The course of fences a show hunter must jump is usually made up of 8-12 obstacles of natural type material. The fences are not brightly-colored as in show jumping, instead they are mostly brown, green, white, beige, and other natural colors.
They do not exceed 4'6" in height. The course may include verticals, oxers, gates, and fences with "natural" fillers, like brush or flowers. Open water jumps and liverpools, common obstacles in show jumping arena, are not used in a show hunter course. Although combination fences may be seen, they are usually only two elements, and have easier distances between them than those found in show jumping. Banks and ditches are not found on the show hunter course, nor are any major changes in terrain, and often the horses jump on level footing in an enclosed arena.
The distance between fences is usually a set number of strides, with each stride 12 feet in length. Unlike a show jumper, the show hunter does not need to go to extreme lengths to collect or extend its stride to meet the distances correctly. The horse must put a certain amount of strides between each set of fences if they are in a line. If the horse and rider don't do this, points will be taken of the overall score.
The show hunter should maintain a good pace throughout the course of fences, but keep an even rhythm, neither speeding up nor slowing down. The horse is judged on its smoothness around the course, its movement, jumping form, and whether it reaches each "spot", or the distance of takeoff in front of a jump, correctly. A poor spot would put the horse too close or too far back from the jump, so that it would either have to stretch and make a great effort over the fence, or have to jump more "up and down" rather than over the fence. A poor spot interrupts the rhythm of a course, and increases the likelihood that a horse will rub or drop a rail.
A good ride over fences will look easy, with the horse jumping from the correct takeoff spot, easily fitting the strides in between the jumps (as opposed to having to really stretch out or collect its stride), and cleanly making the flying changes required. Refusals, knocked rails, or rubs over fences incur a severe drop (faults) in the rider's score.