Improve Your Horse's Body Carriage, Part 2

Get some horse-training tips to improve your horse's performance in hunter under saddle class.

After learning about common issues that can affect the body carriage of your hunter under saddle horse in Part 1, here are a few tips to improve your horse’s style and achieve the desired appearance.

The AQHA rulebook outlines qualities that judges look for:

SHW601. HUNTER UNDER SADDLE. The purpose of the hunter under saddle horse is to present or exhibit a horse with a bright, alert

expression, whose gaits show potential of being a working hunter. Therefore, its gait must be free-flowing, ground covering and athletic. Hunters under saddle should be suitable to purpose. Hunters should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, be able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free-flowing movement, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. Horses should be obedient, have a bright expression with alert ears and should respond willingly to the rider with light leg and hand contact. Horses should be responsive and smooth in transition. When asked to extend the trot or hand gallop, they should move out with the same flowing motion. The poll should be level with, or slightly above, the withers to allow proper impulsion behind. The head position should be slightly in front of, or on, the vertical.

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What to Do

Transitions are one of the most important parts of hunter under saddle. Movement and carriage are what we’re judging, and hand in hand with that are soft, smooth and steady transitions. What really separates great movers is how they carry themselves between the gaits.

You should practice transitions a lot, on different horses, to work on your own balance and feel. I have my riders do a lot of trot-canter-trot transitions for hunter under saddle. That’s also part of the over-fences hunter classes: In the hunter ring, you trot and then pick up the canter to go over fences, and then trot again at the end to show soundness.

In the canter-trot transition, you often get a dynamically beautiful trot after the canter because the horse has more impulsion from the canter. I like to ask for that transition as a judge, because I can really see how a horse uses his hind leg and pushes his front leg forward. It also tells me whether a rider has the horse pushed up to her hand, with soft contact. When she adds her leg, the horse just picks himself up and canters.

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With the bigger horses, it takes a lot of work to get them soft and pretty through transitions because they’ve got a lot of body to pick up. If you go from a big, extended trot into the canter without rebalancing your horse a few steps, then he’ll run into the transition and be out of balance.

I make my riders, English and western, ride in two-point to work on balance and to strengthen the leg. We do a lot of transitions in two-point, too, until the riders are so strong and balanced that whether they sit down or lift their seat, they ride the same in their hands and lower leg. Mix up your transitions while in two-point. For example, go from a trot in two-point to a canter in two-point. Or go from a two-point at the trot to a sitting or posting trot, and back to two-point.

To strengthen a horse’s topline and work on his self-carriage, I have my riders spiral in and out on a circle. It also helps the rider work on balance.