What Is Hunter Jumper? Riding Disciplines Explained

You may have heard the term “hunter jumper” used to refer to a competition, sport, or rider, but what does it mean? Hunter jumper refers to two distinct yet related disciplines that test a horse’s speed or style. In this article, we’ll define “hunter jumper”, explain the differences between hunters and jumpers, and give you our best tips for getting started in hunter jumper horse riding.

What Is Hunter Jumper? Riding Disciplines Explained

What is hunter jumper?

Hunter jumper is an equestrian sport that includes the hunter and jumper disciplines. It can also refer to a competition where there are both hunter and jumper classes. While some riders participate in both disciplines, most specialize in either hunters or jumpers. Informally, “hunter jumper” is sometimes used to describe hunter classes over fences. 

Both the hunter and jumper disciplines involve jumping over fences, but each tests different skills of the horse and rider. When compared to skating, hunters is like figure skating, emphasizing artistry and style, and jumpers is like speed skating, prioritizing speed and agility. Hunter classes highlight the elegance of horse and rider, judged subjectively on criteria like movement and form, while jumper classes are judged objectively based on speed and precision in clearing obstacles.

Many hunter jumper competitions also include equitation classes, which may be on the flat or over fences but are judged specifically on the rider instead of the horse. In equitation classes, the rider’s goal is to maintain position, accuracy, and style as effortlessly as possible.

Hunters explained

The hunter discipline aims to assess all the skills required in the sport of foxhunting, where horse and rider navigate rough terrain with obstacles such as fences and hedges. In the arena, jumps are meant to test the horse’s manners, movement, and jumping form. Hunter obstacles are made to simulate the natural obstacles fox hunters would encounter, featuring wood, greenery, and flowers.

In hunter classes, horses are judged based on elegance, athleticism, and style. To do this, they evaluate performance by the horse’s temperament, cadence, movement, form over jumps, conformation, and turnout. Because form is more important than agility in hunters, the fence heights do not go up as high as those in the jumper discipline.

Typically, a hunter course features between eight and 12 straightforward jumps, designed to display rather than test the horse and rider’s skills. Judges score different criteria from 1-10, and if multiple judges are scoring one class, all judges’ scores are then averaged and converted into a score out of 100. Faults in hunter classes can range from major violations like falls, refusals, or hitting or knocking down fences to minor violations such as pace adjustments or poor jumping form. Judges may also penalize signs of poor attitude from the horse, such as ear pinning.

Jumpers explained

In the jumper discipline, also known as show jumping, horse and rider pairs aim to complete the course in the fastest time without any faults. Therefore, unlike hunters, jumpers are scored on completely objective criteria. Show jumping is fast-paced, exciting, and challenges the horse’s athleticism and the rider’s skill.

Most commonly, show jumping competitions include two rounds. Competitors that finish the first round without any faults move to the second round, or a “jump off,” over a shortened course. Horse and rider teams are only allowed a certain amount of time to complete the course, and they score faults according to the severity of the error. For example, knocking down a fence scores four faults, but exceeding the time allowed scores one fault for every additional second.

Jumper courses are very technical, featuring 12-16 jumps with tight turns, combinations, and difficult distances. All jumps are bright and easy to knock over, which tests the horse’s ability in a variety of ways. Because the courses are designed to be challenging, strategy is key. Riders are allowed to walk the course to plan turns and strides before jumping it.

Learn more: Show Jumping Attire & Etiquette: Beginner’s Guide

Key differences between hunter and jumper

Since hunter jumper competitions include both hunter and jumper classes, they’re often confused with one another. However, hunters and jumpers are unique disciplines with very different criteria and rules. In this section, we’ll explore a few notable differences between hunter and jumper horses, competition levels, and attire.

Hunter horse vs. jumper horse

For the hunter jumper sport, the best horse breeds are typically Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods. However, good hunter horses have different qualities than good jumper horses. Whether you’re looking for a hunter or jumper horse or wondering if your horse has what it takes to compete in one of the disciplines, you should evaluate hunter jumper horses based on temperament, stature, and athleticism.

A good hunter horse is even-tempered and obedient with enough trainability to learn the correct pace and form and adapt to new courses and different riders. Hunter horses have great conformation, allowing them to jump with good form and balance. They must also have an excellent jumping style, and minimal knee movement at the trot and canter are a bonus for performing well in under saddle classes.

On the other hand, jumper horses must be quick-footed and bold. Jumper horses may be less conventional when it comes to their conformation or jumping style, as long as they are able to generate the power they need to clear the height and width of the jumps. Show jumping requires horses to have high speed and agility so they can quickly clear jumps, recover and make sharp turns. 

Hunter vs. jumper competition levels

Each year, there are thousands of hunter jumper competitions throughout the US, each offering classes for various skill and experience levels in each discipline. 

