18-inch Hunter Course

By Terry Golson

As promised, this blogpost will talk about Tonka’s second-place round at the NHHJA Fall Classic. Tonka and I only started jumping this past winter, and really just for a fun change of pace from dressage. Going to hunter/jumper shows wasn’t on my radar, but since the girls at my barn consider showing part of riding, and since I was embraced into the group (despite the vast age difference), I ended up competing this summer. Tonka and I entered the lowest height possible, 18-inches. The first three schooling shows we went to had truly small jumps.

This was fine by me! The challenge with Tonka has never been if he will jump, rather it’s getting to the obstacle at the correct takeoff point. It’s the steering in-between, and being on the correct lead and how one changes those leads. For me, it’s learning a new body position, how to fold at the waist (!) and push my hands up his neck. Honestly, the biggest challenge was learning how to memorize a course. Last February if Steph told me to take three jumps in a pattern in a lesson, I’d go off course before the last obstacle.

The first few schooling shows not only had small jumps, but they had easy courses. Only 5 obstacles and one change of direction. This last show, though, was an end of year culmination for a show series. It wasn’t a schooling show. The Open Hunter course had seven jumps and three changes of lead. I had to go around jumps. Which means I couldn’t just point my horse at whatever was in my field of view.


Also, the jumps were higher and wider and decorated.


Tonka warmed up great.


It was up to me to get my head on straight. When we got in the ring it was obvious that his mind was certainly in the game!


I could practically hear him saying This is interesting!


I stayed focused on remembering which jump was next. Which I managed to do!  Here’s our round.


This round earned us a second place out of ten entrants. In a hunter class the judge is looking for a seamlessly flowing performance. Tonka took six of the jumps just right. However, this vertical was one error that likely cost us the first place. I’ve illustrated, with those red lines, how much higher Tonka went than he should have. This was all due to me misjudging the distance and applying leg at the wrong moment, which for Tonka was the excuse for him to say Yay! You want big? I can do big!

I’ve gone over that video numerous times, and there is so much I see that I can improve on, but I’d rather focus on the positives.
1. I remembered the course.
2. I remembered the course.
3. I remembered the course.
(Can you tell what was giving me the most anxiety about showing???)
4. Tonka picked up his correct leads when asked without the hopping/bucking he sometimes does.

We’re heading into winter. The show season is over. I have months to work on all of the things that need improvement (my position, those rounded shoulders, the hands too close to the saddle, lead swaps.) I’ll do all of this without losing sight of why we’re jumping in the first place – a fun change of pace.

What are you going to work on this winter? Anything? Or maybe those of us in cold climes should just bundle up and be happy to keep moving on our horses. Tell me in the comments!

16 thoughts on “18-inch Hunter Course

  • Laura allemand

    I love this video of your go. You looked great! Congratulations on your second place. That’s such an accomplishment! For me, this winter will be about getting my confidence back. We’ve not gotten to ride with any consistency this year. First it was corona lockdowns, then summer set in (who can ride in 100 degree weather?), and then it was weeks of smoke filled skies. We went to our first Gymkhana yesterday since June and it took me most of the day just to relax and trust my horse. Of course my mare didn’t help me much when during our first warmup she had a bucking fit. Thankfully she really doesn’t commit to her bucking and I stayed on. So my winter will be about trust, confidence, and rebuilding our bond. Hopefully everything cooperates!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      A bucking fit! Especially when unexpected, that can shake one’s confidence. I hope you get lots of saddle time in and I’m sure that bond will be there.

  • Gin

    Really enjoyed this post, especially the video. You all look good, Tonka looks like he is picking up his lead changes well. Memorizing the course would be a biggie for me also.
    Not going to work on anything this winter, just going to hopefully force myself out on the trail even though it’s cold, or gray skies (which really bum me out), or have to go by myself when my riding buddies won’t go. None of us are young, I won’t use the “old” word.

  • Michelle McMillen

    Great job, both of you! I will continue working with Stella with the goal of becoming a good team IN the saddle as well as out, and start walking Lance to him some baseline conditioning.

  • John Schaller

    You both looked great!

    Over the winter I want to focus on not jumping ahead of the horse, and on keeping my lower leg in position. And, hopefully to get some trail rides in.

  • Kim

    Bravo! How nice to have the last show of the season be such a positive memory for you! I don’t think I could memorize a course- even a small one.

  • Daisy

    Congratulations to both of you for the great show and thanks to Steve for the great video. As you said you can see the weaknesses. From I know of you since these last years, you’re not the kind to sit all winter long LOL Hard work in the months to come and great results in Spring. Something to look forward to and lots of fun for Tonka. Looking forward to seeing you improve into the best you can be. So great you could remember the course, that was one of your nightmares !!!

  • Shaste

    Lovely round! I like how you let him drop back to a trot to get the lead change right, perfect and kind. And I love how jumping has improved his canter! You both look great.

    Im hoping to get more time on the trails. My new to me (had him 2yrs) gelding is finally to the point where he doesn’t lose his mind when separated from his herd, and is actually a very solid trail horse when his brain is working. Wish he had an interest in jumping; we have to step/climb over any downed logs. Good thing he’s tall lol.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Thanks! When I first started jumping Tonka, like your horse he stepped over the cross-rails. We had to raise them up for him to understand that they weren’t trail obstacles to step over. So maybe you have to go higher? 🙂

  • Tracy

    Oh, I empathize about trying to memorize courses. Years ago, I used to show in hunter classes occasionally and at least half the time I would get the course flow wrong. I found this little trick helped. I found a small dry erase board, the size one can attach to one’s refrigerator. On it, I put small pieces of black tape electrician’s where the jumps were on whatever class I was going to show in. Then, using a dry erase marker, every time I walked by the dry erase board (which I’d take with me to the show), I’d run a line from memory on what my route should be to stay on course. I kept the actual course on a cheat sheet nearby to see if I got it right. Having to draw it, over and over, helped me memorize the course and even be able to visualize it from overhead. It actually worked.

    Uh, except for that time my right rein broke at the bit mid course and my hot mare promptly mowed down the 81 year old judge… Yeah, that happened.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I had a dry erase board for my dressage tests. These days, for the hunter classes, you take a photo of the posted course with your phone. I tried using a pad and paper, but my angles and proportions were off and it made things worse! What’s really helped is to learn the terminology: outside line, inside diagonal, etc. The courses make sense when memorized with those terms.

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