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What it takes to be a Successful "A" Hunter

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  • What it takes to be a Successful "A" Hunter

    Thought it would be an interesting topic. I think there is a strong perception that:
    1. Since hunter people buy expensive horses, they tend to not need to put in practice.
    2. That hunters are somehow easy.
    3. That A shows have similar standards to local shows.
    4. That spending enough money will get you success.

    Earlier this fall, I remember lamenting to a friend that I would be "disappointed in where I was with my horse if I was trying to compete". She mentioned that no- if I was trying to compete, I would be riding more seriously, taking regular lessons (at least weekly), getting training rides and getting out to horse shows. In short- I'd be putting in the work and seeing results.

    Growing up, I showed mostly local, but we had a few kids at the barn that did some A shows. Most of us took one group and one private lesson a week. It was a lot of hard work for everyone. Turnout was constantly maintained. Whiskers trimmed, manes properly pulled. Much effort was made to carefully manage shoeing and vet care. Hours of flat work and practice over fences went into the good and not so good show trips. Shopping for horses was a long process to find something suitable for hunters on our budgets- we often made trade offs in rideability to be assured of the correct hunter type. And like I said- we were merely a successful local hunter barn. Not winning at the big AA shows. It was a big deal if one of our riders got a prize at an A show.

    I don't think people outside of hunters realize how important the "type" is and the level of work it takes to be so consistent and accurate over fences. It really is a large commitment of time and resources to be successful at this sport.

  • #2
    1.Yes you need to put in the time to see results. (lessons and getting your horse schooled go along way)
    2. Your horse needs to be presented for the job its doing. (Braided/clipped/clean)
    3. You don't have to have an expensive horse but it does help....
    4. Hunters is more than just finding all the distances. (lead changes/pace/straightness)
    5. You don't need to win a blue to feel like you did a good job at the end of the day.
    6. Yes it can be political but like life sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. So instead of blame your lack of winning on the judge go back and fix what you did wrong.
    7. Just go out and have fun...
    I want to be like Barbie because that bitch has everything!


    • #3
      You need an "A" quality horse to be successful at "A" Hunters. No way around that.

      It needs to...

      Move at least an honest 7, 8+ is preferred.
      Jump at least an 8 against the established standards.
      Be attractive-it IS a show.

      That is the short answer for the horse part. Those 3 things must be met. Probably 90% of all horses do NOT meet these.

      That horse needs to be properly prepared, schooled, maintained and turned out according to established standards.

      It also must be piloted around by a properly prepared, schooled, maintained and turned out rider according to established standards.
      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


      • #4
        I'm a trainer with a program that includes both local and A/AA shows with good success at each level.

        1. You need to start with the right material! Attractive (TB/WB/Crossbred/doesn't matter), good (hunter!) mover, good (hunter!) jumper, good fit for the rider (size, temperament, etc).

        2. You have to design the right program that develops the horse's performance. Proper flatwork that enhances and beautifies the horse's body and strengthens the horse gymnastically, preserving and even improving his soundness. Proper o/f work that develops the horse's jumping style. A varied program (including out of the ring work ) that keeps the horse fresh and happy, thus preserving his expression.

        The biggest challenge I face as a hunter trainer is finding the balance between training the horse and training the rider. In a perfect world, my riders would all have several horses to ride, so that they could have a "practice" horse. That's not usually the case. That one horse is supposed to teach the child to ride, allowing the rider to make mistakes in their lessons and allowing the rider to do the "drills" necessary to increase their skill level. Let's face it, the riders need to jump a lot of jumps to get better. At the same time, the HORSE needs an accurate, soft, confidence-building ride to improve.

        So we try to design a program that includes the use of our professional rider to train the horse for HIS benefit and regular lessons to bring the riders along. The result is displayed at the horse shows.

        What I see as the biggest misunderstanding among many of our competitors (and their parents) is exactly what it takes to be successful. At the local level, there is so much emphasis on "the numbers", "the lead changes", etc-- at the expense of the horse's movement and jumping style! That's where these riders aren't able to make the transition to the higher level shows. Their horses have become glorified school horses and their bodies show it! They don't have beautiful bodies, they don't move with the grace and strength of a nice hunter, and they jump in terrible form! And then we hear that "The Hunters" are all about buying an expensive horse. Not so people! It's all about starting with a nice type horse and being savvy enough to develop it correctly.


