Horse Riding & TrainingHorse Sports

Hunter Vs Jumper Vs Equitation: Understand The Difference

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An insider's look into the diverse disciplines of equestrian sports. Discover the distinct differences between Hunter, Jumper, and Equitation and determine which could be the perfect fit for you and your horse.

Equestrian sports can are divided into many disciplines. Within each discipline, there can be multiple divisions. Hunters, Show Jumping and Equitation are three popular choices under the branch of Hunter/Jumper

. They test the skill and ability of both horse and rider individually and as a team. As an amateur, you could compete in multiple divisions and then specialize once you have found the right one for you and your horse. 

Hunter, Show Jumping, and Equitation classes are similar but distinctly different English disciplines. In Hunter classes, the horse is in the spotlight, and the rider’s job is to show the horse in its best form. In Equitation, the rider is judged on their equestrian ability and horsemanship. Show Jumping is all about the numbers, and riding clear and fast is the primary goal.

In Hunter and Equitation classes, where the horse and rider are judged on their technique, ability, style, correctness, presentation, etc., there is no clear-cut method of judging as there is in Dressage. It is really at the discretion of the judge. For example, in Equitation, a fault may be overlooked if the judge deems it a fault of the horse and not the rider. 

Hunter Classes

Origins Of Hunter Jumping

The origin of the competition Hunter is found in the fox hunting field. Riders galloped their horses through the natural countryside, chasing after the elusive game while negotiating any obstacles in their path. These obstacles included walls made of stone, fences, gates, and hedges.

Hunter Class Fence Types

For this reason, the types of jumps found in the Hunter classes tend to be more natural and rustic in appearance.

What Hunter Classes Are Judged On

Many of the rules and judging criteria for competition Hunter classes are rooted in these traditions dating back to the 16th century. Their purpose is to showcase the desirable attributes of a successful Hunt horse. 

In Hunter competitions, horses are judged for their overall appearance (conformation and turnout), their performance under saddle while jumping and on the flat.

Some classes require the competitors to remove their saddles and present their horses in hand. In other words, horses are lead in wearing only their bridle, and the judge closely examines their physical appearance, their build, and their movement at the walk and trot and scores them accordingly.

In classes that are restricted to breed, breed standards and breed characteristics are taken into account.

Hunter Horse Qualities

Hunter horses need to exhibit a favorable attitude and temperament and show a calm and willing approach to their work. These horses must display a perfect jumping style, consistent rhythm in their gaits, preferably long sweeping stride and impeccable manners toward their rider.

In terms of conformation and appearance, these horses need to be correct, robust, and in peak physical condition, not to mention impeccably turned out. Poor conformation in horses leads to poor movement and physical weaknesses and can affect their longevity and overall soundness as a working horse.

Because Hunters are judged mainly on the horse it is important the horse is high quality and well trained. Judges tend to like the horse:

  • to be round and collected
  • to have tight knees over fences
  • to not rush at fences but maintain a steady rhythm & pace with sweeping strides
  • to create a good bascule (round form) over fences
  • to have sloping shoulders
  • to have expressive face
  • to be smooth over fences

Therefore serious conformation faults and poor movement will be marked against the horse. Equally, horses will be penalized for being underweight or under-muscled.

The breed, type, and quality of the horse play a significant role. For example, an average, fair-moving horse who commits no serious faults will score the same mark as a good performer with a few minor faults.

Faults In Hunter Classes To Watch Out For

Evasive or undesirable behaviors are considered faults. Even the most minor complaints from the horse, such as opening the mouth, pinning the ears back, or swishing the tail excessively, are considered vices and, therefore, may be marked down against the overall score. 

Minor faults

  • Touching a jump
  • Spooking
  • Kicking out or lack of submission
  • Freshness or playfulness
  • Unintentional change of canter leads
  • Late lead changes
  • Jumping a jump off-center
  • Jumping from an incorrect stride
  • The incorrect number of strides between two fences in a related distance

Major faults

  • Bucking
  • Refusal to jump
  • Knocking down a rail
  • Refusals or disobedience
  • Showing a jump to the horse before starting the course
  • Jumping in a dangerous manner
  • Completely missing a lead change
  • Cantering disunited or on the incorrect lead
  • Breaking into trot during the course

Faults leading to immediate elimination

  • On the third refusal
  • Loss of the course
  • Bolting from the arena 
  • A fall by either the horse and/or the rider. In the case of a fall, the rider shall not remount in the arena.
  • The use of illegal items of tack

Show Jumping Classes

What Show Jumping Classes Are Judged On

In Show Jumping classes, the horse and rider team are scored solely on their athletic ability and effectiveness as a team. The class winner is the horse and rider pair who make it from start to finish in as short a time as possible and with the fewest faults. In Show Jumping classes, scores are based on time and accumulated faults only.

