At Horse Listening, we are emphatic life-long learners of all things horsey. You will be reminded time and again about how there is so much to be learned from horses and other horse people, if only we listened.

This guest post is by Laura Kelland-May, a Sr. Judge in Hunter Jumper Hack and Equitation and founder of the Thistle Ridge Skill Builders Series © of Horse Show Clinics andThistle Ridge Skill Builders©.  She is available for judging and developing clinics and riders in your area.

A well thought of and ‘in demand’ coach and trainer with 20+ years of experience, Laura continues to develop and brings her experience online and  has been featured guest with “How to Market Your Horse Business” (Facebook discussion) and Featured Guest with “Horse Family Magazine” on #horsechat. In addition Laura offers weekly lessons on her weekly live Q & A session.

Scoring the Hunter Round

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Laura
Hunters should have good form and have their knees up and even
Riding a show ring hunter has come a long way from the field hunters of yesteryear. Originally the horses found in the hunter jumper show ring were field hunters that used to be ridden to the hounds. Now-a-days show ring hunters are a breed unto themselves and are required to be superior athletes, easy to ride and sound competitors.

Have you ever wondered how the judge keeps track of the horses they like?

We have all lamented about “the judge just doesn’t like my horse”. Well, that usually isn’t the reason why you placed or didn’t place in the show ring. The judge probably DOES like your horse and is hoping it will put in a good trip. Your horse may not have won because it didn’t perform as well as some of the other competitors –OR- you don’t understand what the judge is looking for.

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When I sit in the judges stand I often see a horse come in and think, “ ohh, what a lovely horse. This is going to be great!” Then all of a sudden the rider buries the lovely horse in a bad spot or falls into the trot through a corner. As judges we are looking for the best in your horse and we are rooting for you. If you find a bad take off spot or get a wrong lead, then we will have to penalize you.

Judging Criteria for Show Hunters

People who take their showing seriously know the rules and have an understanding of “what the judge is looking for”. Sometimes, however, people (by people I mean trainers, coaches, riders and parents) overlook what the judge really wants to see (an athletic horse that has good form over it’s fences) and concentrate on whether the leads, striding and braids are good.

The Judge is Rooting For You

Ideally, the judge (that would be me) wants to see a well turned out horse and rider combination come in, with purpose, and jump all the jumps out of stride and in good form. It is important to remember that anything that detracts from a rhythmic, steady round (breaking to a trot, wrong leads, adding and leaving out strides) will cause the score to go down. Major errors such as refusals, nappiness at the gate, bucking, rearing (God Forbid!) and knock downs are heavily penalized.

A refusal is considered a major fault

Usually judges are in the same ball park for major errors. A refusal will be scored in the 30’s. A horse that refuses may have the best form over fences but a refusal should knock it out of the ribbons.

A knock down is also heavily penalized. I score a horse that has a knock down with a front leg more severely than if it hits a fence with a hind leg on the way down. This is from the old field hunter school. If a horse hits with its front legs taking off for the jump, it may have a terrible fall or flip. For this reason I score a rail down with the hind legs less severe than a rail with the front hooves. A knock down is considered a major error and I score a 50 for a rail. If it is a bad jump with a rail down I will note its jumping style and a rail by giving it a score in the low 50’s. If it is a rub that robs a nice horse of a first place finish – I may be generous and score it the highest of knock downs.

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Other guest posts on Horse Listening:

Which Pasture Plants Are Dangerous for Horses? by Hayley and Rebecca from Anything Equine, this informative article covers many different types of plants. Pictures included.

Little Known Qualities of Great Farriers, by K. Arbuckle, professional farrier: The farrier, though required to scientifically balance and shoe a horse, is an artist working with a living canvas.


  1. Kathy,
    Thank you for taking the time to have me write a guest post for your Horse Listening website. You have created a special place for horse people to develop themselves into thinking, feeling and LISTENING horsemen/women.

    Thank you,

  2. Despite showing in the hunter ring for years, I have yet to REALLY learn how the judge scores- apart from rhythm, distance, lead changes, and general “attractiveness” of the ride- I’m not sure how the scoring system works. I suppose I do feel it comes down to the brand of tack, custom boots or not, braided tail, etc. if there are two riders tied for first. Thank you for your post, hoping to see more!

  3. Nice article!! I totally agree with you that the judges ARE ROOTING for the exhibitor. I am also a judge and just finished judging today wishing I could have given higher scores, but the rounds had their mistakes and I am paid to sort them out to my best opinion. The lesson for the exhibitor is to keep doing your best and learning as you go and have fun. :}

  4. what would be scored better with everything being equal (finding the correct jump distances, getting the correct strides, staying in balance etc)…obviously neither of these things are correct and will be worked on, but sometimes you have to do the lesser of 2 evils in the ring.

    trotting on course to change leads leading to an unbalanced canter-trot-canter transition but still reaching the fence at the correct spot and jumping in good form, or continuing on the wrong lead in balance (horse is kind of freakily equally balanced on both sides) and still hitting the jump at the right distance and jumping in good form.

    Horse is much happier continuing in the canter than having his pace messed up with a downward transition.