Sunday, July 12, 2009

Performance Spotlight--Handy Hunters

Performance showers take note--the Hunter class has become a much friendlier place for all those walking, trotting, galloping and turning models! Earlier this year the USEF ( enacted the following rule change:

5. In “A” rated sections, at least two different courses are required in Conformation sections
and at least three different courses in Working sections. A change of direction (change
of lead) is recommended in all sections. All “A” rated sections, except for Green and
Regular Hunter Pony sections, must offer an over fence class as a handy hunter. “AA” rated Regular Hunter Pony sections must also run one over fences class as a Handy Hunter.
See also HU168. BOD 1/13/08 Effective 12/1/08 EC 3/16/09 Effective immediately

Confused? Don't be. Basically this rule states that A rated hunter shows are now required to hold at least one class in each division over a "Handy Hunter" course. Unlike regular hunter courses that are performed entirely at a working canter, handy courses require changes of speed and gait and may also include a few, non traditional obstacles. Here is another excerpt from the rulebook:

6. In Handy classes obstacles must simulate those found in trappy hunting country. The
course must have at least two changes of direction and at least one combination as well as
three of the following: hand gallop a jump, bending line, rollback turn, fence at the end of the
ring or open a gate while mounted, trot over one obstacle, or lead over one obstacle.
Judges must place emphasis on promptness and tight turns with precedence being given in that order

In addition, handy hunter courses can utilize unconventional hunter fences--narrow jumps, jumps without groundlines and option fences where the rider may choose to take either the left or right side of two connected jumps.

Handy Hunter courses aren't a new invention by any means. However, prior to the inception of this rule, they were fairly uncommon. I spent five years living and working on the A show Hunter circuit, but until yesterday I'd only seen a handful of classes with this format. I don't know how trainers and exhibitors feel about the new rule, but I for one am absolutely delighted to see hunters and hunter riders tackle something more challenging than a traditional hunter course.

The class I watched had lots of turns and a trot fence. There may have been a hand gallop section. I spent most of my time down in the corner by the trot fence and could have easily missed a temporary change in pace. Although I would have loved to have seen the competitors try to open a gate or lead their horses over an obstacle, I sort of suspect those particular tests are fairly uncommon (and too bad, because that's how you could fit your walking model into a hunter class!).

On to the pictures! Here is a connected, two in one option fence. The coop on the left hand side is much narrower than a regular hunter jump and required the horse and rider to negotiate a more complicated approach to the next jump. All the entries I watched took the easier brushbox side.
This is one of those entries in midair over the brush box.
If it wasn't for the hunter-y turnout, you might guess the next picture was taken during a jumper class. This rider is asking her horse to turn in midair--a smart strategy when the trying to make a tight turn to the next fence. The entire course was quite complicated and bendy, perfect for all those models posed in turning positions.Not everyone was perfect. Several horses and riders became a little discombobulated with all those turns.
This is half of the trot fence. Like the other option jump, it is a single fence with three standards--one on each side and one in the middle. Competitors could choose to jump whichever side they preferred.
The next two series of pictures show a pair of Amateur Owner hunters negotiating the trot fence obstacle during their Handy courses. The bay hunter canters into...
and around the corner of the ring.
She comes back to a trot
and trots to the base of the jump.
This rider chose to jump the right hand side of the trot fence. She rode the line to the jump very well and was rewarded with this nice effort from her horse. The horses are expected to land cantering and proceed to the next fence.The grey horse also cantered into... and around the corner. This is how most of the horses approached the obstacle, although a few picked up their trot before the turn. Like many horses in the class, the gray was somewhat reluctant to transition from the canter to a trot. His head is up, his ears are back and his tail is swishing.
That irritation is fleeting, however. In the next picture the horse is thinking forward again. He's seen the jump and is moving eagerly toward it.
The rider has taken him back just a bit, probably to be sure he's pointed at the side of the jump she wants to take (in this case, the left hand side).
He also jumps out nicely (although it's a bit hard to tell from this picture!).
Although I am really looking forward to seeing some new and interesting setups in the model hunter ring, I want to remind you that above all this is still a hunter class. Your entry should look controlled and polished--this is not a place for models in extreme poses. Tight turns are good, but they need to be tight turns performed at a canter. Your cutting posed models won't work. Hand gallop is fine but big, full out galloping strides are not (sorry, Smarty Jones and Cigar!).


  1. Keep it coming! I have a trotting pony to show! :-)

  2. Can I use tehse pictures for a reference card? I have a CB that I show in hunters, but have a hard time explaining properly that trot fences do exist in lots of hunter/medal classes :)

  3. yea! Thanks for the trot jump photos. I use the CB and the Palouse to do a trot jump in Handy Hunter or Hunter Hack. Pictures are few and far between!

  4. I am surprised that so many of these horses are wearing standing martingales, as I'd always been taught never to use a standing martingale when jumping. Indeed here in the UK they are banned from most showing classes, especially classes with jumps involved.

  5. It can be *very* hard to find good reference pictures of a trot fence at an A rated show which is why I took so many. I wanted to make darn sure I had some good ones by the time it was all said and done.

    The people who ride at the big A shows in the US like their standing martingales. You see them on most of the ponies and hunters and an awful lot of the jumpers, too. They are perfectly legal in all the over fences classes except for jumping classes held under FEI rules (mostly big Grand Prixes). However, they are *not* allowed in hack (under saddle) classes. Silly, huh? and it's largely a fashion thing--I've seen a lot of hunters wearing martingales that are so loose there's pretty much NO WAY it would ever come into use. It's just there because it's part of the uniform...