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Have a go at Show Hunter

Show Hunter is the technical art of jumping where the horse is judged on his way of going – balance, rhythm, manners and jumping style, rather than simply his athletic ability to jump a clear round.


Words by Pip Hume and photos by

Show Hunter is the technical art of jumping where the horse is judged on his way of going – balance, rhythm, manners and jumping style, rather than simply his athletic ability to jump a clear round.

What is Show Hunter?

Show Hunter is the technical art of jumping where the horse is judged on his way of going – balance, rhythm, manners and jumping style, rather than simply his athletic ability to jump a clear round. The requirements and course layouts are very specific.

The discipline originated over thirty years ago and is derived from the Hunter Jumper classes, which are such a huge part of the North American equestrian scene. Show Hunter aims to develop safer jumping with riders who are more balanced, sympathetic and analytical, and horses which are better schooled, more balanced and confident. It is the ideal environment for less experienced riders (or riders returning to the sport) as well as for young or green horses to experience competition, and also allows the opportunity for experienced riders to focus on technique and riding skills.

In New Zealand, the Show Hunter discipline sits alongside show jumping and is affiliated to Jumping NZ within the governing body, Equestrian Sports New Zealand. For recognised classes, the horse and rider must be registered – there are options for registration ranging from day starts to annual membership, so check the ESNZ website for more information about this.


What is required?

The Course

The course is usually flat and level, within an enclosed arena. Courses consist of eight to ten jumps, with flowing wide angles or U-shaped turns designed to promote a smooth, easy round. The jumps are natural in style: verticals with ground lines, ascending oxers and ramped gates, and where fill is used it will be natural such as brush, plants and flowers. There will be at least one change of direction (more usually two) and one or two combinations.

Lines consist of one, two or three fences set on the long side of the ring or across the diagonal. They may be straight or curving gently enough that the natural rhythm of the stride will not be interrupted.

The jumps are not numbered – riders refer to a course plan at the gate to the arena, which also shows the required number of strides where jumps are on a line.

The course is jumped at a canter, and where there is a change of direction, the rider must change the canter lead. At training level, this may be done through trot strides. However, a flying change is required in all other classes. Horses will be penalised for a disunited canter or for switching leads right in front of a fence.


The general rule for Show Hunter turnout is that less is more, and the tack should be as unobtrusive to the overall picture as possible. Brown tack is preferred, and ideally, all the tack should match the horse, e.g. brown tack on a brown horse, breastplates should be subtle, and saddle blankets should be shaped and match the saddle (or horse).


Jackets should be navy, black or grey, with a pale shirt/stock, and riders should wear cream breeches, a hairnet and dark gloves. Manes should always be plaited, and excess hair trimmed.


Correct turnout for pony riders is jodhpur boots with clips, especially in Category A & B classes.



Judging starts as soon as the horse and rider enter the arena, and finishes when they leave. As time is not a competitive factor, there is no starting bell. Still, riders should check that the judge has finished writing and is watching before commencing their round, often starting with a ‘courtesy circle’ to establish their pace. This is a good opportunity to make that first favourable impression by dazzling the judge with the high quality of your presentation!


What is the judge looking for?

The horse should have a superior natural jumping style, good manners, and a quiet, smooth way of covering the ground, jumping off an even stride without noticeable adjustment by the rider before the jump. The horse should canter into each jump on a straight line and jump it in the middle, then canter away in a quiet, relaxed and steady manner. The speed and rhythm should remain consistent throughout the round, and there should be no evident tension or insecurity.

Riders should make the most of the arena space and ride wide, flowing corners to allow their horse to have a straight approach to the next fence on course, as they will be marked down for cutting corners.

Over the jump, the horse’s knees should be tidy and above the horizontal from elbow to knee, with the legs folded high and evenly. The horse should show a proper bascule with the head and neck stretching out and down, rounded into loose shoulders with the back following the arc of the jump.

Unsafe and poor quality jumping will be penalised, whether the horse touches rails or not. Horses will also be marked down for tapping rails, regardless of whether the rail falls.