As hunter competition levels increase in difficulty, fence heights increase, and combination jumps are introduced. Hunter competition levels for both professional and amateur riders, as well as green and seasoned horses, generally include fences at the following heights:

  • Cross rails (18”)
  • 2’
  • 2’3”
  • 2’6”
  • 2’9”
  • 3’
  • 3’3”
  • 3’6”
  • 3’9”
  • 4’

The higher the jumper competition level, the greater the fence heights and spreads and technicality of the course. Professional and amateur jumper riders compete in the height that best matches the skill level and experience of both themselves and their horses. Here are a few of the show jumping levels you may see within the national and international levels:

  • Clear round/clearance class
  • Schooling or training jumper classes
  • Modified/pre/low child/adult classes
  • Young jumper classes
  • Low/medium/high junior or amateur classes
  • Open or non-pro classes
  • Pony- or Thoroughbred-specific classes
  • Itty Bitty or Puddle Jumper classes
  • Grand Prix classes
  • Speed/stakes classes
  • Jumper derby classes

Show jumping also exists at the Olympic level, where jumps can range between 1.4 and 1.6 meters (five to six feet). While there are no hunter competitions in the Olympics, the annual USHJA International Hunter Derby serves as the pinnacle of the hunter sport.

Hunter vs. jumper show attire

Hunters and jumpers wear similar show attire, but hunter dress codes are more rigid. To respect tradition, most show attire guidelines are consistent. Even so, it’s best to check a competition’s dress code before showing, which can usually be found in the event’s prize list.


A black, ASTM-approved helmet is required for hunters and jumpers. Jumping poses a risk of falling from the horse, so this rule is in place to keep all riders safe.

Show shirt

Traditionally, both hunters and jumpers wear a white, long-sleeve, collared show shirt. Thanks to modern designs, both riders now often wear short-sleeve show shirts instead, with hunter riders usually opting for a show coat with white cuffs built in to give the appearance of a long sleeve shirt under their jacket.

Learn more: How to Buy Equestrian Show Shirts: Size, Fit, Style Guide

Stock tie

Hunter derbies and more formal hunter classes require riders to wear a stock tie with a shadbelly coat. Stock ties and shadbellies are not required in all hunter competitions and are not required in any jumper classes.

Learn how to tie a stock tie.

Show coat

Both hunters and jumpers wear a hunt style show coat, and conservative colors such as black, navy, dark green, gray, or brown are most popular in both disciplines. However, jumpers may sometimes wear a show coat in lighter or brighter colors instead.

Learn more: How to Buy Equestrian Show Coats: Size, Fit, Style Guide


Most hunter dress codes require tan breeches, but jumpers may wear white breeches for their Classic rounds, which typically run on Sundays. Knee patch breeches are helpful for hunters and jumpers because they provide grip as you jump. Younger riders may choose to wear jodhpurs instead, which are another type of riding pants.

Learn more: How to Buy Breeches: Size, Fit, Style Guide

Riding boots

Hunters should wear tall black boots at competitions. Jumpers can be more creative, often adding decorative accents on their tall boots. Younger riders wearing jodhpurs should wear paddock boots and garter straps.

Learn how to choose the right riding boots.

Riding gloves

Hunter riders traditionally show in black riding gloves. Jumpers are not required to wear gloves, but they do provide extra grip and protection for your hands as you ride.

For hunter jumper outfit inspiration, check out our equestrian fashion lookbook.

How to get started in hunter jumper horse riding

If you’re interested in becoming a hunter jumper and wondering where to start, low level hunter or equitation classes can be a great way to learn the basics. Equitation provides a solid foundation for learning proper position and body control that will best enable you to ride with precision and accuracy over both hunter and jumper tracks. By competing in equitation over fences classes, you can practice mastering proper jumping form and strengthen your connection between pace and track and how they affect your horse’s jumping ability before moving into either discipline. Once you have a solid foundation of jumping courses, beginners may start to compete in show jumping classes since most competitions offer classes with low jumps and easy-to- navigate courses.

Before diving into any hunter jumper discipline, you should find a professional trainer who can teach you and your horse the proper techniques to ensure the safety of both you and your horse. Most likely, your trainer will start your training with flatwork exercises to work on your horse’s balance and communication. Once your horse is comfortable on the flat, you can move on to grid work exercises with ground poles or cavalettis, gradually increasing fence heights as you progress. Once you and your horse have established the necessary skills and confidence, you can compete in beginner equitation, hunter, or jumper classes in local shows, and work your way up from there.

Elevate your ride with hunter jumper attire from R.J. Classics

Before your first hunter jumper competition, you’ll need the proper show attire to look the part. R.J. Classics designs fashion-forward equestrian clothing that’s made to move with you and built to last. With a variety of patterns and colors, you can express yourself in the show ring while respecting the tradition of the hunter jumper sport. Shop our newest collection to elevate your show look today.

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