Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hunter breed shows: An introduction

The horse on the left is not Riley. This is the best young horse at Upperville in 2007. A thoroughbred! And GOR-GEE-US. If you're interested take a look at the photos from the Best Young Horse final at Upperville.

Disclaimer: I'm writing on this topic because I'm going to my FIRST hunter breed show on April 20. Any observations are from reading and talking to veterans of the hunter world. My own perspective is well, shall we say naive?

How are sport horse breed shows (SHBSs) different from hunter breed shows (HBSs)?

I've been to SHBSs, but won't be able to speak about HBSs from experience until April 20, when Riley attends his first one. But from talking to folks and reading about HBSs, here is a list of basic differences.

  • SHBS judges must complete a form which outlines criteria for judging the horse. The breakdown is 30% conformation, 30% walk, 30% trot, and 10% general impression. Judges can add comments. HBS do not complete paperwork/forms, but competitors are judged on conformation, way of moving, quality, substance,
    soundness and suitability to become hunters (per the USEF rulebook).
  • At HBSs, all horses enter the ring at once. Unlike dressage breed shows, a handler can only show one horse (for obvious reasons).
  • Horses in HBSs are shown with front legs square, back legs "staggered."
  • Horses are lined up, then trotted individually. There is no "triangle," and the trots are frankly anemic-looking compared to the SHBS, where handlers go for the gusto -- judges want to see energy, engagement, flash. The hunter trot is more of a jog.
  • SHBS awards are calculated by taking the median score from a minimum of three different shows and two different judges. Hunter breed shows go by points.

Here is footage from a HBS

Some opinions

If you read about any equestrian discipline, you'll run across critiques and discussion of what's not working well, and how it can be improved. Hunter breed shows are no exception. From reading bulletin boards and the Chronicle, I can summarize some of the observations on HBSs. For a fuller discussion, see the postings listed under Resources .
  • The point system compels exhibitors to "chase points," which may reward not the best horse, but the one that has been to the most shows.
  • Judge qualifications. The hunter breeding division requires a separate card from the hunter performance division. This is expensive and thus is a deterrent in a sport that already lacks hunter breeding judges. Judges with a performance card already judge conformation hunters, so why not breed show?
  • Some exhibitors lament that hunter breeding is political, and they argue that the competition should be more about the horse and less about who owns him. It's interesting to note that for the last 20 years, the same handler/owner has had the top young horse at Devon. That statistic totally wowed me, but in talking to a breeder, I learned that nothing is as it seems, at least not completely. The exhibitor is a wealthy horse lover who does not breed, but buys, the best he can find. With money and a good eye, I guess it's at least possible to have a 20 year winning streak.
  • People comment that HBSs are more of a beauty contest than a judgement on athleticism. A veteran of HBSs told me that Riley may not do well because "his ears are too big."
  • Some exhibitors are overprotective of their hunter breeding youngsters -- they're kept in stalls and overfed. They aren't allowed to be young horses, and it affects their longevity/usefulness throughout their life.

What are the costs?
Well, Riley will be showing at a local show on April 20 and at Devon on May 29. Just to give folks an idea of the costs, I'm going to note them here. For the record they're very similar to sport horse breed shows.

Devon, so far:
$207 for one class, a stall for the day, and those overhead costs that accompany big shows (office fees, drug fees, etc.). Anticipated costs: handler fees (TBD), trailering ($225), braiding mane and tail ($75). Not included are various memberships.

Local hunter breed show, so far:
$50 for class; $12 office fee; $10 other = $77. Anticipated costs: handler fees (TBD), trailering (est $100), braiding mane and tail ($75).

It's time to make some changes to U.S. hunter breeding from the Chronicle of the Horse by Bill Moroney

Pretty is as pretty does in hunter breeding
from the Chronicle of the Horse by Molly Sorge

USEF Rules for hunter breeding

Horses that did HB showing and went on further?

In support of hunter breeding

Hunter breeding critique

What, exactly, do hunter breeding division handlers DO?

First time showing in Hunter Breeding...need rule help


  1. Now I've always heard hunters have busy hands when riding--but if all handlers jerk on their young horses' mouths like the man in the video, it's probably only because their mouths are so stone hard that they can't even feel a subtle rein aid! Feel free to correct me (I'm a dressage rider, after all, not a hunter) but I don't see how you can really explain why he needed to yank on that poor young horse! It's not like he was misbehaving...

  2. Good post with a lot of information. It has been a while since we went to a big show and I am surprised to see how much the costs have gone up for braiding. In case we ever start showing again I am glad we trailer and braid ourselves.


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