excel at guiding the horse to each fence is a balanced manner so the horse may jump successfully and land galloping without having to break stride.

A good rider knows the length of his mount’s stride, with one cantering stride roughly equaling 12 to 14 human paces) and all riders are allowed to walk the course once to plan and determine the best way to cover that course with a particular horse and to save vital time when jumping against the clock. The horse only sees the course once, that being at the time of performance.


The over all types of jumps are vertical (straight) fences and (wide) spread fences. How high, how wide, the construction and placement in relation to other jumps determines the difficulty of the course.

--Vertical: A straight up and down fence, any height without width to it.

--The Wall: A solid looking fence, to be jumped boldly, with the top sections being made of individual blocks able to which fall if hit, so as to give the knockdown penalty.

--Oxer: Two elements in one jump in order to produce a wide spread. The parallel oxer --the front and back rails are of equal height.

--Triple bar: Three elements of graduating heights; a very wide jump.

--Combination: Two or three fences, one to two strides apart each fence marked with a number, followed by the letter of order to be jumped (1A, 1B, 1C). If a horse stops in any part of the combination, the rider must start over again from the first fence and jump A, B and C again.

--Water Jump: A low hedge may be placed at the beginning of the jump or be placed in the center of the water. This is a very wide jump (12 to 16 feet) and the horse must also clear the white tape on the far side or else receive penalty.

--Gate: A vertical jump made to appear solid by using planks, gates and or brush


--1/4th of a Time Fault: For each second, or part of a second over the time allowed
--3 Faults: A first time refusal to jump.
--4 Faults: When any part of a fence is knocked down
--If the horse steps on the edge of, or in, the water jump.
--Faults: For a second refusal to jump.
--Elimination: For a third refusal to jump.
--If either the horse or rider falls.

The horse with the fewest faults (penalties) is the winner.

Open jumper classes are often Jump Off, meaning that all horses jumping without penalties are asked to return for a jump-off round over a shorter course. The scoring is the same, except if a tie occurs and then the fastest wins.

If there is a problem with the horse, or trouble covering the course, or if too many faults have been accrued, a rider may decide not to continue and to leave the ring which is indicated with a nod of the head or by tipping the hat to the judge.


Judges try to determine which hunter in a class most closely approximates the ideal mount for a ride to hounds. A hunter needs beauty, with proper conformation proportions and a small head. Tack should be clean, both bits and horse shiny and clean. The horse’s mane should be braided (small evenly spaced braids) and his tail braided and well combed below the braids.

The hunter should have little leg action as less action conserves energy for the hunting field. For the same reason, the horse should be relaxed with a low neck lightness of carriage and a good expression (ears up and alert for the hunting course ahead).

In judging a Hunter Round, jumping style is of course paramount, with front legs folded even and high. The head and neck outstretched and down in good balance of body and do the job style.

A top hunter never appears difficult to handle. The rider is never judged, but must present his horse as favorable as possible, with as little motion as possible and presenting a look of relaxation and ease.

Judging begins the moment the horse and rider enter the ring and the rider will make an opening circle before guiding the horse to the first jump. The hunter should clear every jump consistently, in good style, with ease and confidence. The pace should also remain consistent, with sudden changes penalized by the judges. A knock down or a refusal are heaving penalized. The horse should remain in the middle of each jump and move with ease through the corners. Beauty, utility and style win ribbons.

Hunter Under Saddle classes are on the flat . The horses are judged at the walk, trot and canter with consideration given to both manners and movement. Again, the hunter must move seemingly without effort wand with the least amount of leg action, moving on a light mouth contact, relaxed, confident and happy, with ears up, neck out and down. A high head or tail swishing are greatly penalized by the judges.

Several hunter divisions are offered at a show, based on different criteria such as age of horse, age of rider, amateur or professional. Each division has 3 or so jumping classes and one under saddle class. Point are earned in each class and the two with the highest points win either Champion or Reserve ribbon for that division.

Major Hunter Faults:

--Refusal; rail down
--Cross canter or wrong lead; sudden pace change
--Hanging a leg, or knees pointing down when jumping
--Running away, out of control, bucking, kicking.

Minor Hunter Faults:

-Pace change
--Slight rubs on the jumps or not in the center of the jump
--Uneven front legs, twisting body
--Ears back, tail swishing, mouth open, high head

A Hunt course is designed to copy actual hunt field conditions and contains about eight jumps consisting of natural colored rails, gates and brush, including verticals and oxer-jumps. Often an in-an-out combination is included, allowing only one or two strides between, to stimulate crossing a road and jumping into another field which is a very normal occurrence on a real fox hunt.

Hunter Jumper horses whether across the fields or in competitive horse shows and events comprise the most popular horse riding discipline in the world other than racing.

Photo at top of page © Jolene Bertrand - Avalon PhotographyArticle © HorseShowCentral.com

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