        • #5
          You Nailed It...

          Hey "Findeight" you are so RIGHT.. I ride with Top Trainers here and they only show the "A" Hunters. You really have to have a top notch horse and it must contain alot of elements to be successful at that level. very hard to find horses like that .
          "YOU create your own stage. The audience is waiting."


          • #6
            Originally posted by Equinoxfox View Post
            Hey "Findeight" you are so RIGHT.. I ride with Top Trainers here and they only show the "A" Hunters. You really have to have a top notch horse and it must contain alot of elements to be successful at that level. very hard to find horses like that .
            I'm old and the years have taught me that is true in ANY discipline.

            You start with a horse that meets the minimum 7 mover, 8 skill level. Reining, Cutting, WP, Saddle Horses.

            Doesn't matter. There is an established standard-start there.

            BTW, current Hunter is the 7 mover, 8 Jumper minimum but really cute and attractive- AA quality and pinned well enough there but a nickle short of the top guns and not the winner.
            Last one was 8+ movement and 10 jump but a 2 in temperment/adjustability.

            There are other things that figure in but you cannot do it without meeting a minimum standard in the horse.

            They do not have to be expensive but you need a practised eye and a way to get them made up to standard if you bargain shop.
            When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

            The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


            • Original Poster

              very hard to find horses like that
              Yeah- I don't think people always realize that a 3' horse means a lot more than jumps 3'. Or that a spectacular 3'6 horse is as rare as an advanced eventer or Grand Prix horse. There really is not a lot of room in the performance parameters for horses outside of some TB's and warmbloods. Occasionally you get a rare off breed that meets a standard so narrow that many purpose bred horses fail to meet it.

              I think what comes off as snobbery or snooty is really simply the basic fact that you need every bit the rare horse that you need to succeed at the upper levels of any other discipline. I mean, I believe the jumps at Rolex don't exceed 4', yet people don't go around pondering entering since their horse can do both 4' jumps, gallop and get the flying change required in dressage. But I think people view the performance requirements for top level hunters as somehow frivolous or unimportant or easy to skirt.


              • #8
                I have nothing of significance to add. I agree there's a reason why a horse is $100,000 or $10,000 and not many can compete those horses equally. There are always exceptions though!

                I show in the A/A's and although it is a "C" rate division, competition does get stiffer at the "A" rated and bigger "A" shows. My mare can hold her own, but I NEED to find 8 consistent fences to have a shot at ribbons. If I make any ammy mistakes, I'm out. So, that does motivate me to do better and better. I don't have the most natural eye, so I have to work at that. My mare doesn't need to be drilled over fences, so we do a lot of pole work, and I lesson whenever I can on other horses to improve my eye.

                I keep my horses at home, so the one aspect in my control that I make sure to do my best is turn-out and prep for the ring, making sure they LOOK the part of a show horse. That starts Day 1: getting the horse healthy and ready to be fit-nutrition, vet/dentist work as needed, proper shoeing, general maintenance; and ends with the way I have my horse turned out for the show: clipped, mane pulled/braided, clean/properly fitted tack, hooves polished, etc, the best grooming job I can manage.

                Like others said, the horse has to jump and move well. Doesn't matter how well prepped your horse is if he has poor form or a lousy canter. And the horse does need something special, the whole "IT" factor so it's remembered. I think that is what separates the GOOD ones from the average ones.


                • #9
                  I think also, A show mileage makes a difference. You can have the nicest horse out there, and if you only show at the local shows, he will go like a local horse.


                  • #10
                    well from personal experience I will say that if you have a lousy mover you can still do OK. But this assumes your lousy mover is VERY typey (meaning he really looks the part) and is a VERY good jumper - think more like 9+ instead of 8. Oh yes, and you have to show up and be very accurate. And at the end of the day if someone is all that AND a better mover, they are going to beat you so you should suck up and deal with it. But the odds are good if you are accurate you can own a good piece of the division. Too bad being good is a lot harder than people give hunter riders credit for!

                    Conversely I have seem more than a few average jumpers that were beautifully ridden, were lovely movers and were very, very, VERY consistent in the way they went. They almost never gave you a "10" photo, but presented an entirely different picture when you watched them go "live".

