In pleasure classes, only the horse is judged. You should be more aware of what your horse is doing, rather than making sure your equitation is perfect. A pleasure horse should literally be "a pleasure to ride.” The most important thing a pleasure horse can have is manners! He needs to be willing, obedient, and sound. He should get his correct leads when you ask for them and be able to travel in a straight line down the rail — no weaving around here! He should be very safe and "fit” the rider, meaning that a super-tall rider shouldn’t be riding a small pony! An English pleasure class is suitable for all horses that can walk, trot and canter in both directions of the arena. This class spotlights the horse that moves the most willingly and evenly — he doesn’t have to be the best mover. The English pleasure horse shouldn’t pull on the reins or refuse to go forward. He needs to be quiet, safe and obedient. You can ride on a loose rein or rein contact in an English pleasure class and not be penalized.
Official: English pleasure horses must exhibit impeccable manners, obedience, and suitability as a pleasure riding or driving horse. Transitions from one gait to another should be smooth, prompt, and effortless. Emphasis is placed on a true flat walk with special consideration being given to those entries that represent a true recreational type, general riding mount or driving horse. Entries should not exhibit extreme motion, speed, or resistance of any type. Horses must stand quietly and back readily in the line-up.
Equitation classes are a little different. Instead of judging the horse, the judge will judge you and how well you can control your horse–not how well your horse moves.The main focus is on how you ride, but the judge will notice if your horse runs away with you or if he’s so lazy you have to kick him around the arena. Bad behavior by your horse can cost you a ribbon — even in an equitation class. The judge will focus mainly on your leg position, your upper body position, your posture, your hand position and your overall horsemanship. She’ll also watch to see if you are on the correct trot diagonal and canter lead. The judge will also take into account how promptly your horse responds to your cues and how accurate your movements are. For example, if you’re asked to trot a figure eight, are both circles even and equal in size? She’ll note how you interact with the other riders and horses in the ring–are you cutting off people or riding too closely to another horse? She’ll also look at how neat and tidy you look. In English equitation you’ll be asked to perform a test. This is simply a challenge to complete in the arena that helps the judge decide which of you in the class deserves to be first. This ridden test can include a change of diagonal, a canter transition (make sure you get the proper lead!) and possibly a halt and a back up.
Official: Equitation is a division that is judged on the ability and the style of the rider. The riders can be judged both over fences and on the flat. In over fences classes the riders are judged not only on their ability to negotiate a course of jumps on their horses, but also on their style and position while they do it. The rider should demonstrate that they have a good understanding not only of what the questions of the course are, but how best to answer them. They are trying to execute a smooth and consistent round using invisible aids, and trying to make their round seem completely effortless. Their position should remain both accurate and stylish throughout the round. On the flat, riders are tested at the walk, trot and canter at the lower levels, and at more difficult gaits— such as strong or collected walk, trot, and canter, or counter canter and hand gallop— in higher level classes. They are to demonstrate proper riding of the horse at all these gaits, as well as accurate and stylish position. Hunter seat equitation riders can be tested in both flat and over fences classes. These tests are outlined in the USEF Rule Book and include such things as halting, backing, trot jumps, riding without stirrups, etc.
Hunter Under Saddle
In this class, your horse walks, trots and canters in both directions around the arena and is judged on how well he moves (his "way of going”) and carries himself at all three gaits. Though good manners are important, they are not judged as heavily as in a pleasure class. Rein contact is required and horses are judged more on their "type” than in pleasure classes. Hunter under saddle horses are usually required to hand gallop in groups of eight in one direction of the ring, usually counter-clockwise.
Official: The purpose of the hunter under saddle horse is to present or exhibit a horse with a bright, alert expression, whose gaits show potential of being a working hunter. Therefore its gait must be free-flowing, ground covering and athletic. Hunters under saddle should be suitable to purpose. Hunters should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, be able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free-flowing movement, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. Horses should be obedient, have a bright expression with alert ears, and should respond willingly to the rider with light leg and hand contact. Horses should be responsive and smooth in transition. When asked to extend the trot or hand gallop, they should move out with the same flowing motion. The poll should be level with, or slightly above, the withers to allow proper impulsion behind. The head position should be slightly in front of, or on, the vertical.
This class will be judged on equitation of the rider over obstacles. Credit will be given to horses negotiating the obstacles with style and some degree of speed, providing correctness is not sacrificed. Horses should receive credit for showing attentiveness to the obstacles and the capability of picking their own way through the course when obstacles warrant it, and willingly responding to the rider’s cues on more difficult obstacles.
Official: The purpose of hunter hack is to give horses and opportunity to show their expertise over low fences and on the flat. The hunter hack horse should move in the same style as a working hunter. The class will be judged on style over fences, even hunting pace, flat work, manners and way of going. The poll should be level with, or slightly above the withers, to allow proper impulsion behind. The head should not be carried behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance.
Hunter over Fences
Official: The working hunter is a representative of the type of horse used in the hunt field. He should possess manners, jumping ability, style, pace and quality. The working hunter must be able to demonstrate his ability to furnish the rider with a smooth comfortable and safe ride. The same rules apply in junior working hunter as apply in senior or all-ages working hunter classes, except the minimum height of obstacles.
Equitation over Fences
In an equitation class, the judge looks at you—not your horse. Your riding skill is judged as you guide your horse around a course of jumps. A rider with a good position—quiet hands, secure seat and strong legs—will place over one who’s bouncing around in the saddle and yanking on his horse’s mouth. The judge will note if you have your heels down, if you’re looking forward and if your hands are quietly resting on your horse’s neck. A rider who has a smooth round will beat a rider who gets left behind or points his toes at the ground. If you get left behind, or thrown up on your horse’s neck, the judge will note this on her card and you’ll be penalized. You’ll also lose points if your horse taps a fence, knocks down a pole or refuses to jump. You’ll also be penalized if you’re on the wrong diagonal when trotting or if your horse is on the incorrect lead when cantering.In an equitation class, your horse doesn’t have to be the smoothest jumper in the world, or the most elegant mover. The judge is looking at you, not him.
Official: The purpose of this event should be to evaluate the rider’s correctness and ability over the fences. This class should be judged on the precision of riding ability while executing the jumps. The class objective is to judge the rider’s ability over the fences, not the horse’s. Only the effect the rider has on a horse is to be considered. How a rider elects to ride the course, the pace and approach to the jumps are used to evaluate the rider’s judgment and ability.
Jumper over Fences
The only thing that counts in a jumper class is time and faults. The horse and rider’s form is not judged at all. The fastest clean round wins. Horses must be nimble and quick—and jump anything that is put in front of them—and riders must be clever and bold. Jumper courses usually have nine or ten fences. The fences are usually colorful and can sometimes be spooky to a horse. You might see a red wall or a green roll-top style fence in the arena. If you go clear around the jumper course, you’ll get called back to do a timed jump-off against other people who have also cleared the course. A jump-off course has fewer fences than the jumper class. There might be a tight turn or two in the course. Riders cut corners and jump fences at angles to save time. The fastest time wins the class.
Official: The jumper's task is solely to jump and his score is based entirely on his time and performance.