Friday July 1, 2022
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Working Hunter with Toni Donnelly

The Key To Success in The Working Hunter Ring by Toni Donnelly

Working Hunter competition evolved from replicating a days hunting. The inception of working hunter classes was initiated to keep the seasoned hunters ticking over during the Summer Months while on their holidays from the hunting field. Hence keeping the hunters in work, tackling a course of natural coloured obstacles over unlevelled terrain to mimic a normal days hunting. Not only did it spark friendly rivalry between hunts and their member’s it also kept their valued hunters semi fit and ready for action when Cubbing commenced in August.
For many riders, Working Hunter is the best of both disciplines- the precision of showing combined with the excitement of jumping. Often deemed more for brave than handsome posers, this competition is the closest you’ll get to eventing in an enclosed arena. Riders tackle a round of natural jumps and are then put through their paces on the flat, animals are ridden by the judge, and conformation securitised for hunting suitability, thus making it a versatile test of a horse’s performance. The ponies versatility is tested equally as much, but obviously are not ridden by the judge unless in some M &M championship classes.
Working hunter is divided into 4 phases with specific weightings.
For the horses. For the ponies (WHP)
Horses the maximum total points available is 100 Ponies the max total points available is 100
Jumping points: 40 points Jumping
Sometimes 10 marks are awarded per fence and calculated accordingly. 50

Style & Presence whilst Jumping 20 points Style & Way of going 10
Ride/Manners: Judges experience when riding or if rider rides a set show 20 points Manners and performance (show piece) 20
Conformation assessment by Judge 20 points Conformation and movement & Type 20

In the event of a tie in marks, the conformation mark will take precedence, followed by the ride mark, followed by the style mark
Phase 1 Jumping:
Fences to be a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 in number and a maximum height at the discretion of the Judges according to the competition schedule. Working Hunter courses are not to be walked by competitors until the judge has given permission. Fences should have a natural appearance and not easily dislodged. The course will contain all types of fences, and course builders like to through in a few spooky fences to create a challenge and interesting course. Courses will be predominantly made up of rustic fence, skinnies, hanging gates, bush fillers, water trays, planks, often tracks can also include stone walls, banks, bullfinches, ditches and water splashes all obstacles one would tackle out hunting. Therefore it is recommended to spend time getting your animals schooled over cross country courses but in a controlled working hunter rhythm, as manner of going is always taken into account, refusals to be severely penalised. Schooling on all types of surfaces should be part of your training programme and the use of studs ought to be a regular practise, not just for competition.
Judges are keen to see a smooth round with the animal moving forward at all times, in a good hunting pace, not a showjumping style where the animal is often shorten or checked before a fence. Any interruption of the rhythm, using trot to change canter leads is heavily fined in the scores for this phase. (Style & Presence) The combination should be able to correct this for themselves over the fences to maintain the correct balance and impulsion to sustain a good rhythm, displaying a free flowing round. Therefore coming to a fence on the wrong canter lead is permissible, remember if you were out hunting you would be riding on at fence from either canter lead.
Penalties: Knockdown 10, First Refusal 15, Second Refusal 20, Third Refusal or fall of rider Elimination is occurred.
On completion of the jumping phase ALL CLEAR ROUNDS and any other animals the judges may require should be asked to return to the ring.
General tips to remember
 Animal cannot compete in Novice and Open classes on the same day, and a horse should move up grades if placed 1st or 2nd connectivity in Novice classes.
 Always be polite to the stewards, be on time and know your number for the judge.
 No change of rider or tack will be allowed between phases and elimination can occur if this done.
 A rider can ride up to two animals in the jumping phase but then must select only one animal to take forward into conformation section if so required (no change of rider is allowed)
 No hind boots or bandages of any description are permitted.
 Any animal displaying continued disobedience or animals leaving the ring whether mounted or dismounted will be eliminated, and asked to leave the ring by the ring steward.
 Know the acceptable bits for the grade of class entered, in pony classes no spurs are tolerated. Or any facial jewellery permissible.
Phase 2
Once the jumping phased is completed the highest scores will be called back in to the ring. The stewards will put the riders through their paces as a group. Starting with walk, trot and canter on the right rein before changing the rein across the arena, where the same exercise is completed before asked to gallop. The riders are then selected by the judges in order of merit to be presented for the ride and conformation phase. At this point the grooms are permitted to enter the arena and assist the riders in stripping the horses and preparing them for the conformation stage.
If two judges are working in the ring, the line-up may be divided with one judge riding horses at the start of the line and the other judge commending the conformation presentation. It is advisable to get your animal prepped for this phase and comfortable with strangers riding it. It must walk and trot in hand with ease, yet display manners and presence when under the eye of the judge.
General tips to remember
 Remove any front boots.
 Keep alert, listen and watch the stewards directions
 Learn to get your space, use the outside track and get your animal settled.
 In this phase always give room and respect to other riders in the ring
 Don’t cut up other riders and circle or block the view of the judges.
 In the gallop don’t over push and encourage your animal to buck as this is frown upon, can lose your placings
 Your groom should be dressed smartly, wearing a hat and have a grooming bag with only the essentials.
 When all riders are dismounted in the line-up, it is considered ill-mannered to mount until all competitors are ready to be legged back up, after being assessed by the panel of judges.
 In some circumstances an individual Show may be expected: All riders should have a simple show rehearsed, demonstrating all paces, with clean changes for the judge when asked. Always listen to the judges commends as often exact show displays are voiced if not already stated in the schedule. A good example is that of the WHP class for the RUAS.
What the Judge is looking for in order to place the animals?
A good judge will be looking at the animals presented in front of them in the competition, and thinking would I like to sit on this animal all day out hunting.
Will it jump bravely, economically and safely over any country all day, with ease and manners? Is it a true hunting model, fit enough, complemented with enough bone and correct conformation to withstand a season hunting. Some horses may have scars or blemishes from the hunting field. A good judge will know the differences between a blemish and a conformation defect, blemishes are visible deformities in a horse’s appearance— a bump, a scar (Splint) — that don’t impact movement or performance.
In WHP classes the judge should always ask the age of the rider and pony, taking this into consideration when judging the combination in all phases. Ideally a winning WHP should demonstrate talents that are appreciated in the hunting field. Would this pony be safe enough to allow their child out on for a day’s fun. A pony with plenty of bone and substance, coupled with good movement with courageous jumping style, yet has manners to burn.
All the above facts assist the judges to give their final decision based on the marks awarded to the animals during all phases.
The first 6 riders will be called forwarded, and usually called out in reverse order, to add an element of excitement for all involved. 1st and 2nd prize winners are obliged to go forward to the overall concluding Working Hunter Championship, their prize money can be withheld if they fail to show. All scores are documented and can be obtained after all competitions.
Horses for Courses
With the growth in horse working hunter popularity came the introduction of fence height classes at regular shows. At county level shows classes are divided into categories: Small hunter, Novice / young horse classes 90cm and Open 1m upwards. Height will always be stated on schedules. Small hunters and Cobs will jump a course of rustic style fences with jump height between 80cm -90cm.
Royal Shows have aged or weighted classes (Light, Middle and Heavy weight hunters) for working hunter horses with set jumping heights for these classes, and riders must be 16 years of age and above.
It is also important to note a pony up to 15.2cm should not be seen competing in both pony and horses ridden or working hunter on the same day. A rider must be over 16 years of age to participate in all showing horse classes.
Classes and pony heights
In modern times WHP classes have become more children friendly introducing classes from 60cm -1.10cm to accommodate all sizes of ponies and ages of young riders give them an opportunity to experience and enjoy working hunter. However at the more serious level of competition, pony’s heights must be recorded on their passports as will this be checked, and riders adhere to set age boundaries. This is the normal classes for all County Shows and Royal Shows as seen below.
Class Height of fences Class details
Cradle Stakes 67cm max Mare or Gelding, 4 years old and over, not exceeding 122cms. Rider not to have attained their 11th birthday on the 1st January in the current year
Starter Sakes 75cm max Mare or Gelding 4 years old and over, not exceeding 133cms, suitable for and to be ridden by riders who have not attained their 12th birthday on 1st January.
133cm .90cm max Mare or Gelding [open], 4 years old and over, not exceeding 133cms. Riders not to have attained their 14th birthday before 1st January in the current year.
143cm 1m max Mare or Gelding [open], 4 years old and over, exceeding 133cms, not exceeding 143cms. Riders not to have attained their 17th birthday before 1st January in the current year.
153cm 1.05/10cm Mare and Gelding [open], 4 years old and over, exceeding 143cms, not exceeding 153cms. Riders not to have attained their 20th birthday before 1st January in the current year

