Cisco and I in hunter form. Photo by Jerry Bassett

Cisco and I in hunter form. Photo by Jerry Bassett

While I have only recently begun competing with my hunter in events, I’ve been a long standing fixture on the sidelines, and have always praised the benefits of cross division competition for the ways in which they can truly compliment one another.

One of my instructors once commented, how frustrating it was when some of the local pony clubbers would come in for jump lessons. Most were already very capable and experienced riders, yet they had little concept of leads, finding distances, pacing and striding between fences.

It appeared that all they, and by association their horses, had been taught was simply to get to and over the next fence quickly and in any way possible. They definitely got to their fences, but it was rarely attractive and left much to be desired where form, consistency and precision were concerned.

To their credit, event scoring places little emphasis on maintaining correct leads, proper striding or a particularly cadenced rhythm and when it comes right down to it, the focus is ultimately on “going clear” regardless of the technicalities. It goes without saying though, that those “technicalities” can easily make or break a clean round whether its on the cross country course or in the stadium ring.

I believe that the background Cisco and I have had in the hunter division – because of which it is near impossible for me to approach a course of jumps without considering the rhythm, striding and proper distances that allow for a fluid jump out of stride – has proven to be a significant asset at the events we’ve attended.

Our hunter training instilled the concept of maintaining a controlled, cadenced pace at any speed and adjusting strides to fit any distance to and between fences so that the approach, takeoff, landing and exit occurs across a fluid chain of motions that uses less energy and altogether makes for a cleaner and more precise round.

The ability to ask for this and the willingness of the horse to comply, can easily provide an edge when it comes to the quick turns and odd angles of those stadium courses and can often be the difference between a clear round and a few dropped rails. Likewise it offers an advantage on the XC course where seeing a distance and adjusting the horses stride to match can be the difference between a solid sail over the fence and an ugly chip and hop or worse, a nasty wreck!

With that being said, there are some invaluable benefits to our hunter schooling that Cisco and I have gained from our ventures into eventing. The change of pace – literally and metaphorically – keeps us both fresh and happy.

There’s a certain monotony that comes with the standard figure 8 of hunter courses and when those courses no longer provide a challenge, it’s all too easy for Cisco to grow bored, lazy and a little bit sloppy.

He simply loves to jump cross country, and the exhilaration of a hearty gallop over a variety of new and challenging fences seems to renew his enthusiasm and keeps him attentive and willing when we return to the hunter ring.

The fixed and solid state of the cross country fences keep him snappy and tight with his front end, and encourages him to jump with greater bascule thus improving his overall scope. There’s also a definite correlation between the turns and technical challenges of the stadium courses that compliment both the handy hunter courses and the hunter seat equitation courses quite beautifully!

I enjoy competing in both the hunters and eventing equally, and I’m fortunate to have a horse that can travel successfully between the two and seems to enjoy doing so. I believe that ultimately, he is a better hunter for the eventing we’re able to do, and likewise his hunter training seems to offer a pleasant advantage out there in the eventing world!