Hunter Hack: Flow Over Fences

In the November issue of Horse & Rider, top non-pro Nancy Wilkerson helped you lengthen your hunter-under-saddle horse’s stride. To go just a bit further, we’ll take you stride-by-stride through a hunter hack pattern. The over-fences portion counts for 70 percent of your score, so you and your horse must shine to place well.


Strategy: You’ll need to pay attention and think ahead. You’ll be judged on your horse’s way of going, responsiveness, form over fences, precision changing leads and, finally, his obedience when halting and backing.

Start at a trot and pick up the left-lead canter as your leg passes the first marker. I’m not looking for the pinpoint precision of an equitation class, but your horse must respond to your aids.

Establish your pace and stride early. Keep your horse straight along the rail, then ride through a nice, rounded corner to the left.

Through the turn, look to the first fence and, if needed, use your inside left leg to keep your horse from dropping his inside shoulder. Corners have a slowing effect, so prepare for this and maintain your pace. Through the corner, determine your pace and collection you want over fences (ideally, a cadenced, 12-foot stride).

As you approach the first jump, shorten or lengthen your horse’s stride for a safe and eye-appealing takeoff distance. (For this class, you’ll see two fences set anywhere from 2-feet-3-inches to 2-feet-9-inches, 60 feet apart. If your horse has an ideal 12-foot stride, he’ll be able to achieve four comfortable strides between jumps.)

Strive for subtlety. Move up a short-strided horse early enough, so it doesn’t appear he’s rushing to the fence. Moderate a long-strided horse in advance so you’re not abruptly collecting him right in front of the fence. (Missing the first jump’s takeoff distance affects your second fence, too, so don’t get your horse in too deep or let him jump long.)

Ride a perfectly straight line from corner to corner, taking the two fences perfectly in stride on this line. Major faults to avoid down the line of fences include changing leads, twisting in the air, and drifting off-line. These faults are also dangerous and will be penalized.

To round the second corner, your horse must be on the right lead. He can change leads as he jumps either fence, or as you depart the second fence. A change over a fence eliminates one maneuver that could go wrong later, but I won’t mark down a prompt, correct lead change after the second fence.

I don’t ask for a hand gallop because your horse has already demonstrated a long, open stride through the line. Look through your turn and maintain a smooth, controlled canter to the right_and as you straighten him along the final rail.

Prepare for the halt as you approach the second marker. Your horse should yield to your backup cues and perform a steady, square halt at the marker. Avoid a dramatic reining stop, or letting him pull you through a sloppy, trickle-down stop.

Settle your horse for five to 10 seconds after the halt, then back as many steps as needed to prove he’s responsive. After a three- to five-second pause, you’re finished and you may exit the arena.

An AQHA judge for more than 20 years, Jerry Erickson is a hunt-seat specialist. A trainer for more than 30 years, his equine successes include Sonny’s Hot Jazz, and All-American Quarter Horse Congress champion, and AQHA World Show reserve champion in hunter hack. He trains out of his Jerry Erickson Quarter Horses in Sanger, Texas.

This article first appeared in the May, 2001 issue of Horse & Rider.

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