It’s Time To Reform The Way Hunters Are Judged

Times change, sport changes, and if you are going to stay relevant in todays fast paced world of social media, you better make sure that your industry is not just current, but ahead of the curve. It is extremely difficult for even hunter fan extremists to make the argument that their sport is current, has made the necessary changes to build the industry, and engages fans and media.

As I previously mentioned regarding the hunter derbies, there have been some positives, I acknowledged the efforts, and pointed out the shortcomings. Just as the FEI is looking at adjusting the Nations Cup format in order to stay relevant, something that is long overdue and that needs to happen, the way hunters are judged desperately needs to be reformed.

At this point 50% of you are agreeing with me, and the other 50% do not. For the latter group,  keep reading and let me illustrate my position.  Under the current format, a $500,000 thoroughbred who jumps a 9 out of 10 and has a near flawless round but lightly taps a jump that comes down will finish behind a  $5,000 morgan/quarter horse cross that chips in to 4 fences and adds a step down every line. Before you mention the rail, try this example; a million dollar warmblood ridden by Kelley Farmer who jumps a 10 but has a minor slip that a judge mistakenly classifies as a  trot step through a turn in wet conditions will lose to a 14.3hh Anglo-Arab who jumps a 5, rubs every jump, and leaves out a stride in a line. These are extreme examples, that is the point, but they are also the way hunters are currently judged. I could mention many more examples, but my point is made; the current parameters for judging hunter rounds is unacceptable.

Here’s some ideas on how to fix the issue. The mystery and secrecy of scoring hunters is the problem, so I want see all of that disappear.  As I mentioned in the Derby blog, announcing the score is essential. There is NO viable argument for not doing so, and something the Derbies have gotten right. Transparency is the most important key to making the sport watchable and understandable to viewers.

Right now the quality of the horse, expertise of the ride, and the mistakes are all blended into one score. There needs to be an artistic score and a technical score. In the spirit of simplicity and understanding, making each of these scores out of 50 is logical. I’m sure there are a hundred different opinions on if one of these should be more heavily weighted than the other. I will stick to the 50/50, as I have always advocated that show jumping is a team sport and both horse and rider are equally important. I know that currently judges have different opinions on which is more important, lets take that objectivity away and create more consistent scoring. This to the benefit of all, including reducing criticism of the judging.

Judges have different values for errors, such as a late lead change, a rub, a short distance. Under the technical score, lets put numbers to the errors.

  • Light rub  -1
  • Hard rub  -2
  • Rail  -4
  • Mildly short or long distance  -1
  • Short or long distance  -2
  • Very short or long distance  -4
  • Dangerous distance  -8
  • Leg hang  -8
  • Late lead change -2
  • Missed lead change  -5
  • Lead swap on approach  -2
These are my suggestions for technical scoring, once again I know everyone will have their own opinion and potentially there could be more categories, but I feel these are reasonable numbers and would be happy to see a system close to the one above.

For the artistic score, this should be based on the quality of the horse and the ride, and with a maximum score of 50. Ideally the best horse with the least errors will be the winner of the class.

I admittedly am not a hunter judge, but I have been involved with the sport at all levels of competition as a competitor and coach.  I believe that this type of reform will dramatically change the hunter world for the better. It will create better riders, make it simpler and less controversial for the judges, and it will make the sport much easier to understand for all and more entertaining to watch.

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