Horses are good at jumping things. It was necessary for their survival in the wild. People love to ride horses over jumps. In the past it was a fun as well as useful skill. If you were running at speed chasing prey to eat or perhaps charging in a battle, the ground was unlikely to be perfectly level and you and your horse needed to be able to handle ditches, streams and other obstacles.
Today, of course, we don’t have to face those challenges. Instead we ride and jump for the fun of it. Some people ride cross-country in Three-Day Events (see Not For The Faint of Heart) or follow a Hunt (see Hunting—With Horses–Not Guns). But most people ride in a ring and jump over artificial obstacles or fences. For those who like to compete there are horse shows with jumping classes.
Horse show jumping is divided into two separate disciplines—Hunters and Jumpers.
Hunter classes focus on the ease and style of the horse and rider as they go over jumps that are similar to what they might face on a hunt field. Hunters move with long, low, ground-covering strides and are very calm and collected. The rider almost looks like a passenger with the horse just casually floating over the fences. But the hunter must have perfect form as it jumps—knees up and forelegs parallel to the ground, legs even and tucked, and a graceful bascule (curved shaped). Style is all important. Besides way of going, this also includes appropriate tack (saddle, bridle, and martingale), braided manes and sometimes tails too, polished hooves, and the rider in conservative attire.
Hunter video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgXm9eR0lb0
There are different types of hunter classes and a couple don’t include fences. Flat classes, often called hunter under saddle or hunter hack, are judged on the horse’s gaits, way of going and suitability. In-hand or model classes judge the horse’s conformation and gaits. In these the horse is led and has no saddle.
Jumper classes are very different from hunters. The focus is on clearing the jumps in the time allotted. Style, looks, attitude—none of that matters. In a hunter class, your horse may clear all the jumps but unless he does it in an easy, stylish manner with exactly the right striding and take off, he may still not score well. It depends on the subjective evaluation of the judge(s). In a jumping class, numbers tell the story. How many jumps cleared, how many faults from refusals or knockdowns, how many time faults—these are what determine the results.
Instead of natural looking jumps, jumpers are faced with colorful and sometimes quite outlandish obstacles, which can be scary or confusing for the horses but fun for the audience. You can see some of the most dramatic at the Olympics. Not only are the courses unusual, they are also more difficult and technical. These require bold, powerful, fast horses that are also accurate and balanced. Faced with a high fence a horse naturally speeds up. In contrast to the relaxed, laid back hunters, jumpers charge their jumps and often look barely under control. In speed classes, the audience often has their hearts in their throats.
Jumping video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osAgyQtXWto
If you have the chance, go to a horse show that features hunters and/or jumpers. You’ll see some marvelously skilled athletes and have a great time.
************High jump: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thowra/515302767/”>Thowra_uk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a> Hunter photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nico/4458883343/”>Nico….</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a> In hand: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivefurlongs/4630636060/”>Five Furlongs</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a> Zebras: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/rpmarks/9633348424/”>R~P~M</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>