Tell me about the do's and dont's of hunter shows

So I’m finally working up my courage to get into the show ring with my OTTB and I even have someone at my barn that also attends schooling shows at the heights I’d be interested in at least for now and has a spot free in the trailer. There’s just one minor detail - they go to hunters shows and I never have taken part in one, prepared for one and just generally don’t know what it’s all about. I’ll likely have to prepare for it without a coach, because I don’t know anyone with that background who comes out to teach here.

Honestly, for me it’s just a way to get miles on a green horse in a cost-effective way before summer. Ribbons are not a priority at all. I’ve heard hunters courses are less technical so I think it might be a good way to ease a horse into the show atmosphere. My background/point of reference is show jumping and low level dressage in a European context. Do tell me everything I need to know about not getting DQ-ed due to something stupid. Bonus points if I also end up not totally embarrassing myself :laughing:

Just some starter questions: Do I plait for a schooling show? Hair out of helmet a no-no? I assume only white saddle pads? Are white breeches OK or am I supposed to wear tan? Do I need the horse to wear a standing martingale? Is there a course walk before the show like in jumping? Can I do a seated canter or is that a faux pas (I always see people riding in a half seat)?


Don’t stress.

Ask your friend if it is normal or not to braid for the show you plan on attending, she should know.
Hair needs to be in the helmet
you will need a white fitted pad for hunters
tan breeches are necessary, whites are usually only for jumper classics or derbies if you don’t wear a shad belly
The horse does not need a standing, but make sure you are in a D snaffle, Full Cheek snaffle, or pelham; no gags/elevators/loose rings
only course walks for derbies or equitation, they will have a course posted with the striding
Since it is for experience, ride in whatever seat is best for your horse
Have fun!


One additional note: boots or wraps are not allowed on horses in hunter classes (but are OK for equitation)


Nope. Lots of trainers will tell you this, but it is not a rule. I wish I knew how to link one of the recent threads where this was hotly debated.


The type of snaffle cheek is fashion; yes, most hunters will be going in a D-ring snaffle or a pelham, but a loose ring is not illegal if that’s what your horse goes in.

Same with the hair. Most riders will have it up, but if that isn’t how you’ve fit your helmet, you can wear it some other way as long as it’s neat and tidy.

Ask your friend how formal the attire usually is. This will let you know whether you would blend in more in a show jacket or in a neat collared shirt and sweater if this is a very informal schooling show.

Use a fitted fleece saddle pad, not square. It’s one easy and fairly inexpensive way not to stick out like a sore thumb.

One other thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is your horse’s bridle. A regular cavesson noseband (no flash) with leather reins and no bling will be expected.


A couple of the biggest things that hunters are judged on are smoothness and consistency. So ideally you would want to pick up a nice relaxed pace at the start of your course, and stick to it from start to finish. Easier said than done, especially with a young horse. Lol.

Depending on the level of the show, the courses might be set with the idea of getting a specific number of strides in each line. If you’re just going for fun and experience, you might not worry too much about that part. But again, consistency is a good thing.

So if you do the “right” number of strides in each line, or even if you add a stride in each line, you have a better chance of getting a ribbon than if you only add a stride in one line, etc., etc. It depends very much on the level of the competition, and what the other entries in the class are doing around the course.

If you don’t have a trainer to set jumps for you in the schooling area, hopefully you can find someone who will be glad to let you share a warm-up jump with them if you ask politely.

Some shows also allow you to school over the course in the ring before the show starts, or during schooling breaks throughout the day. If you get the chance to do it, it’s usually a good idea to get the horse in the ring to see the jumps.

If you get a chance, it would be a great idea to attend one show as a spectator without your horse beforehand, so you can get an idea of the schedule and how things work.

Good luck and have fun!


Thought of a couple more things.

The jumps on course will not be numbered but the courses are almost always an easy to remember pattern such as inside vertical, outside line, diagonal line, outside line, diagonal line. Remember the first and last jumps, and the rest should flow naturally around the corners.

Flat classes almost always start on the left rein (unless the judge notices that everyone has entered to the right and just goes with it for a schooling show). You can walk, trot or canter until the class is brought to order. Once underway, you’ll walk, trot, walk, canter, walk, then change direction through a small circle and repeat it all to the right. You can watch lots of examples of under saddle classes on YouTube to get an idea. Try to keep a similar speed to the horses around you rather than lapping everyone, but you can take the quarter line or circle to maneuver yourself into a less crowded area if you need to.

