Characteristics of Western Hunters
One of the most popular of the classes in the USA is the “Hunter under Saddle” class, which gives American riders the opportunity to showcase their ability to ride in the English style, and their horses to work in a different way from Western style. The best way to describe it might be “English inspired”, since the elements of an English Hunter class are there, but the approach is not identical. The horse must go well in an English snaffle bridle and saddle, with contact on the bit, but probably less collection than would be expected in a Hunter class in the UK. The horse should be able to show extension without too much knee action, and the whole effect is of a horse that would give a comfortable ride for several hours across countryside terrain.
Western Hunters: The Best Breeds for this Discipline
The great thing about Western Hunter classes is that they are, on the whole, ideal for American breeds that are able to participate in an English-inspired style. Therefore, the majority of classes will include horses such as American Quarter Horses, Paints, and Appaloosas. It’s an opportunity to show the versatility of these breeds using the English gaits, walk, trot and canter, rather than the Western trail and pleasure gaits of walk, jog and lope. These are often subtly, but distinctly, different. The horse will be expected to move with its neck fairly elongated, in a smooth and natural way. For hunting in the field, horses need to have staying power and strength, but also be sensible and trainable, without unnecessary “fizz”. Some Thoroughbreds, part-breds and warmbloods can also be a good choice since they have the elegance, outline and length of leg for this class.
Western Hunters in Equestrianism
In a Western Hunter under Saddle class, the competitors show their skills in a group. No jumping is involved in the saddle class, although the Hunter Hack class does require individual jumping demonstrations to show the ability of horse and rider over fences. Riders wear English-style tweeds or black jackets, jodhpurs or breeches, and, usually, velvet riding caps. Turnout and presentation form part of the Western Hunter ethos, with horses immaculately groomed and manes neatly plaited, and tails either plaited or tidily brushed. It’s about good manners and a relaxed, calm way of moving, rather than showmanship. Judges look for horses that look comfortable rather than irritable, so head-tossing, tail-swishing and stamping will lose marks. Essentially, the judge is looking for a horse that could carry a rider all day, stand when required, go well on its own or in a group of others, and show immaculate manners throughout. These are often large classes, and so it is an opportunity to show how well the horse responds in close proximity to other horses, just as they would in the hunting field. Judges look for horses that are able to maintain a steady speed and relaxed way of going, even when there are lots of potential distractions. The essential movement of a hunter is ground-covering whatever the gait, rather than collected or elevated, so exaggerated knee action is not encouraged. Cool, calm and collected, in the sense of both horse and rider being clearly level-headed and efficient, is what is required for success in the hunter show ring.