WORKING Hunter competition evolved from replicating a day’s hunting. The inception of Working Hunter classes was initiated to keep the seasoned hunters ticking over during the Summer months, while on their holidays from the hunting field. Hence keeping the hunters in work, tackling a course of natural coloured obstacles over unlevelled terrain to mimic a normal day of hunting. Not only did it spark friendly rivalry between hunts and their members, it also kept their valued hunters semi-fit and ready for action when Cubbing commenced in August.
For many riders, Working Hunter is the best of both disciplines – the precision of showing combined with the excitement of jumping. Often deemed to be more for the brave than the handsome equines, this competition is the closest you’ll get to eventing in an enclosed arena!
Riders tackle a round of natural jumps and are then put through their paces on the flat; animals are ridden by the judge and conformation is scrutinsed for hunting suitability, thus making it a versatile test of a horse’s performance. The ponies versatility is tested equally as much, but obviously are not ridden by the judge, other than in some M &M championship classes.
Working Hunter is divided into four phases with specific score weightings.
For horses – see Table 1.
For ponies – see Table 2.
In the event of a tie in marks, the conformation mark will take precedence, followed by the ride mark, followed by the style mark.
Phase 1 Jumping
There should be a minimum of eight and a maximum of 12 fences in number and a maximum height at the discretion of the judges, according to the competition schedule. Working Hunter courses are not to be walked by competitors until the judge has given permission. Fences should have a natural appearance and not easily dislodged.
The course will contain all types of fences and course builders like to throw in a few spooky fences to create a challenge and an interesting course. Courses will be predominantly made up of rustic fences, skinnies, hanging gates, bush fillers, water trays, planks. Often tracks can also include stone walls, banks, bullfinches, ditches and water splashes – all obstacles one would tackle out hunting.
Therefore, it is recommended to spend time getting animals schooled over cross-country courses, but in a controlled Working Hunter rhythm, as manner of going is always taken into account; refusals are severely penalised. Schooling on all types of surfaces should be part of your training programme and the use of studs ought to be a regular practise, not just for competition.
Judges are keen to see a smooth round, with the animal moving forward at all times, in a good hunting pace – not a show jumping style, where the animal is often shortened or checked before a fence. Any interruption of the rhythm, using trot to change canter leads is heavily fined in the scores for this phase (style and presence).
The combination should be able to correct this for themselves over the fences to maintain the correct balance and impulsion to sustain a good rhythm, displaying a free flowing round. Therefore, coming to a fence on the wrong canter lead is permissible – remember, if you were out hunting, you would be riding on at a fence from either canter lead.
Knockdown 10; First Refusal 15; Second Refusal 20; Third Refusal or fall of rider – elimination is incurred.
On completion of the jumping phase, ALL CLEAR ROUNDS and any other animals the judges may require should be asked to return to the ring.
General tips to remember
– Animal cannot compete in Novice and Open classes on the same day, and a horse should move up grades if placed first or second consecutively in Novice classes.
– Always be polite to the stewards, be on time and know your number for the judge.
– No change of rider or tack will be allowed between phases and elimination can occur if this done.
– A rider can ride up to two animals in the jumping phase, but then must select only one animal to take forward into the conformation section, if so required (no change of rider is allowed).
– No hind boots or bandages of any description are permitted.
– Any animal displaying continued disobedience or animals leaving the ring, whether mounted or dismounted, will be eliminated and asked to leave the ring by the ring steward.
– Know the acceptable bits for the grade of class entered. In pony classes, no spurs are tolerated. No facial jewellery is permissible.
Once the jumping phase is completed, the highest scores will be called back into the ring. The stewards will put the riders through their paces as a group. Starting with walk, trot and canter on the right rein, before changing the rein across the arena, where the same exercise is completed before being asked to gallop. The riders are then selected by the judges in order of merit to be presented for the ride and conformation phase. At this point, the grooms are permitted to enter the arena and assist the riders in stripping the horses and preparing them for the conformation stage.
If two judges are working in the ring, the line-up may be divided with one judge riding horses at the start of the line and the other judge commending the conformation presentation. It is advisable to get your animal prepped for this phase and comfortable with strangers riding it. It must walk and trot in hand with ease, yet display manners and presence when under the eye of the judge.
General tips to remember
– Remove any front boots.
– Keep alert, listen and watch the stewards’ directions.
– Learn to get your space, use the outside track and get your animal settled.
– In this phase, always give room and respect to other riders in the ring.
– Don’t cut up other riders and circle or block the view of the judges.
– In the gallop, don’t over push and encourage your animal to buck, as this is frown upon and you can lose your placing.
– Your groom should be dressed smartly, wearing a hat and have a grooming bag with only the essentials.