                    So there are some variations out there, but these are fairly small in the scope of things, and I think people who are not well versed in how top notch the competition can be at a top show think there is more variance in talent than there really is. Even if there were 5 poor trips out of 10, chances are the other 5 were really leagues ahead of the bottom 5. One of thos ebottom 5 might have pinnedeven 4th or 5th if there was a mistake, but that does not necessarily mean that horse was a legitimate competitor day in and day out with the top 5. Or at least not yet. That's what all that hard work and practice is for...

                    Also, hunters can be cheap. But generally a cheap horse is one that is standing there, untrained with no real clue about how it will behave and jump in a ring with a rider at a show. You can buy a lot of cheap horses while looking for the one that does all those things wel lenough to do well at an A show. OR you can pay a lot of money to someone who has gone through a lot of cheap horses on the way to making up the one that can do all those things at an A show.
                    Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by DMK View Post
                      well from personal experience I will say that if you have a lousy mover you can still do OK. But this assumes your lousy mover is VERY typey (meaning he really looks the part) and is a VERY good jumper - think more like 9+ instead of 8. .
                      i know of a horse that wasnt the best mover, but he jumped very well. and the girl that rode him put in a fabulous trip and won the adult NAL finals on him. if you looked at the horse standing around, you would never have thought he could be a top AA horse. but with a great ride and his really nice jump, she managed to beat all the other really fancy horses in the class!


                      • #12
                        I just wanted to comment on the "expensive horse" perception. The poster who said that a truly good 3'6"+ hunter is rare hit the nail on the head! A horse that has the body type, movement, jumping ability, and temperament to be a top level hunter for the pro divisions is very rare, and that is why they are expensive. If you have all (or most) of those things plus is easy enough for an ammy to ride, well your price probably just went up even more. It is all just supply and demand. Several years ago, I rode at a barn that had people that showed at the higher levels, and have seen several horses/ ponies that were purchased for pretty hefty sums as green horses. Out of several cases, I can only think of three that became what the owners had really hoped for or more. The others were good hunters, but not outstanding and were not successful past the 3' level due to one thing or another. Ironically, one was purchased as an eq horse and turned out to be a great large junior hunter and won all over the place.

                        I have primarily shown at the B/C and smaller A level, with a couple of AAs thrown in. I never got above a 5th at an AA, but for me/ my horse, that was like getting a blue. The competition and effort required at an AA is quite different, even from a smaller A show. Even showing at the B/C level, I would expect a horse to be hunter type in look, movement, and jump, and be turned out in a manner appropriate for hunters: mane pulled, whiskers/ ears/ fetlocks clipped etc. If my horse had a heavy winter coat, I would expect to body clip for the sake of the horse from a cooling out perspective, but also to look appropriate. In my area, at the B/C shows in many cases you can win based on finding 8 decent distances, getting the #s in the lines, and getting your changes (not that all of those things are easy, particularly those darn distances!). This statement assumes you are on a horse that generally looks the part, i.e. hunter type, decent (but not stellar) mover, decent jump, and good manners. The horses will be well turned out (although maybe not braided) clothes/ tack will be well fitting, but may not be the most stylish brands.

                        At a smaller A show, everyone will get the #s in the lines, everyone will get the changes, the distances will be more consistent. I think at that point, things like style, consistency, rhythm become more important. Horses will be of a higher quality, 90+% of the horses/ riders will be well turned out and wearing the "in" tack/ clothing.

                        At an AA show, I think that is where you see the truly brilliant movers/ jumpers, and those soft, amazing riders where they appear to be doing nothing, but you know that is not the case! Turnout will be impeccable. I think that is where the cream truly rises to the top. At an AA show, there is also a huge difference between the horses you'll see in the 2'6" modified or pre-whatever classes and the ones you'll see in the 3'6" divisions. However, usually in lower height classes, you get TONS of entries, so even those become very competitive.

                        Whew, that is probably my longest post ever! I guess I just get sick of people slamming the hunters based on stereotypes. I will most certainly never play in the "big leagues," but I can appreciate what it takes.


                        • #13
                          A few more things I would add to this conversation:

                          1) There are a lot of talented horses out there but there are things that narrow that field dramatically - consistency and soundness.

                          In order to be competitive you must have a horse that is consistent. By this I mean the horse needs to come out of the shute so to speak, the same or almost the same every time. There are lots of good horses out there who lack consistency and therefore do not win on a consistent basis.

