New Zealand Show Hunter Guide


The characteristics of Show hunter, its horses and courses and way of riding are very specific indeed. The Show hunter can be of any type of breed of horse that possess the quality of movement to be competitive no matter how well he jumps

A Show hunter is judged on his jumping style, way of going, manners and ability to maintain an even pace over a course of at least eight fences. These are naturally styled with easy take off type fences with simple verticals and ascending oxers and are of appearance such as pickets, natural rails, brushes and small walls.

Courses are designed to favour smoothness, accuracy and a flowing performance. Riders do not walk the courses because they know what the distances will be and there will be no surprises. The requirements of Show hunter include not only smooth riding, but as close to total control as possible. The horse should have a certain pace and keep it jumping out of his stride and arriving at a perfect "spot" for each fence, neither too short nor too long. He should show excellent jumping form folding his legs well, using his body. head and neck in an even jumping arc. He should bend correctly with good manners: without pulling, throwing his head or resisting. He should do all this while appearing easy to ride, and the aids should be invisible. Any lengthening or shortening of stride should be so smooth that it is invisible to the eye.



Volunteers are always needed before the show and at the show. You can assist your local group by becoming involved. Help is always needed to courses, to pick up poles, assist with changing fence heights and distances, gate keeping, printing ribbons, packing gear away at the end of the day, bringing a plate of food for judges and helpers. Your assistance is always very appreciated as often the task of organising a show is left to a small, overworked committee who give their time so very generously so that others may enjoy the day.

Competitors are required to treat all judges, in-gate people and show officials at all events from training days to HOY shows in a courteous manner at all times. Remember, they are giving up their time to run a horse show for you!

A helpful guide to enjoying your day

The jumps are not numbered; instead, there is a course plan at the gate with the course clearly marked and the number of strides/distances between the fences indicated.

There is no starting bell, you should simply ensure the judge has finished writing and is watching you before starting your opening circle. And time is not a competitive factor.

A winning Showhunter looks balanced, rhythmical, athletic and relaxed.

A winning horse jumps out of its stride with a well-rounded bascule (jumping outline) over each fence.

You and your horse are judged from the moment you enter the ring until the moment you exit the ring. The quality of your horse is mentally noted. The way in which your horse moves is assessed - the more athletic, yet relaxed, the better. What type of tack is noted - refer to 'equipment allowed'.

Because there is no starting bell you do not salute. Ensure the judge is looking before you start. To commence competition enter the ring at walk, pick up a canter (from a courtesy opening circle if desired), then jump the first fence. After the last fence come back to walk, before leaving the ring.

Showhunter is an integral part of riding and development skills. Many fine young riders for New Zealand have started their riding career in the Showhunter ring. The environment for Showhunter provides a safe place for young riders and adults alike to learn, practice and perfect all skills required for jumping disciplines.

Many of our top riders and coaches are avid supporters of Showhunter and encourage riders to learn to jump courses correctly.

Dress Code

If a show is designated 'training day', then generally casual dress is acceptable. An approved safety hat must be worn at all times. The horse is not required to be plaited.

Remember that the horse is turned out in plain simple tack, don't spoil it with the introduction of bright colours that will distract from the look of both horse and rider. Horses manes should be Braided (Plaited) for recognised classes. Tails should also be braided in preference to being pulled. Show hunters are normally turned out with lots of small braids and the tail is braided to the base of the tail bone. Boots are allowed but not recommended for recognised classes (The exception is when the ground conditions are poor and the horses legs are at risk. ie- deep muddy and slippery conditions).  White fitted saddle cloths and well fitting tack always turns a horse out to his best.

Types of Classes

Training Classes: These are classes open to any pony or horse. There may be some restrictions at some shows ie. age of rider or level of competition. The training classes are intended to be a schooling division and are a great way of starting out in Showhunter. The horse does not have to be registered with Equestrian Sports New Zealand to enter training classes but must pay a $5 membership fee for an unregistered horse and $5 for an unregistered rider. Full details can be found on the ESNZ website.

Recognised Classes - HACKS - To enter these classes you must be a financial member of the ESNZ and your horse must be registered with the ESNZ.

Junior: Fences maximum of 1.00m. Open to all horses regardless of previous experience, ridden by riders under 21 years of age. Ponies are not eligible. A horse competing in Junior classes may also enter 'Open and 'First Year' classes if eligible.

Amateur: Fences maximum of 1.00m. Open to all horses regardless of previous experience, ridden by riders 21 years of age or older and who meet the criteria of the Amateur rule in the SHNZ rule book (refer to website).

Open: Fences maximum of 1.15m. Open to all horses regardless of experience and/or eligibility of rider. Horses registered as 'Open' may not compete in 'First Year Registration' classes but may compete in Junior or Amateur if rider eligibility is met.

Recognised Classes - PONIES - To enter these classes you must be a financial member of the ESNZ and your pony must be registered with the ESNZ for Show hunter.

There are three (3) categories available to ponies:

Category A - Fences maximum of 70cm on a 3.05m (10") canter stride

Category B - Fences maximum of 80cm on a 3.20m (10"6) canter stride

Category C - Fences maximum of 1.00m based on a 3.35m (11") canter stride

A rider should choose a category that best suits their pony, ie. a 12.2hh pony would best suit Category A and a 14.2hh pony would best suit Category C.

