The Handy Hunter

By Tammy Chipko 

With so much excitement in the air over the USHJA Hunter Challenge these days, I thought it might be valuable to understand what a Handy Hunter is all about.

I spoke with a few of our top professionals on the growing popularity of the Handy Hunter.

Tammy Chipko: Can you explain the Handy Hunter Class for people who don’t understand it?

Jenny Karazissis: Ultimately a handy hunter is to be ridden like one was riding in the country. This means bold gallops, tight turns, option jumps if possible, long approaches, and different tests such as a trot jump.

Diane Carney: Handy adds a dimension of difficulty to the standard hunter courses. The Handy Hunter Class presents a true riding contest instead of just requiring a steady pace around the outside and across the diagonal.

Peter Pletcher: The handy hunter evolved years ago to reward the horses and riders who would take a risk. A horse that maybe did not jump as quietly as others could win the handy class because of versatility.

TC: What do you like to see in the Handy Hunter Class?

Archibald Cox: I will take a quote from Frank Chapot. “The handy course should be ridden in a ground-saving manner.”

Jenny K: I look for the shortest track without losing the horse’s form. I think the course should start off with a gallop directly to the first fence. I believe in making all possible inside turns, as well as eliminating the ending circle if the course allows for that.

Peter P: I like to take big risks! Sharp turns, strong gallops, jumping style and smoothness is what I aim for.

Diane C: Good riding on hunters should be rewarded!

TC: With the USHJA Hunter Derby classes offered this year we are guaranteed to see many examples of handy hunter courses. What are you hoping that these classes bring to the hunter discipline?

George Morris: The reason I love this class is that the biggest enemy to riding is artificiality. Artificial riding [as opposed to true riding] is no great friend to the sport. This class brings strong principles and values back to riding.

Jenny K: The idea of these classes taking off and gaining the support of the exhibitors is very exciting. Spectators like to watch the jump off in the Grand Prix. This is happening with the hunters now. The handy round brings an element of surprise. It is exciting and challenging for both the riders and spectators. This is very important for the hunters and I think it will only continue to grow.

Diane C: We are on to something very valuable in the Hunter Industry. I love the creativity that the course designers are bringing to this class. The bonus points awarded in the Handy Class are exciting for everyone. If you do something thrilling you will be rewarded. Both spectators and riders love this!

Karen Healey: This class is going to reward the athletic good jumping horse. There is nothing more beautiful to watch.

TC: How do you feel about the equitation horses and jumpers joining in?

Diane C: I think to say that a horse is only capable of doing “one job” is actually quiet contrary to the truth. Back in the 70’s and 80’s good horses did several different divisions and did them each well. I don’t see any reason that a horse cannot be a jack-of-all-trades and be very successful. A beautiful jumping horse is a beautiful jumping horse.

A perfect example to anyone who remembers him was Starman. Here you had an Olympic Grand Prix jumper that was also a top Working Hunter. We need to appreciate good horses and reward good riders.


Bringing The Hunter Back

By  Tammy Chipko

Imagine watching a gorgeous horse galloping a course of fences that replicate what you would find in an open hunt field.

Imagine watching the art of good riding: jumping hunt obstacles that ask different questions of horse and rider – negotiating turns, establishing a true hunter pace, trotting a wide fence like one you might find in the country.

Imagine spectators who typically only watch the grand prix ring enthusiastically showing up at the hunter ring to cheer on their favorite hunters. And, most importantly, understanding what a hunter is all about.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it any longer. The High Performance Hunter is here and, due to those who have worked hard to get it back, is gaining recognition.

It all started with George Morris who earlier this year told me that he had “…planted the seed. It’s now up to everyone else to make it happen.” Well, as most of us know, when George Morris speaks, we listen! So, it is thanks to people like Diane Carney, a member of the High Performance Committee, who have invested valuable time to develop a program that will bring the lost art of showing the traditional hunter back to the show ring.

High Performance Riding means addressing the jump through good horsemanship. We want to build courses that address height and width with more demanding jumps. We have had tremendous support from everyone regarding this class. Riders everywhere are rising to the occasion. Lauren Hough and Beezie Madden are just a few of the jumper riders who have shown a lot of enthusiasm and are looking forward to competing in these classes in the coming year.

How it Works
There will be four classes in each region. The classes will be held at ‘AA’ shows, in grass fields or in sand arenas, and offer a minimum of $10,000.00 in prize money. Each class will be judged by four judges, two groups of two judges each. The first round is a classic hunter type of round. The second round will be a handy course rewarding those who show true handiness with a bonus of up to ten points.

I had the chance to compete in one of these classes at the Washington International Horse Show. The jumps were spectacular, the courses were fun and challenging, and the spectators were thrilled. It was a very memorable experience and I hope all of you, either as exhibitors or spectators, will get a chance to be part of this. These events will be well worth the walk over to the hunter ring.

Check for the 2008 schedule of the High Performance Hunter classes at

Special thanks to Kristi Siam for providing this classic hunter photo.