                          The horse must be sound. And there is far more to this than meets the eye. The horse needs to be able to stand up to a program or schedule, to get it to its top form but must stand sound in the process. I am not talking about riding a horse to death, jumping it to death, but instead, just about keeping the horse fit, in work, and then getting it to the ring as a healthy competitor.

                          2) The rider has a lot to do with it. When I used to show a lot I found I was more competitive. Keep in mind, at the A level, you are generally showing with people who go out 2-4 times a month. If you aren't as sharp as they are even before you start competing, then you are already facing an uphill battle.

                          Someone once told me that "you are only as good as the horse you are on." There is some truth to that.


                          • #14
                            Yeah, I think that the jump and a decent canter are the two most important things. And, for an ammy or junior horse, the ability to take a joke!

                            My second junior hunter had a phenomenal jump- even when I rode like a moron and mangled the spot he jumped at least an 8.5. His canter was very nice, but we never, ever hacked him unless we needed some extra points for the champion or reserve and my trainers felt that the judges might throw us a bone. He had a trot like a sewing machine and when he was moving more slowly you could see that his conformation was....not pretty.

                            Anne Hall's Benjamin, who was in my barn, never hacked either, for similar reasons- a phenomenal jump and a good, hunter-y canter provides the best foundation to start with- at least for a 3'6"+ horse.

                            For a 3' and lower horse, I think you are going to have different priorities. But, in neither instance will a horse with a blah canter and a mediocre jump survive in really tough competition.
                            You can take a line and say it isn't straight- but that won't change its shape. Jets to Brazil


                            • #15
                              I agree that a 3'6 horse needs to be all that. A special horse in all ways. In my experience some of the best ones have been a tad on the quirky side...seems to me that talent brings the ability to be ...hummmm....naughty on occassion.....it is what gives the top horses that "presense", that quality that most do not have. It can't be trained in...its there or its not.


                              • #16
                                You can have a non-typey horse or pony and still do well in the hunters. The medium pony that I showed last year was...let's call him homely, and was not a great mover, but he could jump the moon! I entered him in an online model and the judges assumed I had stood him up on a downhill slope, but no, he actually is built that way and has a big head. Despite all that, he did well all year at A and AA shows, but it did mean that we had to lay down 3 or 4 (depending on the show) beautiful over fences rounds to be in the tricolors.


                                Those are two of my favorite pictures of him (and there are videos on my Youtube account). He could certainly jump, and as long as I rode him right, he would place very well at an AA show, but he's definitely an exception. I think a lot of people would overlook him as an A-circuit pony hunter just based on movement and conformation.
                                Proudly blogging for The Chronicle of the Horse!


                                • #17
                                  There have been a lot of good points made already. I particularly agree with DMK's post and know quite a few very successful hunters, particularly in the 3', who might not be Rox Dene in the air but who present such a compelling picture as they show over a course that they are frequently rewarded ... for "overall impression," if you like.

                                  My ten year old has a very nice jump and a beautiful trot, but his canter, while not offensive, is nothing to write home about. When I find the jumps well, he will get a good piece of a competitive class and if I ride the hack strategically, showing off that trot and more or less hiding out while we canter, we will often get a nice prize in the US as well. However, I recognize that a better mover without major mistakes will always beat my best day; that is just reality.
                                  We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                                  • #18
                                    But, Shorty, they would not overlook that jump and that can trump a clunky head and a 6 mover, long as you don't care about the hack.
                                    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                                    • #19
                                      Lets look at it from this point of view.

                                      Everybodfy wants to have the winner and the best mover and jumper. But, I think the most important thing to finding a horse to be competitive on the "A" circuit is how it fits the rider and how the rider looks and feels on the horse. I have sat with judges at some big shows and they have commented to me that the way the rider looks on the horse and the confident "look" about them is what sets many people apart from the winner versues a peice of the action. I have put many clients on a less expensive horse just because I thought that is what they needed to cofident and happy. The steady eddie in my book will get the ribbon over a flashier horse any day. Just my two cents I dson't know if anyone agrees with me good if not your intitled to feel that way.
                                      Author of COTH article "The Other Side of Aaron Vale"


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by supershorty628 View Post
                                        You can have a non-typey horse or pony and still do well in the hunters.
                                        Just to clarify,"type" and "conformation" are mutually exclusive terms. You can have tons of type and lousy conformation or have awesome conformation and not have type. But to be fair, this is a term of art and is easily confused unless you had this stuff drilled in your head early and often (like voting in Chicago!)
                                        Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.