A Second Career for Hunter Under Saddle Horses

From the rail to over the poles, teach your flat horse to become a hunter.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Take the leap!

Learn to jump!

It could be good for your horse – and good for you. At least that’s what AQHA judge and Professional Horseman David Warner says.

David, of Frankfort, Kentucky, has been teaching youth and amateur exhibitors and their horses the skills needed to add jumps into their training routine for more than 25 years.

“When horses learn to jump, it gives them a new job and makes them less bored than just going around and around on the rail,” David says. “It’s more of a challenge. They have to think faster and respond faster when they’re jumping and changing leads, and it keeps their minds busier.”

Jumping can be good for the rider, as well. The sport requires more upper and lower body strength than leisure riding. The fast, careful responses needed on the jump course keep riders on their toes.

May the Best Horse Win?

“Compared to hunter under saddle, the hunter-jumper classes have a lot more variables involved than just making sure the nicest mover wins,” David says. “The most talented horse does not always win because he might go out there and make a mistake, miss a lead or pull a rail down.”

The “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD provides a wealth of information about what makes a good hunter under saddle horse, from conformation to temperament.

Hunter hack, working hunter and equitation over fences classes are, for the most part, judged one at a time in an individual order of go. If you have a great ride in one of the jumping events, the judges can reward you for it. On the other hand, if you make a mistake, you can’t hide – the judges are watching from the time you enter the ring until you leave the arena.

Don’t Hurry

Wouldn’t it be grand to see your hunter under saddle horse soaring over gates and oxers, brush boxes and verticals? But hold up just a second, David cautions. Assuming that your horse has the potential to be a safe, handy jumper and you’ve got a competent trainer to help you, learning a new discipline calls for extra time.

“I think it takes two to three years with constant training to make a really good, consistent hunter. And it often takes two to three years with constant coaching for a rider to become proficient over fences,” he says, noting that trying to learn sports too fast can be frustrating.

Beginner Steps

Keeping the program simple and consistent is the key for successful hunter training. Methodical repetition makes a solid, quiet hunter.

“I start by trotting over poles on the ground,” David says. “The horses don’t know where their legs are at first, but you just keep them trotting slowly and don’t let them canter. They eventually start picking up their feet. Through all of this, I’m very focused on keeping the horse’s rhythm the same.

“Then I’ll move up to cross rails (a low “X” elevated about one foot – made with two poles), continuing with a lot of trotting. Keep it slow, don’t let them get hurried or rushed,” David says.

Eventually, David places two jumps in a line – the first fence a low cross rail, the second a small gate. He trots the horse up to the cross rail and jumps it.

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Assuming the horse lands at the canter, David breaks down to the trot and jumps over the gate. When the horse jumps both fences smoothly and continuously, David makes it a little more difficult. He trots to the cross rail, jumps it, lands at the canters and then canters up to the gate. When the horse is consistent at this stage, he jumps both obstacles at the canter, adding an additional canter stride between the fences. A nice, easy canter is critical.

“The goal here is to get good, safe jumps,” David says. “Taking it slowly to start with helps the horse realize there’s nothing to be worried about. If there’s a problem jump somewhere along the way, I’ll go back to trotting the jumps again until the horse gets his confidence back up.”

Later, David will add another line of jumps, and then another, until the horse is comfortable jumping around a full hunter course. The final result will take months to accomplish, but David believes the outcome is well worth it.

“The hunter under saddle horse doesn’t have to be just a hunter under saddle horse anymore,” David says. “That type of horse usually is compatible for these hunter classes.”

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