Tripping – A Major Fault or An Act of God?


Going back to the origins of show hunters, we find ourselves in the fox hunting field.

A quality that is favorable in a hunt horse is sure-footedness. Galloping over unpredictable terrains, you want to be on a horse that is confident about where they are placing their feet and can handle the unevenness of trails, stones, trappy footing and divots. Being on a horse that is not the most coordinated, or who isn’t confident on varying terrains, can lead to an unsettling day for a rider.

The same holds true as we move from the fox hunting field to the show hunter ring. A round in which a horse loses balance or has a major trip and leaves the crowd (and judges) gasping will likely not result in a high placing, given the roots of the “show hunter” and their need to be sure-footed.

However, there are some instances where a horse may have a minor bobble or get caught up in footing where a judge will likely provide some empathy and leniency in the placing.

Every “trip” is different. Just like with bad distances and swaps – there are varying degrees of severity. “Was it a soft chip or a hard chip?” “Was it a minor balancing swap of leads or a hard swap with a major shift to the left or right?” There can be “soft trips” and “hard trips”. There can be “major bobbles” and “minor bobbles.”

Judges will take weather conditions and footing types into consideration. A challenge that has risen with the popularity of artificial footing materials in the United States in the early 2010s is the frequency of horses tripping while performing in the ring.

While these footing types are often more weatherproof and are beneficial for horse comfort and safety, if the artificial footing is not maintained properly and frequently, it can be hard for horses to move through the divots that are created. Catching a toe in a divot is a very likely occurrence with some of these materials, as the footing tends to be packed tightly, not affording the horse the opportunity to move through divots easily.  If the judge perceives the horse caught a toe in a divot, the trip would be more of an “act of God” and shouldn’t be penalized harshly.

Items that judges will take into consideration when assessing the severity of a trip include:

  • Did the trip cause a break of gait? If so, that will need to be penalized accordingly – most likely with a score in the 50s.
  • Was the trip alarming – posing a safety risk to the horse and rider? If so, this will be penalized harshly with a score in low 60s or mid-high 50s.
  • The duration of the incident:
    • If the horse struggled to regain footing and upright itself for multiple strides, that will result in a low score
    • If the horse had a minor stumble, righted itself quickly (within a stride) and didn’t miss a beat – the judge will note the incident and maybe apply a minor deduction to the score. Or they might not even take the bobble into consideration if the overall course was a lovely performance.
  • Did the trip or bobble affect the performance?
    • A bobble directly in front of a jump; upon landing from a jump; or in the middle of a one- or two-stride combination will likely result in a more major incident occurring due to the horse’s lack of balance and the round’s score will be reflected accordingly based on the fault that was the result of the bobble. A loss of balance in front of a jump will likely produce an awkward takeoff; swimming through a jump; or even an unfortunate crash.
    •  A major trip or bobble can also be indicative of something else that’s going on – such as the horse going too fast and the rider not having proper control. The placing in this instance will also be indicative of what caused the trip.
    • If the trip was a minor blip on the radar of the overall performance, and the horse and rider combination didn’t appear fazed by it – then most likely no major deduction will be reflected in the score or placing.

We know that show hunters are a subjective discipline. However judges, being horsemen and horsewomen themselves, are empathetic and understanding in knowing the difference between a trip or bobble that is an unavoidable “Act of God” and when a loss of footing or balance by the horse can pose a major safety risk. 

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