‘Between a hunter and a hack’ — judges tips for recognising and showing off a riding horse

In the sixth part of our series on top tips in the show ring, Rebecca Haywood talks to the professionals about how to present a riding horse correctly and the key differences between a riding horse and a hack

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?

“A riding horse is defined as a type that fits between a hunter and a hack,” says judge and producer Simon Reynolds. “They should be elegant with a good length of rein but with some substance. They should have a well set on neck and an attractive head.”


Riding horses should be shown with manes plaited.

“Tails should be pulled and cut so that they sit just below the hock while the horse is working,” says Simon. “You should present your horse with whiskers, jowls, heels and ears neatly trimmed.”

Simon adds that good coat condition is imperative.

“This is achieved through a balanced diet and the right amount of rugs to keep the coat flat. It also prevents them getting woolly and bleached from the sun. Meticulous grooming really does pay off in getting that perfect shine.”

Riding horses are shown with a coloured browband and the rider should wear a tweed jacket, unlike a navy one usually seen in hack classes.

Things to avoid

  • Do not wear bright hair scrunchies and ribbons.
    “I think a neat bun with a hair net looks elegant for a lady,” says show rider and producer Natalie Reynolds.
  • No “bling” on riding boots.
    “I hate to see fancy stitching, logos and diamantes. I also prefer plain straight tops on boots, rather than the shaped dressage style tops,” adds Natalie.

Final preparation

Your final preparation for entering the show ring on a riding horse should include the following:

  • Neatly sewn-in plaits
  • Show sheen
  • Hoof oil
  • Chalk-white socks
  • Gloss on the nose and eyes to highlight
  • Quarter marks can also make for a professional and polished look, if done well
  • Tack needs to be well fitted and complement the horse
  • A neat sheepskin numnah that doesn’t cover the horse up too much

Way of going

“A riding horse needs to be a good mover and have a balanced ground-covering canter,” explains Simon.

Unlike a hack class, the judge will ask a riding horse class to gallop.

Show and dressage rider and judge Jo Bates, who has won many prestigious titles on hacks and riding horses, adds: “A riding horse should really lower to the ground in the gallop, extending their stride while making it look effortless.”

Simon suggests that shoeing with light aluminium plates can keep the movement “light and low to the floor.

“We’re not looking for an off-the-floor, elevated movement with as much knee and hock action as a dressage horse, but the paces should be controlled, yet powerful,” he states.

“Manners are important, but a riding horse must also be eye-catching and memorable for a judge. Like any show horse, they must have that ‘look at me’ presence about them.”

Riding horse height divisions

Under British Show Horse Association (BSHA) rules, riding horses are split into two categories – small and large.

  • Small riding horses are four years old and over, exceeding 148cm in height but not exceeding 158cm
  • Large riding horses are also four years old and over, and exceeding 158cm in height.

The BSHA recommends that shows hold classes for both height categories where possible. But if there is only one class held it must cover the full range of heights exceeding 148cm.

Riding horse or hack — what’s the difference?

The first difference is the height divisions. A small hack can be no bigger than 154cm and a large cannot exceed 160cm.

“A riding horse is a ‘classier’ animal than your typical hunter, yet not as refined as a hack,” says Natalie. “Often horses may start out as a hack as a young horse but mature and strengthen to be a riding horse later on.”

A good example of this is Broadshard Simplicity, who won back-to-back supreme horse titles at Horse of the Year Show in 2014 and 2015.

“An ideal hack is as close to the Thoroughbred as possible, whereas a riding horse is a deeper girthed animal and is often crossed with the Thoroughbred to retain the quality, yet produces a more substantial type,” says Simon.

“A hack is about elegance and obedience, which comes from their origin as park horses,” says judge James Van Praagh.

“Manners are always important but with hacks it is a must. The riding horses gallop unlike the hacks, and while still obedient the ride can be more robust.”

“I like a riding horse to move with a bit more purpose than a hack – it’s not there just to look pretty,” concludes Jo.

“They must both be light and responsive, but a riding horse should have a bit more power to them.”

How to decide which type your horse is

“If you’re unsure whether your horse is a hack or a riding horse I would recommend going to a big county show to have a look at both classes,” advises Natalie. “Be sure to look at the limb, way of going and and the overall type. This will help you decide which class you think your horse fits in to. I often see many horses that are in the wrong category, or not presented in the correct way.

Continued below…

Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:

“I like to see a riding horse with no less than eight inches of bone below the knee. A riding horse typically has more bone than a hack. The limb is not the whole story though, and there is no specific classification for limb. It is more about the overall type. If you’re still unsure, ask a judge or professional for their opinion.”

You may like...