Hunt seat horseback riding is a style of forward seat riding whose roots are based in fox hunting. In a hunt seat competitions, you can show over fences or on the flat. Hunt seat is an extremely popular sport of horseback riding in the US. It is recognized by the United States Hunter/Jumper Association (USHJA) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). While hunt seat is not an Olympic discipline, many show jumping and event riders begin there jumping careers with riding hunters and hunter equitation competitions. So if you are new to the English jumping world, hunt seat riding is a great way to begin your jumping career as well.
Horses that show in hunt seat may be any breed, however the most common breeds are thoroughbred and warmblood. Whichever breed you show in hunt seat, they should have a long stride with very little knee action, a good bascule (good jumping form), and be well mannered.
The fences used in the hunter ring are different in appearance to that of the show jumping ring. The jumps are designed to have a more natural appearance. This is to reflect the appearance of a cross-county fox hunt. The standards are typically natural wood or painted in a very conservative color. The fences are often decorated with brush and flowers.
In the hunter ring, horse and rider are judged subjectively on their ability, form, elegance, rhythm, and overall style. Confirmation may be used to make a decision between two top competitors. The judge will decide which ride was completed the smoothest and least number of errors. They judge the rides against what is considered to be the ideal ride. Errors or mistakes include jump refusals, rubbing a rail, dropping a rail, incorrect striding between fences, incorrect leads or diagonals, and jumping ahead or behind the horse. Overall, in the hunter ring the judge is looking for the ride that is most smooth, elegant, and mistake free.
The hunter horse and the hunt seat rider adhere to a classic dress code. The horse tack is plain and conservative. This compliments the overall picture that a hunter horse is easy to ride and responsive to its rider. The saddle is a jumping saddle, typically a close-contact saddle, however eventing and all-purpose saddles are also seen. The saddle pad is white and the bits are also simple. Most riders us a type of snaffle bit. The standing martingale is legal only in hunter over fences classes. It cannot be used on the flat. Horses are well groomed and braided. The rider dresses in classic hunt attire with tan breeches, a dark hunt coat, a show shirt with “ratcatcher”, helmet, gloves, and tall boots. The overall picture of horse and rider is that of a classic fox hinter.
A typical hunt seat competition includes several different classes. These classes include flat (hunter under saddle), pleasure, over fences, equitation, and in-hand. The flat classes are judged on the flatwork rather than over fences. In a pleasure class, the horse’s overall mannerisms are judged rather than its movement. Over fences is where the horse and rider are judged over a course of fences. In an equitation class, the rider is judged on position and this can be performed on the flat or over fences. In-hand classes are performed in-hand and the horse’s overall conformation is judged. Classes are further divided by the rider's age, rider and horse experience, breed, and horse height.
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