If you show in hunter hack classes, your ability to stay sharp and think your way through the over-fences portion is a must. You’ll need a precise, rhythmic, and fluid performance to win. That means mapping out your strategy beforehand, so you know exactly where and how you’ll be riding in the show pen.
- Warm up with care. The jumps in hunter hack are so low (2 feet to 2-feet-9-inches) that seasoned horses can get careless, and bump or drop a rail (points-off errors). To keep your horse fresh, avoid over-jumping him in the warm-up pen. (If your horse jumps well once, it should be enough.) Practice jumping the second jump first to keep him focused.
- Focus on your horse, not the judge. When entering the show pen, use the trot to establish a rhythm and take stock of your horse’s attitude. Is he tense? Take a deep breath and soften your hands to relax him. Is he lazy? Wake him up with your legs. Your ability to read and react to your horse here will affect the rest of your pattern.
- Establish – and maintain – a 12-foot canter stride. If you haven’t done so before you approach the first fence, you won’t make the required strides between it and the second obstacle. You also won’t present a fluid picture.
- Use your corners. Rather than cutting corners (a common error), guide your horse through them. Corners give you an opportunity to lightly increase contact with his mouth, so you can balance him, compressing or lengthening his stride as necessary to maintain the 12-foot step. Soften and release between the corners and on the line to your first fence.
- Look early to the jumps. As you reach the middle of the arena’s short end, look at the first obstacle, so you can ride a straight line out of the corner to the middle of its top rail. If you turn too soon out of the corner, you’ll have to adjust to reach the middle of the jump, which will throw off your horse’s rhythm. This can cause him to arrive at the fence incorrectly, forcing him to take off from too close a spot (known as a chip), or launch from one that’s too far. Ditto if you exit the corner too late.
- Finish the job. The pattern doesn’t end with the two jumps. Keep your horse at the same 12-foot stride after the jumps. Find a focal point in the corner beyond them, and ride a straight line to it. Ask for a flying lead change before the corner, if you need to. Look through your corner, and start slowing down about three strides before the final marker. Halt directly at the marker, and immediately back up about two horse lengths. Drop your reins, pause several seconds, pat your horse, and you’re finished. Shane George has won numerous American Quarter Horse Association world championships in hunter hack aboard such equine luminaries as Regal Lark, Regal Circle, Parliament, and Another Valentino. At the 2000 AQHA World Show, he captured world championships in junior and senior working hunter, green working hunter, and junior hunter hack– adding to his 20-plus AQHA world titles. He also competes successfully at American Horse Shows Association competition, and coaches amateur and junior riders. He and his wife, Chris, train out of their Show Sports farm in Magnolia, Texas.(For Shane George’s rein-length strategy for increasing your on-course control, see “Competitive Edge,” Horse & Rider, October 2001.)