What is the difference between hunters and jumpers? This is a commonly asked question for new riders. These are the two main divisions of the three that make up the hunter/jumper discipline. They have a few key differences, the main ones being the way they are judged and how the winner is selected.
The hunter division is judged based on the horse. The judge notes the way that the horse moves, jumps, and the overall style of the round. They then give the round a score out of 100 based on how well the horse performed. Points are taken away for knocked rails, missed lead changes, and any other minute details the judge picks up. The horse with the highest score is awarded first place in the class.
This division can typically be identified by its natural-style jumps, traditional clothing, and minimalistic tack. Hunter rings contain wooden and natural colored jumps that typically contain lots of flowers and filler. The courses are typically very simple and do not contain many “tests” or difficult maneuvers. When entering a hunter ring, horses must not be wearing boots and must use fitted instead of square pads. Hunters are also limited in the bits that they can use. These items are considered to be distracting and manipulating of the natural movement of the horse. Riders must also wear traditional colors that do not draw attention away from the horse. Riders in the hunter division can ride as many horses as they’d like but each horse can only be ridden once within a given class.
When discussing the divisions of the hunter/jumper discipline we must also acknowledge the less recognized “equitation” division. This division typically falls under the hunter category because it too is judged based on a scale out of 100 points. The main difference between hunters and equitation is that equitation is judged based on the rider. The judge of an equitation class assesses the strength, execution, and overall horsemanship of the riders and scores them accordingly. Similarly to hunters, the rider with the highest score receives first place in the class.
The jumps in the equitation division have much more variety and the courses typically contain more tests that the rider must perform, such as a halt or a trot jump. Riders in the equitation division are limited to conservative colors and must wear show coats. Horses are allowed to use boots but are still limited in their bits and cannot wear square pads. A rider in an equitation class can only ride one horse and each horse can only be ridden once in the given class.
Jumpers are vastly different from the hunter and equitation divisions. Jumper classes are judged based on speed and faults. Timers are set in the arena that the horse must pass through in order to start and stop the clock at the beginning and end of the course. Faults are accumulated through the knocking of rails, by going over the time allowed, or by refusing a jump. Four faults are given for each rail knocked down, four faults are given for a refusal, and one fault is given for each second over the time allowed. The rider with the fastest time on the clock and the lowest number of faults wins the class.
Jumper rings contain minimalistic jumps that are typically labeled with numbers that represent the order in which they are to be jumped. Jumper courses can vary widely depending on the course designer and the level at which you are competing. Riders in the jumper division have much more freedom in their attire and are able to wear almost anything that they want in most classes. Horses typically wear fun square pads and even bonnets to show off some personality. Jumper horses are allowed to use a much larger variety of tack, including bit-less bridles. Riders in the jumper division can ride as many horses as they’d like but each horse can only be ridden once within a given class.
Every Hunter/Jumper ring is an opportunity for amazing experiences and personal growth. Test out the waters and see what you and your horse find to be the most fun. You might discover that one ring feels like home, or you may just end up falling in love with all three.