Hunters versus Jumpers versus Equitation

By Sarah Banks

If you do not do hunter jumper shows yourself, then you probably are not completely sure on the difference between hunters, jumpers, and equitation. These are the three main divisions, at which a lower level rider can enter into all of them. In the higher levels of this sport, however, horses and riders focus on just one division. Each division is usually broken down even further into rider experience, age, and ability, along with the horse’s age, experience, and ability.


The hunter division is all about the horse. Judges only look at the horse. They watch how the horse moves, how they jump, what kind of attitude they have, the stride they use, their jumping form, and more. Consistency is key, judges don’t want to see your horse speeding up the last few strides to the jump. The rider’s goal is to help the horse look the best it possibly can, but the rider is not judged.

Scores in the 90’s are awesome, in the 80’s is average, and in the 70’s is only ok. If there is a fault, the score will usually be in the 70’s, which could be something like a jump refusal, or even just a bad lead change. Judging is very subjective, meaning that a horse may not score very well at one show even though they did better at a previous one but had a worse performance.

The jumps in hunters are designed to look natural, with neutral colors such as brown, green, and white, similar to jumps you would find on a foxhunt. Usually 8 to 12 jumps are in a hunter course, which is made up of an easy course with no sharp turns.


(Photo Credit: Leslie Potter)


Equitation is all about the rider, and judges only look at the riders in this division. Riders must have great form, use the correct riding aids, have a great overall presentation, and more. Judges look at the decisions that the riders make during the class, such as riding the correct distance from other horses, and how they ask their horse to perform the moves. Horses that are smooth movers are better suited for equitation classes, as they don’t bounce the rider around and make them look bad.

The jumps are a little more complicated than hunter division jumps, with some technical questions, such as rollbacks and trotting jumps.

Judging is again subjective, similar to how hunter divisions are scored.


(Photo Credit: Maria Morgan)


Jumpers is more widely recognized and are judged objectively. The first round of show jumping is just about getting through the jumping course without any refusals or rails knocked down, and within the time limit. The time limit is usually reasonable to where you do not have to push too hard, especially for the lower levels.

The riders that go clear in the first round then go on to a jump off. For this, horse and rider teams must get through a jump off course as fast and clean as possible, meaning they want to have the fastest possible time with the least amount of rails going down. Often, this means taking sharp turns and quick cutbacks, so jumpers must be balanced and powerful to put the speed on.

The jumps for the jumper division will be colorful and open, and the course will be more complicated than the hunter and equitation divisions. The goal in jumpers is just about getting around the course quickly, clear, and safely, as no one is judging the horse or the rider except for the time and faults.


(Photo Credit:

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