The judging begins the moment the horse enters the ring and continues until they leave the ring. The rider makes an opening circle before the first jump. This is where the turnout of the horse and rider is very important because this is the first look the judge will have of the team.
A pretty horse that moves well and has a relaxed, confident manner will have a better chance at making a favorable first impression.
The most important consideration when judging a hunter round is jumping style. The horse should jump with his front legs folded high and evenly; head and neck should stretch out and down to insure a well balanced jump. It is important that the horse’s body and legs stay straight while jumping, so that the horse stays in the middle of the jump.
The judges are looking for consistent jumping efforts. The horse should clear each jump confidently, easily and in good style. The pace should remain the same throughout.
Judges must penalize unsafe jumping and bad form over fences, whether touched or untouched.
In classes over obstacles, all horses being considered for an award must be jogged for soundness in the judge’s order or preference prior to being judged for conformation. Two more entries than the number of ribbons must also be jogged if there are sufficient entries.
Hunter under saddle classes, horses are judged on the walk, trot and canter both ways of the ring. Light contact with the horse’s mouth is required. Horses should be obedient, alert, responsive and move freely. Judges may ask horses to hand gallop collectively, one way of the ring. All horses being considered for an award must be serviceably sound.
There are several hunter divisions. The divisions are based on different criteria with some being for young or older horses, for children or adults, and for amateurs or professional. Each of these divisions will have three or four jumping classes and one under saddle class. Points are awarded for ribbons earned in each class and the two with the highest points are awarded the Champion or Reserve ribbon for their division.