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Hunter/Eq ring tips/tricks

Share your best hunter/equitation show ring tips and tricks on how to get a better placing!

Ride well.


Be organized and on time.

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Understand what you’re actually being judged on. Too many people blame their loss on not having the right trainer at the gate instead of the weak distance to the first jump.


Watch LOTS of film of yourself riding at home and from as many angles as you can.

At the last show I was at I heard a woman complaining about how the judge was “terrible and didn’t know what they were doing” (i.e. she didn’t place). Her trainer mentioned she was sitting lopsided in her saddle (she was very crooked - I could even tell her stirrups were uneven from a distance) but the woman insisted she was sitting straight.

Watching 30 seconds of herself riding would have shown her why she didn’t win the eq classes.


Good point. Few things doom your round more than picking up the wrong lead— even if for a step or two— on the opening circle or riding to a mirage at the first fence.

Also know how you’re being judged. It’s kind of eye-opening the first time you get to study a scorecard from a good judge, or see their worksheet from a large flat class. It will help you realize what they’re focusing on and what they notice.


Don’t ride the distance, ride the rhythm.

Establish it earlier and keep it moving throughout your course. Nothing worse than a dinking horse chipping to Jump 1 and then having to gallop out to get going.


Why is there no laugh react?!

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Don’t underestimate how much of it depends on preparing the horse to know the job. Idk why, but I just naturally believed good riding would produce a good course, no matter the horse’s experience… I’m not saying good riding is irrelevant, especially not in the equitation (lol). But the horse really needs to know how to negotiate an equitation course first. Having a solid, aesthetic rider position and finding perfect distances depends on keeping a straight, rhythmic horse. Also, I’ve seen horses that looked like they were being set up really well by their riders who still chipped or left long because they weren’t confident about finding a takeoff spot. So preparing the horse to be confident to the jumps is also not something to underestimate!

I guess the tl;dr is not to overlook how much of being a good rider is tied up with being a good trainer and knowing how to set your horse up to succeed at what you’re asking!


Be better than your competition.


In flat classes: use your ring space effectively. Ride the quarter line, stay out of traffic as best you can, use the ends of your ring wisely. I’ve moved myself up in flat classes by using my ring well and being seen and staying out of the mess.


Actually use your opening hunter circle to establish the correct pace and ride forward to your first fence with intent. (Most riders don’t. Watch your average local show over fences class and watch how many competitors are tentative to the first fence and then have to gallop to the second. I have sat in the judge’s booth and said “I’m gonna pin the first person who actually manages to nail the first fence.”)

Be meticulous and unforgiving about both your turnout and preparation. You can see who the well prepared riders are from the judges’ stand, believe me. If you look flustered and distracted when you enter the ring, judges notice.

Video your classes and rounds and study them. Compare your performance to the winners and be unforgiving. Are your aids invisible? Do you appear to be doing very little? Is your horse happily forward and relaxed? And, I hate to say it - did you nail 8 spots and 2 changes?

Get a frickin’ copy of the rule book and know what it says! You can download it for free from the USE website.

Ask to sit next to a judge at a schooling show or other venue when you’re not competing. Make notes and study the judge’s cards afterwards. Once you understand the notation, try judging a couple of classes yourself. It will surprise you. When you actually look at the card, you’ll understand why the unfancy plain bay with a consistent pace beat the flashy, good looking horse.


Also get a coach who understands all your points AND actually has a concept of the rules.

I was judging a fall fair, and there was a rider in the unticketed open warmup using an illegal bit for hunters (in Canada). I figured maybe they were going to switch bits for the actual classes…but I saw no sign of that. I went over and nicely explained that her bit was illegal and she’d need to change it for the classes or she’d be eliminated. She AND the coach had no idea and were actually put out! Me: most judges wouldn’t bother coming over to tell you - you’d just be DQed. :roll_eyes:

ETA: now that I’m thinking about this, I’ve also loaned out my entire bridle to another competitor who showed up with an illegal bit. The competitor was also a coach!


Yes! This also happened at a show recently.

Little girl showed up to what was presumably her very first show with a flash noseband. My trainer kindly told her parents that the equipment was illegal and that she’d need to take it off. Neither the coach (who I think was primarily a dressage trainer) nor parents knew it was illegal.

I guess this bothers me because the information is readily available for free. Back in the day, you would have needed a printed rulebook, so it was even more important for the schooling show kids’ coach to know the rules (since you only got the printed book when you joined the governing body. Our schooling shows up here tend to follow the same rules though so you need to know them!)

Would athletes or their parents or their coaches show up to participate in any other sporting event having not even looked over the rules? And then to complain when the ref/ump/judge actually follows the rules?

Since I judge schooling shows and want to be inclusive as much as possible, I try to be kind about it but I’m not allowing blatantly illegal equipment. It’s not fair to the other competitors.

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I would bet money that 98% of the parents cheering for their kid at hockey, baseball, football, dirt bike racing, distance running, or any other sport haven’t looked at any rule books associated with that sport. They assume the coach/trainer/people in charge know the rules and are helping their kid learn the rules.

For sure the rules are available, but it is like reading the dictionary - long and not always clear what it is trying to say.


Lol, parents reading rulebooks!

I know. The thought is kind of funny.

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Some parents actually do read the rule book. My grandfather was one of them.

In fact, he was the one who came up with the idea back in the day to have new rules marked as rule changes each year when the new AHSA rule book came out. Prior to that, if you wanted to know which rules had changed, you had to do a line by line comparison between the old rule book and the new one.

Which I’m sure he did, but he realized he did not want to do it again! Hence the idea of making the rule changes more obvious. Lol.


Different discipline but…

At an internation eventing competition a Steward informed a Competitor that his bit was illegal under FEI rules, as was her job. The Competitor argued about it, strongly. Steward stood firm: the bit was illegal. Competitor then sat on his horse in the middle of the collecting ring and called the FEI in Switzerland to check! The FEI said “We will phone our Bit Expert - who knows everything - and get back to you as soon as possible with their opinion.” So Competitor and Steward stand together on the grass, awaiting a phone call. The Steward’s phone rings. It is the FEI calling up their Bit Expert to know if the Competitor’s bit was illegal. The Steward, aka FEI Bit Expert, replies “Yes, it’s illegal”. At this point the Competitor had to back down.