Intermediate 1.10cm Mare and Gelding 4 years old or over, exceeding 143cm but not exceeding 158cm.
Ridden by riders who have attained their 14th birthday but not attained their 25th birthday by 1 January .

Working Hunter is a real fun competition once the competitor, parents and helpers are content with all the phases, the best place to learn is to spend a day at the side of the ring, with a picnic, watching all aspects and different classes.
Dress to impress
Rider dress for all hunter classes is tweed jackets; base your tweed colour decision, on the colour of the animals. For example a dun pony and a brown tweed will blend well, and a dark grey pony and a green tweed jacket will match. Tan coloured gloves and navy/black approved standard of riding hats, cream, canary or beige breeches, and a cream shirt with a tie (and tie pin). No stocks of any colour should be worn. Long hair should be neat and tidy, in a net, ponytail or bun. I would advise against ribbons and bows. The move to wearing long boots for pony riders is becoming increasingly popular and personal choice. However wearing of body protectors is compulsory for pony competitors, and often a written perquisite in the adult performance classes rules of some shows too.
Animals should be plaited, well groomed, tack and turn out is essential for all competitors. No point doing your homework unless you go to school in the uniform.
The final salute
Working hunter classes are a great foundation stone for many children’s riding careers. The different phase’s gives riders experience and skill in jumping all sorts of technical and challenging tracks (prerequisite for showjumping and eventing) The control, obedience and showing etiquettes of the flat phase is good tuition for the dressage ring. The in hand phase should never be underestimated, this phase is often the difference of winning or losing the class, this equating in presenting animals for future buyers in the sales ring.
For anyone interest in working hunter and keen to give it a go contact Toni to arrange a lesson at White Cottage Stables, Saintfield or to even find out when/where her clinics are happening, no doubt once Lock Down is lifted and equine activities are given the green light there will be unlimited opportunities.

If you would like any further information please contact Toni or email