Chances are that all of us who love equestrian sports have had a conversation with someone who is not a fan of horse competition about the difference between Hunters and Jumpers. It can be difficult to explain to the uninformed the difference between a horse that goes over a jump and a horse that goes over a jump. Close examination of course shows that there is a world of difference between the two. Once you learn these differences, it becomes easy to distinguish between the two disciplines.
The first difference of course is in how the riders dress. The Hunter is a refined reflection of fine English society. He or she wears a button down shirt and a riding jacket. One can envision the rider stepping out the front door of a fine estate in England, boots polished and crop in hand, as they walk off to the stables where a groom has prepared their mount for that days event. They will ride until tea time and them take a repast while discussing the days competition with Humphrey Clinker the Earl of Bayberry.
The Jumper while also attired in riding boots and carrying a crop is of a totally different persona. The Jumper will not be seen in a button down shirt and jacket. The shirts they wear are usually brightly colored and of the polo variety. The attire of the Jumper can not be missed by anyone with even average eyesight. She or he is likely to be seen walking the course before the competition wearing the same aviator glasses that will be worn during their ride.
While the Hunter exudes the pomp and circumstance of all that is proper in the world of high society, the Jumper expresses what they are about in one word, speed. For the Hunter, the game is all about control, form and function. The way to win is through expressing the skills to place your horse on a course that runs down the middle of the jumps. As long as you can keep your horse moving without too many refusals and you can demonstrate the best of equitation then time is not of great importance. What is important is that you have a clean run and not leave any poles on the ground. Hunters are judged by a human being and given a score based on how well they demonstrate their riding skills. There is a tremendous amount of riding ability and trust involved in getting a horse to make a clean run over roll tops and oxers. Looking good in the saddle is easy on a horse that is not moving, it is a totally different thing when you are on a horse in motion.
When it comes to Jumpers, there is a reason for the aviator glasses. Jumpers are the fighter pilots of the equine sports world. Only two things matter, a clean run and speed. The Jumper competes against not only other riders but also the clock. There is no judge critiquing your form. The function of a judge for a Jumper is to see that they stay on course and then record the time plus any penalties for rails that are knocked down. It doesn't matter where you go over the jump as long as you clear it. Jumpers live in a world where you fly and then turn and burn.
While you can stand back and leisurely take in a Hunter going through a course, you may very well miss a Jumper if you blink. Perhaps this is where the bright shirts come into play, it makes it easier to track the rider when they are close to breaking the sound barrier on the back of their horse.
I hope this little essay helps to clear up an confusion concerning the differences between two disciplines that while they may look the same on the surface are very different in how they are executed. At the end of the day, there is one great commonality between Hunters and Jumpers and that is the courage it takes to get on the back of a horse and ride through a jumping course. Personally, I feel there is no need to pick which is the better sport, both are exciting and the beauty of a horse in motion taking a jump is equaled by few other things in nature.
Photos by Tanja Hemric