How to Design a Hunter Course

by Jessica Roberts
Courtesy of SmartPak

As the owner of a boarding farm, I am often the one who is setting up courses. When you’re putting a course together, a lot of variables are taken into consideration, such as the ring size and the number of jumps you have. Here are some basic guidelines that I use when I’m setting up a typical hunter course.

Most hunter courses consist of certain elements. There are outside lines: two fences that are setup running parallel to the long side of an arena). There are diagonal lines: two fences that are setup from corner to opposite corner of an arena, which allows for a change of direction. And sometimes there is a single jump set up on a quarter line of a riding ring. Of course, there can be singles on the long sides of an arena or on the diagonals too, as well as bending lines and in and outs, but we will still have less technical, more basic courses when you’re setting up a hunter course.

A hunter course is usually pretty easy to memorize: quarter-line single, outside, diagonal, outside, diagonal. Or quarter-line, diagonal, outside, diagonal, outside. Or outside, diagonal, diagonal, outside. There are many different iterations, usually 4-6 elements to memorize – nothing too hard.

An outside line is two parallel jumps, set at least three strides apart, that sits perpendicular and close to the outside rail of a long side of a riding ring. (Two or less strides and it’s known as an in and out.) Sometimes those fences are right up against the rail, and other times there is room to go between the jumps and the rail, for flatting. In the associated picture of Course A, the outside lines are fences 4 and 5 and also fences 8 and 9. Notice the double lines on the diagram for the “outs” of the lines. The double lines indicate and oxer jump, which normally is setup to only be jumped in one direction. Also note that the number on the courses is on the “take-off” side of the jump. Course diagram numbers are on the side of the jump that the horses approach.

A diagonal line is a set of two fences, at least 3 strides apart, that go from corner to opposite corner. It requires a change of direction, in that the rider will come into a diagonal line on one lead, from a short end of an arena, and then exit the line on the opposite lead for the other short end. In the picture below, Course A the diagonal lines are fences 2 and 3 and then also fences 6 and 7.

It is nice for course designers to give the riders a single fence to get started with, and that is often the role of the quarter line single. In hunter course A (above) and hunter course B (below), fence 1 is a quarter line fence. Don’t forget about doing an opening courtesy circle before the first jump and an ending closing circle at the end of a course.

Typical hunter courses consist of 7-10 fences. Another thing to note is that when you look at courses A and B, each course starts with the rider on a different lead, which is often done on purpose by course designers at horse shows.

When setting up this type of course up, the fences should be measured out so that the rider will know the number of strides that are expected to be ridden in between the two jumps. A typical 5-stride for a 3’ course is based on a 12’ stride. So 6’ away from the in jump for the landing, 5 strides at 12’, and then 6’ for takeoff equals 72’ in between the fences. If the fences are lower or the ring doesn’t allow for a lot of space getting into the line then the course can be setup on the “half-stride”, which in this case would be 66’ – 68’.

Of course there are other considerations to be take into account when setting up a hunter course, such as ring size, footing, jump heights, and rider levels. Hunter courses are perfect for green horses and novice riders.

Our last example, hunter course C (below) is a great simple course to set up at home when there isn’t a lot of room. It uses a single three or four stride line and just enough elements to allow for practicing hunter courses. (The X on the diagram is a cross rail.) There are no numbers on this diagram, as it’s just a practice course and the pattern of jumps can be made different each time.