– When all riders are dismounted in the line-up, it is considered ill-mannered to mount until all competitors are ready to be legged back up, after being assessed by the panel of judges.
– In some circumstances, an individual show may be expected. All riders should have a simple show rehearsed, demonstrating all paces, with clean changes for the judge when asked. Always listen to the judges commands, as often exact show displays are voiced, if not already stated in the schedule. A good example is that of the WHP (Working Hunter Pony) class for the RUAS.
What the judge is looking for in order to place the animals
A good judge will be looking at the animals presented in front of them in the competition and thinking ‘would I like to sit on this animal all day out hunting?’.
Will it jump bravely, economically and safely over any country all day, with ease and manners? Is it a true hunting model, fit enough, complemented with enough bone and correct conformation to withstand a season hunting?
Some horses may have scars or blemishes from the hunting field. A good judge will know the differences between a blemish and a conformation defect – blemishes are visible deformities in a horse’s appearance; a bump, a scar (splint), that don’t impact movement or performance.
In WHP classes, the judge should always ask the age of the rider and pony, taking this into consideration when judging the combination in all phases. Ideally, a winning WHP should demonstrate talents that are appreciated in the hunting field. Would this pony be safe enough to allow their child out on for a day’s fun?
The ideal Working Hunter Pony has plenty of bone and substance, coupled with good movement and courageous jumping style, yet has manners to burn.
All the above facts assist the judges to give their final decision based on the marks awarded to the animals during all phases.
The first six riders will be called forward and usually called out in reverse order, to add an element of excitement for all involved. First and second prize winners are obliged to go forward to the overall concluding Working Hunter Championship; their prize money can be withheld if they fail to show. All scores are documented and can be obtained after all competitions.
Horses for courses
With the growth in Working Hunter Horse class popularity, came the introduction of fence height classes at regular shows. At County level shows, classes are divided into categories: Small Hunter, Novice/ Young Horse classes 90cm and Open 1m upwards. The fence height will always be stated on schedules. Small Hunters and Cobs will jump a course of rustic style fences, with jump height between 80cm and 90cm.
Royal Shows have aged or weighted classes (Light, Middle and Heavy weight hunters) for Working Hunter horses, with set jumping heights for these classes and riders must be 16 years of age and above.
It is also important to note that a pony up to 153cm should not be seen competing in both pony and horse ridden or Working Hunter classes on the same day. A rider must be over 16 years of age to participate in all horse showing classes.
Classes and pony heights
In modern times, WHP classes have become more child-friendly, introducing classes from 60cm up to 1.10m to accommodate all sizes of ponies and ages of young riders and give them an opportunity to experience and enjoy Working Hunter.
However, at the more serious level of competition, pony heights must be recorded on their passports, as this will be checked and riders must adhere to set age boundaries. The normal classes for all County Shows and Royal Shows are listed below (Table 3).
Working Hunter is a real fun competition once the competitor, parents and helpers are familiar with all the phases – the best place to learn is to spend a day at the side of the ring, with a picnic, watching all aspects and different classes!
Dress to impress
Rider dress for all hunter classes includes a tweed jacket; base your tweed colour decision on the colour of the animals. For example, a dun pony and a brown tweed will blend well, while a dark grey pony and a green tweed jacket will match.
Riders should wear tan coloured gloves; a navy or black approved standard of riding hat; cream, canary or beige breeches and a cream shirt with a tie (and tie pin). No stocks of any colour should be worn.
Long hair should be neat and tidy, in a net, ponytail or bun. I would advise against ribbons and bows.
The move to wearing long boots for pony riders is becoming increasingly popular and is down to personal choice. However, wearing of body protectors is compulsory for pony competitors and often a written pre-requisite in the adult performance classes in the rules of some shows too.
Animals should be plaited and well groomed – tack and turnout is essential for all competitors. There is no point doing your homework unless you go to school in the uniform!
The final salute
Working Hunter classes are a great foundation stone for many children’s riding careers. The different phases give riders experience and skill in jumping all sorts of technical and challenging tracks (a pre-requisite for show jumping and eventing). The control, obedience and showing etiquettes of the flat phase are good tuition for the dressage ring. The in-hand phase should never be underestimated – this phase often makes the difference between winning or losing the class and equates to presenting animals for future buyers in the sales ring.
For anyone interested in Working Hunter and keen to give it a go with the assistance of a coach, please contact Toni on 07764 786500 or via Facebook to arrange a lesson at White Cottage Stables, Saintfield, Co. Down or to find out where and when her clinics are happening.
No doubt once lockdown is lifted and equine activities are given the green light, there will be unlimited opportunities to get out and give Working Hunter a try!
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.