Riding the Hunter Hack

  • 5 min read

Riding the Hunter Under Saddle Class

Technical aspects aside, there is a great deal of showmanship required to present a horse to the judge so that it looks like the winner.  Of course, everything depends on the competition and how well your horse actually moves, but here are some tips:

WATCH THE JUDGE as s/he runs an earlier hack class.  Riders that want to learn and want to win are ring side, not in the tack room or the in the food court.

Where does the judge look?

Down the opposite long side?

Does s/he follow all the way around a corner?

Does s/he spend a lot of time writing or never look down?

NO horse will be 100% “on” for the entire class, your job is to be sure your horse looks his best when the judge is likely to be looking and save those minor adjustments until you are sure he's not.

Some feel it necessary to enter the ring early and show the judge a great trot before the class is complete and judging begins. Often, the Judge is looking down, signing cards or ordering coffee and the ring crew is making course adjustments.  This may just be an opportunity to make an error or spook at something silly.  There are some judges that do quite a bit of marking on this pre-class lap.  If you opt for this show off lap, let a few horses in ahead of you so your horse doesn’t feel alone and can let the lions eat someone else.

Know who is in the ring with you and how they and their horses react.  If you know that chestnut is psycho, stay away from it. The grey kicks. That black horse runs off and the lady on the flashy bay always takes too long to change gaits. Stay away from these people.

If you have one of the two top movers in the class, get away from the other good mover!!! If the judge can see you side by side, one of you is going to suffer by comparison.  The horse that wins the hack is often by himself. First, because he has a smart rider who is positioning him well, and second, because no one else wants to hack next to him. If you horse is an average mover, position yourself next to the worst mover. Stay away from the good ones. Your horse will look better. Keep looking ahead to plan your track just like on course.

Some judges use the walk to mark their card. Some judge the walk and count it as 1/3rd of the total impression. KNOW YOUR JUDGE. And make sure your horse has a good walk for those judges who care about that gait.

Some judges pick their winners on the first trot. Only a problem can knock them out of that position. Other judges think that the canter is the most important gait, since that is the gait used for jumping.

Judges tend to ask for the gaits in the same order so be prepared...for example some judges always ask for a canter from a trot the first way and a trot from the canter on the reverse.

If you have made a couple of laps at one gait and you know that transition is coming up, prepare for it,

  • package the horse up slightly so it is not a big move when called for;
  • remember you don't have to make the transition the split second the announcer calls it; take your time,
  • check traffic, waiting a second or two is a good way to let heavy traffic pass you;
  • organize, then make the transition.


Keep your head and eyes up even if you are getting into some trouble. Any rider looking down with a scowl advertises the fact all is not well. Ever wonder why a horse sometimes gets a few steps on the wrong lead and pins well anyway? The judge probably didn't notice because the rider didn't advertise it!  -Quietly without any jerking or looking down-just fix the problem.

"Making a pass".

Do not ride the entire ring equally.  You have already learned which parts of the ring this judge focuses on.  Use the part of the ring at which the judge does not look to prepare for your PASS in front of the judge. Rebalance and regroup in these “blind spots” when you are not being observed.  If the horse is lazy, use the blind spot to get a pace faster than you want so that you can take your leg off and settle into the perfect rhythm as you move in front of the judge. If the horse is strong, use the blind spot to do your subtle half halts, so that you can float the reins as you make your pass.

It is no good making a PASS if you are hidden in a bunch of horses.

NEVER get near enough to the judge to make him feel like you are going to run him down. Plan ahead for your pass and, if necessary, circle across the ring to get by yourself at your best gait. If you have one gait that is not as “good” that is the time to find a group of horses and hide.

You must ride with eyes in the back of your head.  A GOOD rider will come past you at the last minute and make your pass her pass.  Move in or out a tad so that she cannot get between you and the judge (but do it nicely).

DO NOT CUT ANYONE OFF. There is smart riding and then there is rude riding. Never be a rude hack class rider. Sometimes a rude rider will force you out of the ribbons.  That’s horse showing.  By the same token, it is acceptable to call out (in a low voice) to other riders, "Rail" or "on the inside", so that you can keep your track, if someone is trying to take your pass.

Keep your eyes up! Think of the hack class as a strategic game. Keep thinking and positioning yourself, always keeping the other horses and the judge in mind. Keep in mind your horse’s strengths and weaknesses. Hide their weak points and really flaunt their good points. For example, on a horse with a great trot and a not so great canter, make a point to get lost in the crowd when you canter, but really work the trot, making sure to show it off to the judge.

Don't let your horse plug around at the walk/drop the reins and plod around without thinking.  Keep a nice, forward walk where the judge can see you.

The horse needs to look happy and EASY.  Push your horse forward as much as possible without "running".
Stay off your horse's back at the canter. If you must circle, make them big and easy, keep your horse in balance.  Don't try to over-fix a small problem. For example, if your horse bulges around a turn slightly, just go with it. The show ring is not the place to train on him! You can fix it at home.

In a large class, make sure you trot/canter by the judge so he has to see you. This may mean cutting off a corner, going across the center or making a nice balanced circle.

It takes a lot of skill to be successful at something so “boring”. Riding a hack class takes practice. It is not like riding in a lesson and just concentrating on you and your horse. You must know where everyone else in the ring is, where the judge looks and what gait(s) he judges/thinks is the most important.



Ask your trainer, in a lesson to "hold a hack class" with at least 4 - 6 horses in it. Many trainers never even think of actually TEACHING these skills.... (Don't know why...) Everyone needs to practice the skills it will take to win. (Or to beat better movers.)

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