There are some simple strategies that can help any rider and any horse have a better chance of being seen. Photo © GoHorseShow

Best Strategies to Catch the Judge’s Eye in the Hunter Under Saddle Class

Many changes are happening in the hunter under saddle class, and one of them that seems to be quite frequent is the announcer asking the riders to show closer to the rail. It also comes as no surprise that many of the hunt seat riders do not comply. In fact, if you watch some classes, it seems like everyone is just running around the middle. There is an easier way.

Some simple strategies can help any horse and rider develop better ways of being seen. When entering a hunter under saddle class, it is important to keep in mind that you can move around. You do not have to stay on a single track the entire class. You will have to pass or be passed at some point in time, so here are some things to keep in mind.

1. DO NOT pass on the rail

This “rule” is not written anywhere, but it is commonly known that this is a huge no-no. Most likely the person you are passing will not see you there, and you will be trapping yourself from getting a better rail spot to be seen by the judge.

2. Give your fellow competitors some space

It doesn’t matter if there are 30 horses in the pen; you should not be at arm’s length to another horse or rider at any time. Two horse widths is a comfortable distance for passing.

3. Look around the pen

Just like driving a car, you need to know whats happening on all sides of you. It is, of course, easy to see what’s happening ahead, and often the easiest way to see what’s going on behind you is to glance over your inside shoulder as you are rounding the corners.

4. If you are having trouble – go to the rail

This is also an unwritten rule. If you are schooling or having trouble handling your horse, moving to the rail is where you can be safe and ensure you do not interfere with other riders as they are trying to get their horses shown.

5. Perfect Placement

Perfect placement is about four to six feet from the rail, again, that’s about two horse widths. This is where we are striving to show. You should pass or go wide and then always be hunting for this perfect track.

When you get stuck in a pack of horses, you should always be looking for a way out. In scenario 1A and 1B to the left, Horse 1 needs to cut the corner off and get past the other two horses by making a smaller track. Horse 3 needs to move to the rail to let the other two horses pass them, and Horse 2 needs to take the track in-between the two others while slightly cutting in behind Horse 1. This way they can separate themselves even if they are all traveling similar speeds. (Pictured in Diagram 1a)

Alternatively, if there is a massive pack of horses behind you (pictured in scenario 2A) and you stay on the same track or stay on the rail, the pack of horses will swarm you as there are at least some moving faster than you. If there are fewer horses in front of you, it is appropriate to cut the corner off and make yourself a shorter track to stay out of the way of the pack coming up. This does not mean buzz the judges. If you need to cut more, please wait for the next corner. If you find yourself unable to stay in front of the pack (pictured in diagram 2b), then, you must remain on the rail and let them pass you by taking the longest track. Then, as they pass you, you can come back off the rail out to the track a few feet off the rail.

If there is a massive pack in front of you, but you are gaining on them, you need to move more toward the rail to give yourself a wider track to provide yourself with more ground not to catch them (Horse 1 pictured in diagram 3 on the right). Anytime there is more room behind you than in front of you; it’s essential to stay wider in the arena.

The reverse (diagram pictured left) is the simplest way to improve your rail placement. Horse 1 should continue to walk a few steps forward when the announcer calls for a reverse to separate themselves from the larger group of horses behind. Horse 2 should immediately reverse to stay in front of the pack after turning around.

It’s important to be aware of how much time you are taking to abide by they gate calls. The judges will forgive only to a certain point if you are waiting to canter off, or waiting to reverse. Try to stay within a three to four-second count when you need to use the gate calls to improve rail position. As an example; if the announcer calls for a walk, but I want to keep going to get to an opening, I try to count to four or only take about four extra strides.

Lastly, I also always encourage my customers to watch classes. There is no better way to learn how to maneuver a pen than to watch. Picking out one person in the class and watching them and deciding what you would do in their situation throughout the class can help you learn how to be savvy in a rail class.

About the Author – Darla Lee was born in Apple Valley, California where she began riding horses at the age of nine. She later moved to Ohio where she attended College at the University of Findlay. She has worked for many top trainers in the industry and the past fifteen years operates Lee Quarter Horses located in Plain City, Ohio with her husband Brian where they specialize in Western Pleasure, Hunter Under Saddle and All-Around Events on the AQHA and NSBA circuits.