The hunter over fences class is a staple of the model horse performance class list, but sorting out the differences between the various types of hunter classes can be tricky. Steeped in tradition and originating from fox-hunting, the classic hunter jump is distinctive and easily recognized, but the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) rule book is surprisingly brief in the description of allowed obstacles in hunter classes.
The purpose of the hunter over fences class is to judge a horse on its smoothness around the course and its movement and jumping form. The goal is to maintain a consistent pace throughout the entire course, meet the fence at the correct take-off spot, and produce a jump that arcs over the obstacle where the horse has a rounded topline, tightly folded legs, and high and even knees. This is a conservative class where horses are normally presented with braided manes and tails, rider attire is limited to traditional colored coats such as black, blue, green, grey, or brown, and the obstacle design and appearance follows that same conservative tradition.
Hunter jump that uses natural/simulated natural materials (brick, greenery, etc.)
The intent in a hunter class is for obstacles to simulate those found in the hunting field, such as a white board fence or gate, coops, stone or brick walls, brush, or natural post and rail. Jump designs used include the vertical (a single element on a vertical plane), the oxer (two vertical elements that give the jump width, the back element must be higher than the front), or the natural/simulated natural obstacle (made of a material designed to simulate a natural obstacle in the field, such as brush, logs, or stone). A hunter fence should look inviting and safe. Jump standards are finished in natural and conservative colors, such as white, hunter green, brown, or natural wood, and a hunter course uses lots of natural decorations such as flowers, ferns, and topiary.
Hunter-style oxer jump
Striped rails are not allowed in hunter classes, and a ground line is required except for on a Handy Hunter course. The purpose of the ground line is to help the horse and rider judge the distance to the jump and determine where the correct take-off spot is located. The ground line may be as simple as a solid colored pole laid on the ground in front of the jump for lower level shows, or it may be another item like flower boxes, brush branches, brush boxes, roll tops or a low wall. The fences are not flagged or numbered and the jumpable portion of each obstacle must be at least eight feet across.
The hunter derby is a relatively new competition within the hunter division. Introduced in 2008, the goal of the hunter derby is to be the "Grand Prix of hunters" and to create bolder and more brilliant jumping and riding through the use of challenging courses, interesting jump materials, and a greater variation in fence construction.
Hunter Derby dual option jump with grass pole and natural hedge
A great success from the start and a fan-favorite at hunter shows, the hunter derby course ramps up the difficulty of a traditional hunter course by including natural terrain obstacles like banks and ditches, constructing more creative and unique jump standards, and using more truly vertical fences with minimal or no ground lines. Though not as colorful or flamboyant as show jumping obstacles, the hunter derby course should be more eye-catching than a classic hunter course and utilizes things like sponsor jumps, grass poles, and a wider variety of design in jump construction.
Hunter Derby dual option jump with ground lines from brush and straw bales
The hunter derby uses a two-round format, where the first round is the "classic" course with at least 10 obstacles set at the same height. This round is judged on technique, style, accuracy, consistency and pace, and overall impression. Bonus points can be awarded by completing the four option fences—these are fences adjacent to the primary fences that are set higher to increase the difficulty.
After the first round in a hunter derby competition, the top 12 entries return for the second round of competition. The second round is the Handy Hunter course and is the hunter world’s version of the jump-off round from show-jumping. The same judging criteria is used in the second round, along with consideration of brilliance and handiness. Consisting of eight or more obstacles, the horse and rider must also demonstrate handiness by completing at least two options such as a walk or trot jump, opening a gate while mounted, leading a horse over a jump, tight turns, or a halt and rein back. Bonus points are awarded for completing these handy options or the higher height option fences.
By understanding these related but unique classes and the differences between the obstacles and judging, a model horse performance shower can tailor the perfect entries for both the classic and traditional hunter over fences class and the brilliant and exciting hunter derby competition.