In Defense of Hunters
by: Claire Caust-Taylor
2017 was quite a year for bashing hunters online. Admittedly, there was some scandalous behavior by hunter riders last year, but it could have happened in any discipline. If you read any comment section of any Chronicle, Practical Horseman, or Plaid Horse, etc. Facebook post, you’re bound to run into hunter bashing. But, now it’s 2018 and time for someone to step up and defend hunters. So, here are five reasons that hunters are just as good as other disciplines!
1. It’s a discipline based on striving for perfection, which basically makes it art. Striving to score a 100 means you can always learn and get better. There’s no end to the improvement process, because even if you actually put in a perfect trip and score a 100, you could get a 45 the next trip because that’s horses/life. A good hunter trip is all about good riding, a good horse, and a great partnership, which is why McLain Ward’s trips always look like hunter trips.
2. Being slow and boring is actually bad hunter riding. As I mentioned, a good hunter trip is good riding: it’s correct distances, brilliant pace, correct leads, and appropriate strides. Much like a good equitation round, it’s not about looking beautiful; it’s the essence of riding a course how it should be ridden and meeting each question as it comes up, whether in a ring or cross country. That is why it will be beautiful. My horse loves to crawl around the course, so we are always striving for that eye-catching, balanced gallop. And if you really worry about the slow, boring hunters, watch the hunter derbies! They are certainly not slow and boring. I know that some disciples aim to leave the ground closer to the jump (I certainly wouldn’t want to leave a stride out to a trakehner) but all aim for correct distances while jumping out of stride.
3. Hunters are beautiful to watch. Seeing a brilliant horse galloping and jumping out of stride with no (visual) input from their rider is so lovely. Like dressage, it looks like the rider is dancing with their horse when they’re so in sync. I remember, as a child, watching Peter Pletcher gallop around a working hunter class on a large gray horse and meet every jump perfectly. He never deviated from his forward seat, and literally the entire crowd was silent as he rode. It was, as they say, poetry in motion. I feel the same goosebumpy way watching Brunello or Catch Me; it is a riding lesson and art all in one.
(r-l) Scott Stewart & Catch Me (credit: Jumper Nation). Liza Boyd & Brunello (credit: Horse & Style Magazine).
4. The riding should be invisible, and you don’t see people yanking and cow kicking their horses. When people gossip about a horse being “push button” in the hunters, I always giggle a little. That rider is likely working very, very hard to make it seem they’re not doing anything at all! After a lesson recently, a junior said she wished she had a horse that was as easy as my horse. What a wonderful compliment for a hunter rider! I knew I was doing my job and making riding him look effortless, and I felt so proud! That adult amateur with all the perfect horses probably works hard at every lesson so you’ll think that. Just think of Jon French cantering in two-point over the entire course only moving his body two inches forward or backwards. That is masterful hunter riding!
John French & Overseas 2 (credit: Brookway Stables).
5. There are options where the jumps are low, and it feels safer for us amateurs. I have a kid, a job, a husband, etc. I’ve done the junior hunters, Big Eq, and jumpers, and now I am quite happy to live my life jumping three-foot jumps. I am so thankful for the hunter divisions for giving me that option.
All disciplines have their merits and pitfalls, but I think it’s time to put the hunter bad mouthing to bed. No more derogatory “Hunter Princess” or “All hunters are drugged.” It’s time to appreciate the beauty of a well-executed course, whether it’s in the children’s hunters or a Grand Prix.
(cClaire Caust-Taylor riding.
Claire has been riding and showing since she was an eight year old in Arkansas. Now, she lives in Maryland with her toddler, husband, and cockapoo. In addition to riding and caring for her daughter, she works as a pediatric occupational therapist, which needless to say she could really use a nap.
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