This post may contain affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases. Learn More
Hunter, jumper, and equitation shows are popular in North America, especially among amateur riders with a passion for jumping. However, to those unfamiliar with the terms, the difference between the three classes is often unclear.
The main difference between hunter, jumper, and equitation classes lies in the judging system. While all three classes are performed over an obstacle course, the scoring is subjective in the hunting and equitation division and objective in the jumping division.
More specifically, hunters are judged based on the performance of the horse, while jumpers are scored on time and the number of faults. Last but not least, the focus of equitation classes is on the performance and style of the rider. In this article, we delve deeper into the differences between each division:
The Divisions of Hunter Jumper Shows
Hunter jumper shows are very popular in North America and much less common in Europe. In the United States, the sport is overseen by the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA).
Hunter jumper shows have three divisions: hunter, jumper, and equitation. While all divisions involve the rider navigating an obstacle course in a ring, each event is judged differently. Below, we examine all three divisions more closely:
According to the USEF, the hunter division has its roots in traditional fox hunting. Back in the day, hunters used to ride their horses across the countryside searching for prey. To avoid losing sight of the game, riders would often jump their horses over fences and natural obstacles, which is how show hunting was born.
As a result, hunter classes test the essential qualities in a good hunting horse: a calm demeanor, comfortable gaits, and quality jumping style. Therefore, today’s hunter horses or show hunters must be well trained and sensitive to the rider’s aids.
Compared to jumping, hunter classes require a slightly more “artistic” and sophisticated riding style. They are held both on the flat and over fences and welcome riders of all levels.
Hunter courses usually include 8-12 natural-style fences that resemble classic fox hunting obstacles. They are generally more basic than jumping courses with a simpler design and lower maximum height.
Although hunter classes are more of a starting point than an end goal for professional riders, over five national Hunter Classic competitions in the U.S. offer at least $25,000 in prize money.
You can watch an example of a hunter round below:
Also read: 11 Best Showjumping Horses of All Time
While hunter classes require a more artistic mindset, the jumper division is all about speed and strategic riding. Both riders and horses must be athletic and daring to excel in this sport. Unlike hunting, show jumping is a highly popular discipline in North America and worldwide.
The jumper division has an objective scoring system that measures speed and the number of faults during each round.
According to the USHJA, the horse and rider receive 4 faults for each pole knocked down, 4 faults for each refusal to jump, and 1 fault for every second over the time set to complete the course. If the horse refuses to jump three times, the combination is disqualified from the event.
Many jumping competitions have two rounds, the initial and jump-off rounds. If a rider completes the course within the allocated time and clears all jumps, they move into the second round. The jump-off is a tie-breaker round where the fastest rider with the fewest poles on the ground wins.
Jumper courses are more technical than hunter ones and usually consist of 12-16 jumps. Other than racing against the clock, the rider has to successfully navigate greater heights, tight corners, and complex combinations to stand a chance at winning.Below is an example of a typical jumper round:
Also read: 12 Best Horse Breeds for Jumping
Equitation classes are similar to hunter in that the judging is entirely subjective. However, while the hunter division focuses on the horse’s form and performance, equitation puts the rider in the spotlight.
To do well in this division, riders must have excellent posture and style and communicate with nearly invisible aids during the round. The judges will keep a close eye on the rider’s hands, legs, and seat and mark down excessive movement and fidgeting.
The rider’s job in equitation is to create the impression of “just sitting there.” While horses are not judged at all in this division, they need to have professional training to create a harmonious picture with the rider.
Since equitation classes require a flawless riding technique, they are a great place to start out for ambitious show jumpers. The solid foundation gained in this division will give riders a head start towards a successful jumping career.
Below is a clip from the 2014 WIHS Equitation Finals:
What Is a Hunt Seat?
The hunt seat is a riding position where the rider’s weight is shifted from the saddle into the stirrups. Its purpose is to allow the horse greater freedom of movement while keeping the rider secure and in control.
Unsurprisingly, the hunt seat is commonly seen in American hunter jumper shows, as well as show jumping and eventing. Like many other riding customs, its origins are rooted in traditional fox hunting.
Also known as forward seat riding or two-point position, the hunt seat is recognized by both the USEF and USHJA.
In the hunt seat, the rider’s weight presses down on the stirrups, while the hands are light and the eyes are looking at the next fence. Due to its practicality, the hunt seat has become a popular riding position not only on the competition circuit, but also among hobby riders.
Are Hunter or Jumper Classes Harder?
Many riders consider jumper classes harder as the obstacles are higher and easier to knock down than hunter jumps. However, the jumper division has an objective scoring system that is more straightforward for beginners.
Hunter and jumper classes are difficult to compare as they require a different riding attitude. While the more complex jumper courses test speed and athleticism, hunter classes require a more “artistic” riding style. Therefore, riders might find one or the other easier depending on their approach to riding.
What Is the Difference Between a Hunter and a Jumper Horse?
If you live in North America, you might’ve heard horse people talk about hunter/jumper horses. The term might be confusing at first, as it’s unclear whether it refers to one or two different types of horses. And so, many people wonder, what is the difference between a hunter and a jumper horse?
The main difference between a hunter and a jumper horse is their performance style. Since hunters are judged subjectively based on movement and conformation, they must maintain a correct frame throughout the round. Whereas, jumpers are judged objectively based on speed and faults.
In order to win over the judges, hunters must always be in perfect harmony with their riders. The rules for jumpers are simpler; the fastest round with the least faults always wins. Style doesn’t matter here – riders only need to defeat the course and the clock.
What Should I Look For in a Hunter Jumper Horse?
A good hunter jumper horse is athletic and forward-going, although not overreactive. To do well in both classes, the horse must have good form over the jumps alongside smooth and correct gaits.
A good show hunter will have tightly folded knees over the fences and good hind leg technique. The horse’s way of going on flat ground is also important. Judges typically look for “daisy cutting,” which is long and graceful trot strides with a slight bend in the knees.
The canter should be ground-covering and lopey, indicating effortless movement. The good hunter jumper horse should also have a positive attitude towards work and a pleasant, brave personality.
Is Hunter Jumper in the Olympics?
Hunter jumper is not currently an Olympic discipline. However, show jumping has been part of the Olympics since 1912, along with dressage and eventing.
Show jumping has always been a popular sport drawing large crowds who love to watch horses and riders tackle difficult jumps. Increasing prize money has also attracted elite competitors to the discipline, lifting it to Olympic heights.
In contrast, hunter jumper shows are more appealing to lower-lever riders with ambitions for a show jumping career. They are also few and far between outside the United States, while show jumping is popular worldwide.
How High Do Hunter Jumpers Jump?
Hunters typically jump around 4′ to 4’9″ (125 to 145 cm) high, while show jumpers go a maximum of 5’3″ (160 cm) high.
As the focus is on style and not on athleticism, hunter courses are on average lower and less complex than jumper ones. While some show jumping events like puissance will have a fence that is higher than 5’3″ (160 cm), no courses are set above this height.