Criteria for Showhunter - over fences

The horse/pony should jump out of an even stride, arriving at each fence on an even smooth, flowing stride without a noticeable adjustment from the rider, or any quick choppy strides or long plunging strides before takeoff. All strides between fences or lines should be of equal length. A good round should look like it was a quiet, relaxed pleasure for both horse and rider, with no signs of tenseness or insecurity.

Take off spot - it is primarily the job of the rider to guide his horse to the most ideal take off spot by judging and subtly adjusting his pace and length of sride. Theoretically, the ideal take off and landing spots are as far away from the base of the fence as the fence is high, making a symmetrical arc or parabola.

Horses knees should be tidy, even and above horizontal from the elbow to knee (not so important that the lower legs from the knee to the hoof be folded up tight to the forearm, but should be clearing the fence generously).

Bascule - the horse's top line should be a proper bascule, head down, neck rounded into loose (not stiff) shoulders, back following arc of jump (straight across fence, not diving to either side) and the hindquarters tipping up generously to follow the same cut, hind legs trailing neatly behind without twisting to either side or jerking up towards the belly.

Landing - should be smooth, without head throwing, reefing, bucking or scooting off, and the horse should stay in rhythm throughout the entire course


The judge has a score sheet and every fence that is jumped is marked with a symbol and at the completion of the round the horse/pony is given a score out of 100. Riders are generally allowed to see these sheets at the completion of the class and they will be available at the secretary's office. Discussion with the judge MUST be left until the completion of the day.

A total of three (3) refusals anywhere on the course results in elimination eg. a refusal at fence one followed by a refusal at fence three and one at fence four is automatically an elimination. Similarly, three (3) refusals at any one fence will result in elimination. Time is never a factor in determining a winner. Trotting, once the round has started is heavily penalised with an automatic score of 65 or below in recognised classes. Ties or equal placings are not allowed. Judges must decide preference between similar rounds.

Circles or crossing of the path are scored as a disobedience once your round has started. These are not to be confused with opening and closing circles.

Excellent accurate performance - 90's
Very good performance (only very minor errors) - high 80'
very good performance (with several minor errors in mechanics) - low 80's
Minor chipping in front of the fence, average performance - 70's
Wrong lead no change before next fence on course - will be scored at the judge's discretion
Serious jumping faults such as hanging front legs, diving, twisting - 60's or below
Dangerous leap - 50's
Knockdown or refusal - 40's
Remember that trotting a lead change is allowed in training classes.

Off-course or presenting horse to fence without intention of jumping it is elimination.

Use of equipment 'not allowed' will result in no score for the performance.

In case of a refusal at the second element of a combination, the rider has the option to re-attempt only the second element or rejump the entire combination, in which case the first element is scored only the first time it is jumped.

Reading a Course Plan

The course should consist of eight to ten fences, with at least one, preferably two changes of direction. A course plan should be set up on a board at the in-gate of each ring. A single line is used for a vertical and a double line is indicated for an oxer. Jumps are usually numbered on the right hand side of the fences on the course map. Some course maps have two course plans on them and are often indicated in a different colour with correlating class numbers at the top.  Verticals can sometimes be used to jump both ways depending on the course. Arrows are often used to indicate direction. When there are numbers written inside each of the lines of the course this tells you how many strides are required in each line. (This sometimes depends on what category your pony normally is. For instance, at a training show, the pony course is often built on an 11' stride and all of the ponies compete together regardless of size. This is the normal stride length for a category C pony so all category C's should get the number of strides on the course plan. The category B pony's rider must either shorten their pony's stride and fit another stride or lengthen their pony's stride and get the required strides on the course plan. Whatever the rider decides to do they must stay consistent throughout the entire round. You must not lengthen to get the required strides in one line then shorten to add a stride in another line. The category A pony should add an extra stride in every line. A course built on an 11' stride for all category's of ponies must not have any lines with less than 5 strides. This enables all ponies regardless of size to safely negotiate the course. At a Registered show where the categories compete seperately the course is adjusted between categories to the correct stride length for that category of pony. ie-Cat A: 10' stride,  Cat B:  10'6' stride and Cat C: 11' stride. All hacks jump on a 12' stride). Remember not to over jump your mount in one day. You do not need to enter in every single class. If you are not sure what to enter always ask, our show hunter officials are always happy to help you out

Registration of a Show Hunter​

To compete in recognised classes your horse/pony must be registered through Equestrian Sports NZ for Show Hunter. This can be done using registration forms available on the ESNZ website or at most Show Hunter competitions, or by writing to ESNZ.  You may compete in unrecognised classes for as long as you wish using day membership and even once you have registered your horse for show hunter, you may still compete in unrecognised classes as well as recognised. Prize money is paid out in recognised classes only, and rosette/ribbons are issued in unrecognised classes.

ESNZ address:

  • Equestrian Sports New Zealand
  • P.O. Box 6146, Te Aro, Wellington

  • Ph: (04) 499 8994 | Fax (04) 499 2899


    Alternatively your local Show hunter committee should have registration forms available.

    Please ensure you take your registration entry forms and horse/pony registration stickers with you to all shows as well as your ESNZ Registration Book.

You can find out when shows are being held by:

  • Referring to ESNZ magazine - The Bulletin (subscription through ESNZ) or available on some magazine racks.
  • ESNZ & other equestrian websites
  • By contacting your local showhunter group
  • Shows often require postal entries and these must be completed on the correct forms and closing dates should be adhered to, otherwise penalties will apply.