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Last-Minute Tips: Hunter Under Saddle – with Keith Miller


Many non-pros joke that they put a lot of work into preparing for their classes, and it all goes out the window the moment they step foot in the show pen. Preparation is one thing, but actually showing is a whole different beast.

We spoke with top trainers to get their advice on “last-minute” tips they give their clients before entering the show arena. In our first article in this series, we learned some last-minute pointers before heading into the Pleasure pen with RJ King and Blair Townsend. In our next installment, we focused on Showmanship with Clint Ainsworth and Jenell Pogue.

Today, we get some Hunter Under Saddle tips from multiple World and Congress Champion Keith Miller of Miller Quarter Horses.

Set The Right Impression 

There is an old adage that, “You only get one change at a first impression.” This can be particularly true in the Hunter Under Saddle classes with the centerline trot that opens the class.

Miller reminds us that, while this is technically a “soundness check,” it has become a great opportunity to make a first impression and “wow” the judges before you begin your rail work.

Miller advises his clients not to panic if the centerline trot doesn’t go as planned, but he likes to set them up for a great first impression. To do so, he has his riders practice trotting through the doors from the holding pen to the main arena multiple times the evening before the class.

Some horses will be surprised by the transition into the arena with the lights, judges, and applause. If you can make your horse comfortable entering the arena in the way they will for the class, you will be better able to focus on pacing and frame, instead of avoiding a crisis off the bat.

Be Conscious of Your Speed

Pacing is critical in a Hunter Under Saddle class, where the object is to cover ground slowly.” This involves increasing your horse’s reach and drive without allowing them to trot their legs off or hand gallop around the arena.

Correct pacing can be particularly difficult to assess for people who show the all-around where, when compared to Western Pleasure, everything feels quick.

To help with your speed, Miller recommends that you pick another horse or two in your class that you know keep a good, consistent pace. Then, work during the class to maintain your position relative to those horses. If you combine “feel” with the visual aids of other horses in the arena, you will be able to get a good gauge on your pacing throughout the class.

Give Yourself Space

Miller finds that a typical non-pro mistake is to work to stay on the “inside track” of the arena at all costs.

Miller warns, “Don’t find yourself doing donuts around the judges. It’s ok to let a horse pass you on the inside if it will allow you more space to be seen.

Giving yourself space to show is not only beneficial to the judges’ ability to evaluate you, it is also beneficial to your horse’s mindset during the class.

Keith says, Your horse will breathe and relax better if you can keep them out of traffic and not pinch them between other horses. If your horse is stressed, it is less likely they will maintain frame throughout the class or be responsive to your cues.”

Know Your Horse

Knowing your horse’s idiosyncrasies will help you to fix issues as they arise in the pen, because they are inevitable…even for professionals.

Miller emphasizes, the more you can practice with your horse at shows, the better you will be able to help them work through issues in your class. Horses are animals after all, and while broke horses can appear incredibly predictable, Miller has never had a horse that was perfect every go.

He advises that, “You need to have a sense for when your horse is going to react to other horses, or the scary corner’ of the arena and you need to know how to keep them soft and responsive despite those distractions.”

Additionally, if you know your horse’s strengths and weaknesses, you are in a better position to highlight their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. Miller subscribes to the mantra, “Don’t show the horse you want, show the horse you have.

Not every horse in a hunt seat class is 17h tall. But if you try to show your 16h mount like a 17h competitor, you will miss the opportunity to show your horse in their best light.

Essentially, if you focus on what you wish you could have, you won’t be able to appreciate what you actually have. And, if you can’t appreciate what you have, the judges certainly won’t either.

Have The Right Mindset

Miller jokes that his consistent last-minute advice to his clients before they enter a Hunter Under Saddle class is: “You don’t have to win, just don’t suck.

This is his cheeky way of reminding his clients “not to worry about perfection, but to worry about doing their best.” The goal isn’t necessarily to win every time, but to improve every time.

Miller believes one of the biggest mistake non-pros make across the board is going into a class with a lot of mental pressure to win it. This can cause increased anxiety, which your horse will pick up on.

Miller reminds us that horses don’t get show broke in one show, and neither do exhibitors. The best way to win is to keep showing after you lose. “The more show experience you can give yourself, the more you will relax, improve, and learn to deal with struggles during a class,” he said. “If you enter a class with a reasonable goal like having strong transitions or really showing off a great trot, you will be more likely to find success than if you enter the pen with the overly broad goal of winning.”

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CLICK HERE to read the first article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Western Pleasure – with RJ King & Blair Townsend’

CLICK HERE to read the second article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Showmanship – with Clint Ainsworth & Jenell Pogue’


About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on and off since she was in sixth grade. She works as a full-time mom to son Jackson and daughter Sterling, part-time litigation attorney, and social media manager for up-and-coming APHA stallions.

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