Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Hunter Derby

Today I'm going to discuss a fairly recent development in the history of hunter showing--the International Hunter Derby. This is a series of classes held at various large hunter/jumper shows throughout the country and culminating in a series final each August. Each Hunter Derby offers a minimum of $10,000 prize money with $100,000 being offered at the finals. The photos accompanying this post were taken at the USHJA Hunter Derby that was held in conjunction with the Colorado Summer Classic at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colorado.

Hunter Derby courses differ from regular hunter courses in that they are designed to more closely resemble obstacles found in the hunt field. They may include taller, narrower fences, jumps without groundlines and natural obstacles such as ditches, gates, banks, hedges and walls. The approaches to the jumps are also rather atypical and feature winding tracks , variable routes and even optional jumps.

Each Hunter Derby consists of two rounds, the first of which is held over a Hunter Classic course. These courses must include a minimum of ten jumps ranging in height from 3’6” to 3’9” with at least four 4’0” option fences spread throughout the course. Riders are rewarded for taking more difficult routes and jumping the higher side of the option fences.

For comparison sake, here’s a different competitor jumping the less challenging side of a different option jump.

In addition, there must also be at least one in and out, one bending line and one line with an unrelated distance. Where appropriate, some jumps may not have a groundline.

The top twelve horses in the first round will come back to compete over a Handy Hunter course. The jumps for this course are the same heights as in the Hunter Classic and once again there will be four 4’0” option fences. The course will also include at least two of the following: a trot fence, open gate while mounted, lead over a jump, tight turn option, halt and/or back and walking over a jump. Unfortunately I was not able to stay and watch this part of the competition, but you can see pictures of a regular Handy Hunter class here.

Hunter Derbies employ a minimum of two teams of two judges. These teams give each round a numerical score. The scores are combined for an overall total and the horse and rider with the highest total are the winners. In the case of a tie, competitors will be asked to return for a third round over a jump-off course.

The Hunter Classic round is judged on style and brilliance. The Handy Hunter round is judged on style, brilliance and handiness. Behaviors such as shaking the head after a jump and swapping leads are not penalized in a Hunter Derby. The judges are looking for athleticism and brilliance rather than eight identical jumps. Horses that show expression and enthusiasm will be rewarded.

Attire for a Hunter Derby is formal. Most female riders will wear a navy or black shadbelly coat with a white shirt and stock tie, buff breeches and tall boots. All riders must wear an SEI certified helmet with a chin strap.

Unlike a dressage shadbelly, the tails on a hunter shadbelly are not weighted. They should fly out behind the rider as she negotiates the course.

Generally, men will wear a dark (navy or black) coat with white shirt and tie, white breeches and tall boots.

Although technically not required, every horse in the class will have a braided mane and tail. Most horses will wear a D-ring snaffle bit on a regular hunter type bridle. However, pelhams and double bridles are also allowed.

Standing martingales are commonly used and most saddles will be sitting atop a fitted saddle pad…

Although I did see a few half pads out there as well!

For more information about Hunter Derbies, be sure to check out the USHJA’s homepage.


  1. You'ver been away fromt the circuit too long Jen. ALL riders MUST wear an ASTM approved helmet these days. Skunk stripes for all!

    The judging format has been tweaked a little bit to allow a greater emphasis to those horses that jump most or all of the 4 foot options. As it should be, IMHO. Still, it's a class that the ammys and juinors can get into and still be competative, as well as the "green" horses.

    You don't have to be showing in the Regular Workings to do well. Rumba, who won the first Hunter Derby Championship last year at the KHP normally competes in the Second Year Greens. The Zone II Second Year Green Champ, Atlantis, showed in a couple of derbies late in his first green year and early in the following year.

    The "Equestrian Life" website should still have the Championship video on the website. It's a little tedious, there are a lot of rounds, but if you want to see Rumba, he went last or next to last in the Handy round. There is also a short interview with George Morris, one of the judges panel members.

    It's a wonderful new division and the shot in the arm that the hunters needed.

  2. Thanks for the correction. I've edited the post to reflect the new helmet rules.

    I agree that this is a wonderful new division. I really like the emphasis on choosing the best horse rather than the one that goes around quietly and has eight jumps that look exactly the same. The more challenging courses and bigger fences are also a great idea. Anything that encourages people to ride better and *think* has to be a good idea, right?

  3. Why does the bay horse have a hair net over his muzzle?
    Thank you
    Lorrie Franz

  4. Oh, you caught me Lorrie! I'd meant to use a different picture to show the bridle but loaded this one instead. It's hard to reorder the pictures once they're in place, so I just left it and hoped no one would ask about the nose net!!

    Anyway, the nets are used to reduce headshaking. Why they work for that is a subject of some debate, but the general consensus is that they do help a lot of horses. Here is a link to a company that sells nose nets. Of course some people fashion their own.

    For more info, just google "nose net" and "head shaking".

  5. The first part of the competition is very similar to a working hunter class in Scotland except for the easy/hard choice of jumps. If you get a clear round in the jumping phase you go back in to show the horse in the second phase (mainly as there are so many who enter the competition!). I think the Hunter Derby would be a great class over here. It would really show that you had an all rounder and keeps it interesting for horse and rider.

  6. That looks fun! Thanks for the information. "Hunters" have come so far from being useful hunt horses that I'm really pleased to see Handy Hunter becoming popular. I think back in the days when I used to show, I saw two handy hunter classes in five years or so, at least in this region. That was why I ended up getting into jumpers and eventing!

  7. It was a LOT of fun to go watch...too bad it started so late and was so popular that we couldn't see the handy rounds!

    I was wondering when you'd post these :) Gorgeous photos, as usual!

  8. I think I've made a comment about it before, but I can't believe standing martingales are allowed in jumping classes. They are simply not allowed in the UK as they restrict the horse's head too much. Why do so many competitors use them over the pond?

  9. Lauren, if you'll look at the jumping photos, you can clearly see that the martingale is nowhere near its limit, but is relaxed enough to form a big loop in every one of them. It's a myth that a standing martingale is too restrictive for jumping - at this level. We don't allow them here in JUMPER classes, either, but if your HUNTER over four foot fences is having to stretch his neck so far that a properly-adjusted standing martingale is restricting him, there's a bigger problem than a tack problem.

  10. Well I would say that if you are a good rider and your horse is properly trained you should not need a martingale of any type. Seems to me that they are used because everyone else uses one and probably just for aesthetics.
    Also it's not about horses stretching their neck over a fence, it's about restricting it's movement before reaching a fence as some horses bring their heads up to see better. I know some would say it helps the horse balance before a fence but only because they are used to it and not trained to be properly balanced in themselves.

  11. Do hunters have to have their mane braided on the right side?

    1. That would be standard, yes. Here's an entire post devoted to hunter braids.

    2. Thanks! I thought you had a post on braids, but I couldn't seem to find it.

  12. Really interesting stuff! I love all your general knowledge informational pieces like this! I might have to file this one for if I ever actually make the hunter setup I'm dreaming of