By Intern Ashley Shaw
Under Saddles are a traditional part of hunter divisions. We’ve all sat in the bleachers,
following the beautiful movers and discussing with friends who the winner will be. And we have all fought for a place away from the pack, mustering our brightest trot while passing the judge’s booth.
Often times the same few horses will place high and others consistently low, and while this is no problem for the hack winners it can be quite frustrating for those whose horses simply do not move well. Some may say, “It’s just one class,” but when you’re chasing championship points, that “one class” can determine whether you take home a tricolor.
I interviewed trainer Meghan Trilling of St. Louis, Missouri, and riders Emma Green of Carmel, Indiana and Raegan Rast of Stilwell, Kansas, about their opinions on Under Saddles and their significance to hunter divisions.
Trilling is the head trainer at Megillian Farm and has substantial experience training all levels of hunter riders and horses. Competing in Amateur Owner Hunters, Green Hunters, and International Hunter Derbies, Green trains with Wendy Hoffmeister and renown hunter rider Tammy Provost. Rast competes in the Junior Hunters and Big Equitation classes, and will be riding for Texas Christian University this coming fall.
All three agreed that Under Saddle results are usually consistent with slight variations depending on judge’s preferences, but the bottom line is a good mover is a good mover. When asked about Under Saddle points in regard to championships, Trilling reported, “While it’s nice to have ten points in your pocket as the hack winner, I’ve had kids below the top four of the hack and still come out champion. Get your job done over the jumps and the hack points are just the icing on the cake.”
Rast and Green express similar opinions, stating that consistent Over Fences rounds are the true way to a championship, even while Rast admits that Under Saddle points have cost her championship placings. While it is nice to have horses that place well in the hack, the general consensus is “the most important [thing] is that he jumps well,” said Green.
Under Saddle results can be frustrating, but riders and trainers alike agree they are simply an essential part of the horse shows. Green says she enjoys the, “challenge of showing my horse in the best possible way,” and Trilling loves being able to “show our horses adjustability, their suppleness, and natural talent.”
In coordination with the earlier emphasis on Over Fences, they unanimously agreed that jumping is the essential element of a hunter division. As Rast explains, “The rider and the horse both need to shine and work as a team… [This] is the most athletic component where both horse and rider are truly working to succeed.” In the interviewees’ opinions, a hunter championship should reflect the best horse. Nevertheless, the horse has to be presented well by a capable rider and in turn the championship will reward the rider for their abilities as well. This view of championships supports that Under Saddles should indeed stay a part of hunter divisions, demonstrating rideability and suppleness.
There are several rules regarding Under Saddle points and championships. For example, only the top four horses in the Over Fences receive Under Saddle points (USEF Rule HU149). Green approves of this rule, stating, “You don’t want someone to be reserve champion in a large class just because they won the hack.” Rast also shared a rule that she is in favor of: if two people tie for champion, the horse and rider with the most Over Fences points earn the title (USEF Rule HU150). She believes that, “It is up to the rider to really ride in the over fences portion in order to clench champion. If they were more consistent over fences then they deserve champion.” While these rules appear adequate in creating fairness, I asked if there were any rules one wished to make or change. One rider suggested a more complicated Under Saddle, an idea I greatly support because it would show off more of the rider’s talent and the horse’s adjustability.
Under Saddles are an institutional part of hunter divisions, as agreed upon by Trilling, Green, and Rast. Although it can be dissatisfying to show a horse that consistently doesn’t place well in the hack, championships are mainly won off the Over Fences rounds. In addition, flat classes are beneficial to displaying a horse’s rideability and reflect the notion that a championship should indeed indicate the best horse. The current rules support that jumping is the most important aspect in hunter divisions, but perhaps a more complex, skill-driven hack class could change the balance. Regardless, Under Saddles are here to stay.