Hunter Under Saddle and Over Fences: Stock Horses vs Sporthorses

BY JAMIE SKUBAL

I often get asked, “What’s the difference between showing a horse at Hunter/ Jumper shows and showing the Under Saddle, Hack, & Over fences at stock horse shows (APHA, AQHA, PtHA, etc)?”

In a dream world, the answer is simple. Nothing should be different between the two, but the reality is there are a few differences. The first and most critical difference is that a stock horse can show in Hunter/Jumper shows, but a sport horse like a warmblood or Thoroughbred cannot show in the rated stock breed shows.

Additionally, the stock horse shows have rewarded a specific look in the past fifteen plus years. You can tell by watching many of the classes that there is starting to be specific horse “types,” such as the hunter under saddle horse versus the over fences horses. In the hunter/jumper world, that type should be the same between the two classes.

APHA hunter under saddle. Carri Hansen and her horse LF Southern Belle.

Stock Horse Hunter Under Saddle

The stock horse look is to have a lower headset and a flatter kneed trot. The rider should be keep a long rein to show how long the neck stretches down. Whereas the sporthorse hunter rider moves their horse forward on the contact with its poll level with the withers. Both types are round, but in different ways.

AQHA Registered horse flatting at a USHJA AA show. Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Other major differences include tack and show turn out. While both horses hold fake tails and neck braids, the hunter horse also sports a tail braid to complete the look with a fitted show pad. The rider’s number is worn on the back of the rider using a black shoe string. The stock horse often does not hold a tail braid, but is expected to show off a full tail and a competition pad that sports numbers on both sides. The rider will not have the number worn on the back but on the side of the saddle pad.

Over Fences

In non-breed hunter/jumper shows, a full course often consists of six to nine fences or more, depending on what division and level of difficulty. Stock shows often don’t have as many divisions as hunter/jumper shows, and include classes like the hunter hack which has 2-3 fences as well as an under saddle portion.

The judging standards are similar for both, though stock hunters are expected to have similar (though less extreme) characteristic as those competing in hunter under saddle classes.

Jamie competing in stock horse hunter over fences. Photo courtesy of Jamie Skubal

Stock Horse Scoring

  • 90 – 100: An excellent performer and good mover that jumps the entire course with cadence, balance and style.
  • 80-89: A good performer that jumps all fences reasonably well, an excellent performer that commits one or two minor faults.
  • 70-79: The average, fair mover that makes no serious faults, but lacks the style cadence and good balance of the scopier horses; the good performer that makes a few minor faults.
  • 60-69: Poor movers that make minor mistakes; cross canter, fair or average movers that have one or two poor fences but no major faults or disobediences.
  • 50-59: A horse that commits one major fault; a refusal, trot or drops a leg.
  • 30-49: A horse that commits two or more major faults, including front or hind knock downs and refusals, or jumps in a manner that otherwise endangers the horse and/or rider.
  • 10-29: A horse that avoids elimination but jumps in such an unsafe and dangerous manner as to preclude a higher score.

Major Faults/ Eliminations 
Total of 3 disobediences which can include: refusal, stop, run-out, extra circle. Jumping obstacle before it is reset. Bolting from arena, off course, deliberately addressing an obstacle, fall of horse and/or rider (horse is considered to have fallen when shoulder and haunch on the same side touch ground), failure to trot small circle at completion for soundness. (APHA rulebook 2018)

Registered AQHA horse showing at USHJA AA show in the green hunters. Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Both hunter and stock horses should jump square with the front knees, correct distances to fences, and be a soft ride that a judge would also like to ride. Horses in both circuits are eliminated and penalized in much the same way and are judged the moment you enter the ring until the moment you leave it. Impression is everything in both rated circuits—no matter if you ride one or ride both.

It is very possible for a horse that is a stock horse to do well in both USHJA rated shows and stock horse shows. A horse that is versatile with its headset and collection could excel in both, and many top AQHA horse do well in both circuits.


Jamie is a horse obsessed girl who is taking on the world with her youngster. Follow along with her on her journey in chasing the world show on Instagram.