Score Card.png


The judge has a score sheet, and every fence that is jumped is marked with a symbol. At the completion of the round, the horse is given a score out of 100. Ties or equal placings are not allowed; judges must decide their preference between similar rounds.

A total of three refusals anywhere on the course results in elimination. When a horse refuses at the second element of a combination, the rider has the option to re-attempt only the second element or re-jump the entire combination, in which case the first element is scored only the first time it was jumped.

Once the round has started, trotting is heavily penalised with an automatic score of 66% or below in recognised classes. However, trotting a lead change is allowed in training classes.

Apart from opening and closing circles at the start or finish of a round, circles or crossing your tracks are scored as disobedience. Going off-course or presenting the horse to a jump without intending to jump results in elimination.

90s - Excellent accurate performance

High 80s - Very good performance (with only very minor errors)

Low 80s- Very good performance (with several minor errors in mechanics)

70s - Minor chipping in front of the fence, average performance

Wrong lead with no change before next fence on course - will be scored at the judge’s discretion

60s or below - Serious jumping faults such as hanging front legs, diving, twisting

50s - Dangerous leap

40s - Rail down or refusal

No score - Use of equipment on the ‘not allowed’ list will result in no score for the performance.

“When turning out for Show Hunter keep it simple and classy. Less is definitely more!”

- Chloe Hansen (nee Akers) -  Five-time Show Hunter of the Year

What is allowed?

(Reproduced from the ESNZ Show Hunter Rules Version 9.0 2016, with their kind permission.)


Equipment Allowed

  • A correctly fitted cavesson noseband

  • Spurs: including spurs with a smooth moving ball

  • Short crop: maximum length 75cm including the flapper

  • Leg boots and/or bandages

  • Standing or running martingale

  • Breastplate

  • Any form of snaffle bit where the primary action is on the horse’s mouth, including corners of the mouth, bars and tongue

  • Pelhams and Kimblewicks if used in their entirety (with a correctly fitted chain), where the primary action is on the horse’s jaw. Pelhams must be used with either two separate reins or joiners. A slotted Kimblewick may only be used where the reins are not fixed in the rein slots.

  • Double bridle

  • Stud guards.


Equipment Not Allowed

  • Use of ‘not allowed’ equipment will result in a no-score for the performance

  • Drop or any kind of noseband below the bit

  • Unconventional bits where the primary action of the bit is on the poll, including a leverage action causing downwards poll pressure, e.g. butterfly bit, puzzle bit, gags, Pessoas or Dutch gags

  • Filcher snaffles, hanging bits or fixed rein bits. A Kimblewick with the reins used in the slots is considered a fixed rein bit therefore not allowed.

  • Bitless bridle

  • Hackamore and Elevator bits

  • Unconventional bits used as an artificial turning aid

  • German martingales, Market Harboroughs

  • Chambon or other training equipment and draw reins

  • Rowel spurs: any spur with a moving part, with the exception of a smooth moving ball

  • Dressage whip

  • Shadow roll, stone guard, fly screen or nets

  • Earmuffs

  • Bit guard

  • Bell boots, hoof bands and fetlock rings (unless the judge chooses to make an exception due to extremely muddy and/or deep footing or a veterinary injury requiring protection). NB: The judge must be informed of the injury before the class or result in a ‘no-score’.

  • The Judges Advisor committee has the right to assess the use of any bit as ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ equipment. Their decision will be final.


In the interests of safety, the stirrup iron and the stirrup leather (this also applies to safety stirrups) must hang freely from the bar of the saddle and the outside of the flap. The rider must not directly or indirectly tie any part of their body to the saddlery.

Competitors are allowed to use a dressage whip when working on the flat but are strictly forbidden to use or carry a whip which is weighted at the end at any time, or to carry or use one which is more than 75cm in length (including the flapper) in the arena, exercise or schooling areas when riding over poles or any obstacle. No substitute for a whip may be carried. Failure to comply with this paragraph will incur elimination.

The total maximum weight of equipment allowed to be added to a horse’s leg, front or hind (boots, bandages) is 500g (shoe excluded). Failure to comply with this paragraph will incur disqualification.

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