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What to Look for in the Perfect Hunter Under Saddle Horse with Beth Case and Farley McLendon

Hunter under saddle is a tough class to train for. Your horse has to have the movement and conformation to match the class. Judges are looking for a horse with a bright, alert expression, whose gaits must be free-flowing, ground covering, and athletic, according to the 2020 AQHA rulebook.

So, how can you find a horse that fits the description, or how can you make your horse fit that description better? Beth Case, of Highpoint Performance Horses, and Farley McLendon, of McLendon Show Horses, explain their “perfect” hunter under saddle horse.

Conformation, conformation, conformation – Since hunter under saddle is exceptionally focused on the movement of the horse, the perfect hunter under saddle horse must have a good structure.

“I look at how good their legs are first. They should have a long stride, deep hock, and be flow-legged and flat up front,” Case said, “so they can throw that shoulder out and point their toe. They should move big, slow, flat, and deep-hocked.”

If they don’t have the conformation, they usually can’t get the movement that judges are looking for.

“I don’t like them to have a huge wither, where it drops off, and they have a huge dip after that,” McLendon said. “It’s harder, in my opinion, for them to carry themselves and be sweepy. Now the hocks, I don’t like them to be higher than their knees. I don’t like them to be super pointy and hang out behind them too far. It’s harder to teach one to swing their legs to come through if there’s not a lot of length from the stifle to the hock.”

Brokeness – Unlike a pattern class, hunter under saddle involves maneuvering your horse around the pen, and around many other horses. Because of this, if you have a super broke horse, that can give you a competitive edge.

“I typically want to try to have the most broke horse in the pen,” McLendon said. “I want to be able to maneuver it around; I want to be able to drive it deep in the corners. We all want it to have great legs and a great topline, but I want to make sure they’re broke on top of it, so I can put it where I need to in the pen.”

One who loves its job – Everyone has a preference when it comes to a horse’s personality. Some like the puppy dog ones, some like the serious ones. Case and McLendon prefer the willing ones.

“The big dumb ones are the best,” Case said. “The big dumb ones that are happy doing their jobs. I like a happy, fun horse that always comes out and is like, ‘What are we doing next?’. And I love a lazy horse. I like to kick; I want to push them around the pen.”

“I like them to be easy to handle, obviously,” McLendon said. “A horse has to want to do their job. They have to have the heart and the grit to handle what we ask of them.”

Looks aren’t everything – Even though hunter under saddle is a class based on conformation and movement, you can still find success with horses that don’t exactly fit “the look.”

“I want to say they should be big and pretty, but they don’t have to be big and pretty,” Case said. “I’ve ridden ugly horses that are pretty-legged, and small horses that move good and do their job right. There’s always going to be that ugly one that’s still great or the smaller one that’s still great.”

Case gave some advice for those with horses that don’t fit the bill.

“Make sure their head and neck are good,” she said. “Make sure they break at the wither, and their nose is out a little bit, and they’re not pulling you out of the saddle or overbridled. You can always fix a topline, even if you can’t fix the legs.”

The rider matters – Hunter under saddle is focused on the horse, but without a rider piloting them correctly, the horse will fall apart. So, one key to success in hunter under saddle is effective riding.

McLendon shared her experience with helping riders find a rhythm with their horse.

“There was a girl who came to me, and she would post fast for the horse, instead of letting that horse push, drive, and help her post,” she said. “I helped her where she could get her horse shown and broke, making sure that it was broke in the pen and she could handle it. You have to have control.”

Next time you show, keep these tips in mind when trotting into the ring. Overall, you want the judges to notice your horse for their movement, demeanor, and conformational correctness.

“I want the judges to look at my horse, and think, ‘Wow, that’s a nice horse. He’s being really good and looks great, and everything looks like it should,’” Case added.

CLICK HERE to read part one of this series – What to Look for in the Perfect Horsemanship Horse with Terry Cross and Melissa Dukes

About the Author – Olivia Bradish has been an equestrian for 13 years. She attends the University of Michigan, studying Political Science and English, as well as working for The Michigan Daily. Olivia shows the all-around events with her horse, CSR Roan Bar Penny, who is known around the barn as London. They enjoy showmanship, horsemanship, and trail the most. Olivia also enjoys teaching and helping the younger kids at her barn.