The most common question I get asked by show hunter riders is which category their horse should be in. The current divisions laid out by Sport Horse Breeding (GB) (SHB(GB)) are: lightweight hunters to carry up to 12st 7lb; middleweight hunters to carry 12st 7lb up to 14 stone; and heavyweight hunters to carry over 14 stone.
The welcome introduction of the riding horse classes certainly went a long way in sorting out the lightweight hunter class in my opinion.
The middleweight hunter class has, for some time now, become known as the “muddle weights”.
Height alone should not determine the weight capability. I would like to see the middleweights with more bone and substance. Nowadays, the majority of middles are basically 13-stone horses, with less of the upper-limit type of 14 stone.
The knock-on effect is that the heavyweights have generally become lighter. Perhaps if the weight categories were slightly reclassified to include a guideline for type and bone and there was a larger margin for weight capacity, this would go some way to help.
Ultimately, we have to recognise that times are changing, as people are bigger now than they were. For instance, a good number of competitors would be over 12st 7lb, purely due to their height.
The key is to maintain the standard of what is expected in a show hunter, despite these difficult times, where the true-to-type animals are in short supply. Constant training workshops for younger judges are welcomed, so that we don’t lose sight. SHB(GB) offer these training days and I truly believe that the best way of learning is through practical exercises such as these.
Correct conformation assessment is critical, as is way of going.
Twenty years ago, we were blessed to see classes full of proper types of hunters. Unfortunately, these specific types of horses are not often being bred at the moment. Breeders have recognised that, to appeal to a wider audience, they need to produce more versatile, sport horse types, as they are more saleable and useful for a number of jobs.
Also, I know many producers are finding that with rising costs, owners are thinner on the ground and there is the expectation to see results much faster. Years ago, hunter owners were happy to invest the time and money in a big horse who might take years to develop. Nowadays, the professionals are sometimes under serious pressure to deliver the goods much more quickly.
My yard used to be abundant with show hunters, but I had very good financial backing at the time and there was a good pick of horses to be had. The smaller horse has certainly become the popular choice.
If you are unsure which category to place your horse in, my best advice is to seek advice from a professional or a well-respected judge.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 April 2018