Be prepared for there to be a lot of waiting, especially if thr show has multiple show rings running. Make the in-gate person your friend, and ask them how many trips out you will be, and if they expect delays. Over fences, you’ll usually rotate amongst two of three horses taking turns to do all of their rounds (so you’ll have a few minutes after finishing one course to regroup and figure out what your next course will be). Trips = rounds, and horses = horses with several rounds each. Your timing estimate requires you to be aware of whether you’re waiting for trips (2 to 3 minutes each) or horses (number of over fences classes x 2 to 3 minutes each).


It is overwhelmingly the norm, which is as important to some as being an actual rule. I couldn’t care less how others look, but I personally don’t like to stick out. Call me stuck in middle school.


As Night_Flight said, make friends with the person at the back gate (in gate). I would let the person know that this is your first hunter type show and that you’re there without a trainer. Having the back gate person know your particular situation (in this case, no trainer), can make a world of difference.


Also, the bit and bridle connections to the bit should be hook-studs, not buckles. No figure 89, no dropped noseband.
ETA that, if you care about getting ribbons, judges DO care that you are on the correct lead for every turn, and, unless the class specs specifically say “trotting allowed”, they will take off for breaking into a trot.

1 Like

Good info here already for you. One other thing… it’s a “schooling show”. Relax. With a green horse, and especially if you can not school in the ring before being asked to complete the jump course, take your horse on a bit of a tour around the arena. Not a huge tour, but take your time and make sure that your horse is happy, interested, and relaxed about the arena and the jumps before you start. Not “showing the horse the jumps”, but don’t be afraid to trot in, go around the jumps where you can, at the trot, perhaps even a figure 8 around the ring, then pick up the canter with a large circle. Don’t “rush” into getting going on the course. If what you decide to do is slightly different from what some others do, that’s OK… your horse is green, and you are not there expecting to win ribbons. You are there to school, and give your horse (and yourself) a positive experience.

Depending on the schooling show, many of the “official rules” about tack, clothing and turn out are often quite relaxed. Don’t fret too much about these things. If you need information about what is or is not allowed, ask the show staff at the show office ahead of time. If all you have is white breeches, you won’t be disqualified for using them. If all you have is a square saddle pad, you won’t be disqualified or thrown out of the show for using it. Boots or polos on your horse are often seen at schooling shows. If you decide that you want to pursue competing in the hunter division onto bigger shows, you will get some idea about what items you need to purchase, over time, to truly fit in. Don’t run out and buy a bunch of stuff that you are not sure is the “right” stuff, just to ride in your first hunter schooling show. The equipment you use will be secondary to your riding style, if you do not regularly ride in a “hunter seat”. It’s OK, variety is the spice of life, even though the hunter division often doesn’t understand this (LOL). You will figure out how much of the “fashion” you feel you need to follow to feel comfortable. Don’t worry, it changes often to drive the economy!

1 Like

No martingales in the flat classes, so if you do a crossrails division with a flat class, remember to take it off before entering the ring.

Hair is tidy and presentable, doesn’t have to be in a helmet. I’d ask your friend how formal the attire is usually. She might have a fitted pad to borrow if you’re trying to blend in and that’s standard at the show.

I personally would embrace the opportunity not to wear white breeches, since I hate them (I ride dressage). But like not having a fitted pad, it won’t get you disqualified, it’s just more common to see tan.

For your purposes, what I would really ask my friend first and foremost, is how crazy the warmup rings are in the beginner division. When I did some beginner equitation classes at schooling hunter shows, they were absolute shitshows (no offense meant to anyone, I know it depends on the show). So review the whole ring etiquette about calling jumps, passing left to left, but also be prepared if some people don’t follow it, and have a game plan if things are very chaotic.

1 Like

I get it. And consigned a perfectly nice pair of tall boots because I couldn’t get around them being brown & not black. However, as the parent of a teen with hair thick enough to compromise safe helmet fit if it is stuffed up under it, I do believe it is worth making the distinction between custom and rule in this instance. Let those new to hunters chose what makes them feel most comfortable. We found a style of hairnet that holds the hair up just below the helmet at the nape of the neck. Daughter uses those for hunter shows. For jumpers, it’s low set ponytails all the way.