Some types classes consist of two rounds. In these classes, all horses who jump clear in the first round with no time faults (in other words, they finish the first round without knocking any rails and within the allowed time) are qualified to enter the jump-off round. Here the horse who jumps the course in the shortest time and with the fewest faults wins.

Jumper Class Fence Types

Show jumping fences are usually bright and colorful and are set up in a way to test the skill of both horse and rider by using tight turns, jumps and combinations of jumps with varying difficultly.

Show Jumper Horse Qualities

Show Jumping horses can be more spirited than Hunter horses and typically are. Seeing as Show Jumping is all about jumping clean and finishing the course in the least amount of time, it is important to find a horse that has scope and speed.

However you need to execute tight turns at times and need to be able to control the horse’s speed. So the horse needs to have good maneuverability.

The look and movement of the horse isn’t as important as the horses functional conformation and soundness. Most importantly you want conformation that can withstand the rigors of jumping over how beautiful or fancy the horse looks.


  • Knocking a rail
  • Refusal to jump
  • Running out of a jump
  • Loss of course. The rider crosses their track between two consecutive fences (by circling between the fences).

Faults leading to immediate elimination

  • On the third refusal
  • Bolting from the arena 
  • A fall by either the horse and/or the rider. In the case of a fall, the rider shall not remount in the arena.
  • The use of illegal items of tack

No penalties can be accrued for poor performance by the horse or poor horsemanship or riding style by the rider. 

Equitation Classes

How Equitation Classes Are Judged

In Equitation classes, the rider’s score is dependent on their correctness in terms of:

  • Riding ability
  • Technique
  • Position
  • Accuracy
  • The correct use of their aids
  • Overall horsemanship

The rider who scores the highest marks should demonstrate a flawless round with:

  • Seeming effortlessness
  • Showing proper lines between fences
  • Correct striding
  • Consistent rhythm
  • Handling of the horse  

Faults In Equitation Classes To Watch Out For

Riders will be penalized for any faults or imperfections committed during the course.


  • An imperfect stride before a fence
  • Counter canter
  • Lack of fluidity and rhythm

Major Faults:

  • A poor riding position
  • Loose legs and seat
  • A failure to maintain rhythm in the canter throughout the course
  • Trotting course
  • Dropping a rein or stirrup
  • Imperfect striding in a combination
  • Riding in an unsafe manner

Faults leading to immediate elimination

Elimination criteria in Equitation classes are the same as those in the Hunter and Show Jumping classes.

Presentation & Turnout For Each Class

For hunter and equitation classes, presentation and turnout are fundamental. Tack and attire do not have to be the fanciest or most expensive on the market, but they have to be neat, correctly fitted, traditional, and clean.

There is no excuse for a dirty riding jacket or muddy boots. Equally, sloppy braids and a dusty horse send a message to the judge that you are not a serious contender and you have little respect for yourself, your fellow competitors, or the judge. 

Hunter & Equitation Presentation & Turnout

In Hunter and Equitation classes, scoring begins the moment the horse and rider step into the show ring. 

The judge makes their first impression:

  • Assessing the turnout
  • Quality, condition, and movement of the horse
  • The position, correctness, and style of the rider

The judge will also look at the suitability and general picture of the horse and rider as a pair.

Show Jumping Presentation & Turnout

Show Jumping classes are far more forgiving than Hunting and Equitation in terms of turnout and presentation.

Judges cannot penalize horses and riders for a less than perfect appearance. Although they still need to follow the rules and can be eliminated for using ‘illegal’ items of tack.

Harsh treatment of the horse by the rider can lead to reprimand by the show committee, and riders can be fined or banned for this behavior.


If you are starting your competition career and are unsure which division would best suit you and your horse, you are fortunate that you can enter into multiple divisions in the lower levels.

As you and your horse grow together and gain experience, you may feel more inclined toward one particular division and choose to specialize. Before competing in any division, it is wise to familiarize yourself with the many rules and guidelines which govern them, as they may differ slightly from one to the other. 

While all the rules might seem intimidating at first, once you are comfortable with them and with the scene in general, you will see that there is a lot of fun to be had and that it can be hugely gratifying.

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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