In the first of a new series on top tips in the show ring, Rebecca Haywood talks to the professionals about how to present your hunter correctly

With the show season fast approaching we ask the experts how you can make an instant impact, create the best possible picture and avoid some definite no-nos.

Ringcraft is the art of presenting and showing off your animal to ensure the best possible chance of impressing the judges, but what do they like to see and what makes them cringe?

Show hunters should possess qualities that are recognised in the hunting field. These include good manners, ground-covering movement and, if competing in working hunter classes, a bold jumping style.

Weight

Show hunters are divided into three weight sections; lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight. A lightweight should be able to carry up to 12st 7lb, stand around 16-16.2hh and have about eight and a half inches of bone under the knee. A middleweight hunter stands around 16.3hh, can carry between 12st 7lb and 14st and has around nine inches of bone. A heavyweight stands around 17hh, has nine to nine and a half inches of bone and is capable of carrying more than 14st.

In addition to the three weight divisions, hunters can contest small hunter classes (under 15.2hh), ladies’ hunter (to be ridden side-saddle) and working hunter classes.

Plaiting

Show hunters should be shown with mane plaited. “These must be the correct size,” says judge and producer Simon Reynolds. “You can’t have 20 plaits the size of frozen peas — it looks ridiculous. They should have nice chunky plaits neatly sewn in,” says Simon. “If your horse is lacking a bit of top line, you can enhance the overall look by setting the plaits up in a hood, giving the illusion of more shape. If your horse is a bit too cresty, keep them low set in the neck.”

Quarter marks

“If you can’t do them properly, leave them off,” advises Simon. “Quarter marks can be an effective way of masking if a young horse is weak in their quarters, but they must be done correctly. Certain quarter marks are used for different types of show horses and hunters should have a plainer pattern of three vertical stripes with sharks teeth,” adds Simon.

Tails

“A hunter’s tail should be properly pulled, and never razored,” says Simon’s wife Natalie, who also rides in hunter classes. “They should be cut about six inches below the point of the hock, but you need to bear in mind how your horse carries its tail as to where you cut it,” adds Natalie. “A long tail looks awful, spoils the picture, elongates the horse and can alert the judge that a competitor is trying to cover up poor hocks or blemishes.”

Tack

“In my time as a judge I’ve ridden on some pretty awful saddles,” says Simon. “First impressions are so important. Although I’d never put a good horse down the line because of a bad saddle, I do like to feel safe, secure and comfortable,” adds Simon.

Way of going

Hunters should have a straight, ground-covering movement with little knee action. “A hunter should be light in the hand with a good, comfortable stride,” says renowned hunter rider and judge Robert Oliver. “Even if your horse falls into the heavyweight section of the hunters, it still needs to move well, have great courage, sagacity and power with all the ability to cover the ground,” adds Robert. “The gallop is a true test of a good hunter being able to cover the ground, but must not take too strong a hold when asked to come back to hand. Afterwards the horse must walk quietly back into line.”

Common mistakes

“Firstly make sure your horse is in the right weight category,” says Simon. “Ask a professional for advice if you’re unsure.”

A horse being too fat is another error Simon notes. “A hunter should be fit enough to do the job. So many are overloaded with weight and wouldn’t be capable of trotting to the meet, let alone doing half a day’s hunting.”

Riders should…

  • Find a space in the ring. “In the gallop get a good space so the judge can watch you, build it up off the corner and let the horse lengthen and lower,” says Natalie. “It should look smooth and natural.”
  • Smile. “It’s supposed to be fun,” she adds.

Riders shouldn’t…

  • Be rude to other competitors, judges and stewards.
  • Overtake in front of the judge. If you need to overtake, do so courteously and with discretion as to not upset another horse,” advises Simon. “Ask if it’s okay to pass them and apologise if you have caused an upset.”
  • Never overdo it with equine make-up on a hunter, especially on a grey. “It doesn’t look natural.”
  • Don’t present your horse in the ring if it’s being naughty in the collecting ring. “If it’s not going correctly for you, don’t expect a judge to ride it,” says Simon. “We are not crash test dummies. There’s always another day.”

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Absolute no-nos in hunter classes

  • Short jackets and loud check patterns
  • Plaited brow bands
  • Tan coloured tack
  • Ill-fitting saddles
  • Wrong weighted bridles that don’t complement the horse