Three tips to help you win in Hunter Under Saddle

Hunter Under Saddle horses should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, be able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free-flowing movement, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. The head position should be slightly in front of, or on the vertical.

Three tips you might use to help you win in hunter under saddle

1. Light Contact

Hunter under saddle horses in the western held shows should be shown on light contact. Some riders tend to take a hold of their horse’s face too firmly which in turn causes their horse to carry their nose behind the vertical.

When your horse is behind the vertical, it means that his nose is closer to his chest and there’s too much pressure across his poll.

Some horse’s can hold their nose’s behind the vertical while still having a near straight reach with their necks and unless someone else tells the rider, they don’t know, because what they see is a fairly straight neckline, the horse is virtually bracing in the neck while still being behind the vertical.
It can be tricky when you’re in the saddle to know whether or not your horse is behind the vertical. Others will break at the poll and arch their necks in behind the bridle, this is more noticeable to the rider.

Your horse should either be on the vertical or slightly in front about 5 degrees on a light contact.

2. It comes down to balance

Another mistake some riders make when asked to trot is the speed of the trot, which is sometimes way too fast. Hunter under saddle horses are meant to have long, flowing strides that cover ground, this doesn’t equate to more speed. Smoothness is more essential than speed.

When a horse trots too fast it is usually down to balance, if your horse is not balanced, it is very difficult to get control over their frame and have them travel with a nice cadence. It also tells me that the horse is travelling on the forehand.

Rather than practising your hunter moves at home by getting on the rail and letting loose at the trot, get some exercising done in the middle of the pen. With any discipline you tackle, you need to work on exercises, drills and work-outs like callisthenics for your horse. You never see footballers playing football at their training sessions, leave that for show day.

Start by making trot-walk-trot transitions teaching your horse to maintain a soft contact throughout. You will need to make the trot walk transition with your core and your legs not the reins. Do some serpentine’s and don’t be afraid to sit to the trot. Sit with a lot of pressure in your seat while bumping with your legs, contact on the reins, this will help your horse drive up underneath himself, this means he will be putting his hind end into action, when you feel him slow his legs down while still covering ground, begin to post again, repeat over and over.

3. It’s not a lope but a canter

As much as some riders think they need to go fast at the trot, others think they need to go slow at the canter, remember, it is not a western pleasure class. The canter should be smooth, natural, free-moving, relaxed three-beat gait and travel straight on both leads. Excessive speed is also not desirable, you need to be in the “Goldylocks” zone – not too fast, not too slow but just right.

Whether you are training for pleasure or hunter on your horse on a particular day, you should be doing more exercises, drills and callisthenics than riding around your arena fence at the three gaits. 90% of your riding should be directed at work-outs and exercises in the middle of the pen, the other 10% should be used to check on how they will perform on the rail after their work-outs. When finishing up, I like to simulate being at a show under the eye of the judge, see what the horse has got on the rail before putting them away.

First Impressions do count

You are not officially being judged when you ride into the hunter under saddle class until the class is called to order. That’s not to say that the judge isn’t getting in their “first impressions”, this is usually when the judge will write the chosen numbers down on the scorecard. These numbers are not set in concrete, although, they are usually in the judges placings at the end of the class, this is where you want to make a good first impression from the get go even though the class has not exactly commenced. You should have your horse at a good trot before entering the pen when an enter at the trot is called for so that you can show the judge how good your horse trots immediately you enter.

If you can, it’s a good idea to be one of the first in the class so that you can make sure you are seen by the judge, it also gives you a bit more warm up time while the rest of the entrants are coming into the arena. Look around, plan your traffic so you will be visible to the judge and not boxed in each time you pass in front of the judge.

A trick of the trade

Keep your eye on the competition. You can begin this in the warm up pen. Look out for the not-so-good moving horses, work on staying nearer to these horse’s, this will help make your horse look even better.

I hope this article helps you with hunter under saddle. Don’t forget to check out my book From Go To Whoa – Training Your Own Horse.

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From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse


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I am a retired professional horse trainer, active Certified rider coach, I coach riders and their horses throughout Australia and New Zealand, I am the author of the book From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse, I am also a Certified Nutritionist and a professional Keto Coach. I am a keen fisher woman and I love the gym where I weight train 4 days a week. I travel Australia full time now with my husband and our Jack Russell Doug, booking and holding clinics and lessons throughout the country for many remote horse riders as well as not so remote. I love coaching riders and their horses along with helping people with nutrition and the ketogenic diet.

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