How to Design a Hunter Course

Updated December 9, 2022
Hunter horse jumping course at show.

When you’re putting a hunter course together, lots of variables are taken into consideration such as ring size, footing, jump height, and rider level. To make planning a bit easier, here are some guidelines and examples you can use when setting up jumps for hunter courses.

Hunter Course Jump Combinations and Patterns

Most hunter courses consist of seven to 10 jumps, made up of the following combinations and elements:

  • Outside lines - two fences that are set up running parallel to the long side of an arena. The jumps of outside lines are set at least three strides apart from each other and sit perpendicular and close to the outside rail of a ring’s long side.
  • Diagonal lines - two fences set up from corner to opposite corner of an arena that are at least three strides apart. Diagonal lines allow for a change of direction, meaning the rider will approach the first jump on one lead from a short end of the arena and then exit the line on the opposite lead from the other short end.
  • Single jumps on long sides or on the diagonals. Occasionally, single jumps are set on a quarter-line.
  • Bending lines
  • In and out combinations – jumps set with two or fewer strides in between each other.
A horse show ready hunter jump course.

Examples of Hunter Courses

Hunter courses are ideal for green horses and novice riders as they are usually simple and straightforward to memorize. For example, a standard hunter course could be 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 consisting of four to six jump elements to memorize.

hunter course sheet with numbered jumps labeled as example A.

Sometimes hunter fences are set right up against the rail, and other times there is room to go between the jumps and the rail for flatting. In the hunter course A example above, the outside lines are fences 4 and 5 and also fences 8 and 9. The diagonal lines of course A are fences 2 and 3 and then also fences 6 and 7.

Notice the double lines on the diagram for the “outs” of the lines. Double lines indicate an oxer jump, which is normally set up to only be jumped in one direction. Also, note that the number on the courses is on the “take-off” side of the jump, meaning that course diagram numbers are on the side of the jump that the horse approaches.

When entering the ring, riders should make an opening courtesy circle before the first jump, and don’t forget about another closing circle at the end of the course. It is a welcoming touch for course designers to give riders a single fence to get started with, and that is often the role of the quarter-line single jump. In hunter course A and course B (below), fence 1 is a quarter-line fence.

hunter course sheet with labeled jumps as example B.

Another thing to note is that when you look at courses A and B, each course starts with the rider on a different lead. This is often done on purpose by course designers at horse shows.

Our last example, hunter course C 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 you ride.

hunter jump course sheet example C without numbered fences.

Measuring Strides for a Hunter Course

Distances between combination fences (such as a diagonal line) should be measured so the rider will know the number of strides that are expected to be ridden between the two jumps. A typical five-stride line of a 3’ hunter course is based on a horse that has a stride that is 12’ in length. So, add up 6’ away from the first jump after the horse lands with five strides at 12’, and then include 6’ for the horse’s takeoff equals 72’ in between the fences.

6’ (landing) + 60’ (# of strides X stride length) + 6’ (takeoff) = 72’ total distance

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 set on the “half-stride” which in this case would be 66’ – 68’.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.

Originally published November 26, 2017