If you ever visit an English show, you will immediately notice the main differences between hunting classes and jumping classes. Hunters are judged on their manners, style and ease of movement. Jumpers are scored by the number of obstacles they clear and the time involved in the jumps. Hunter showing and jumping horses require good athletic ability from the animal and the rider. The horse must be able to navigate sharp turns, clear high hurdles and show amazing bursts of speed. Each event, hunting or jumping, requires good co-ordination and communication between horse and rider.
Hunters is based on the poise and correctness of the horse going over the jumps. There is a judge that watches the horse go over a course of jumps (between eight and fourteen) and then evaluates the horse’s overall performance. The judge then subjectively looks at several important things: How close the horse can get their feet to their ears over the fence, how consistent the horse is throughout the course with respect to speed and tempo, how simple the horse looks to ride (even grandma could ride the horse) and confirmation of the horse with respect to its age.
USEF link on Hunters: https://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsDisciplines/discipline/allHunter.aspx
Jumpers is completely objective. First of all, the jumper courses are more intertwined, complicated and technical (between seven and fifteen fences), the jumps are significantly larger, diverse with more color – the bigger the jumps the more accurate and precise you have to be. There are timers that are at the start and end of the course. Scoring in jumpers depends on the faults: If a horse knocks a rail off of the jump, it gets four faults or if a horse refuses to go over a jump it receives three faults. The horse with the least faults and fastest time wins the class.
USEF link on Jumpers: https://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsDisciplines/discipline/allJumping.aspx
What would I suggest you do if you’re starting out?
I would start in a barn that offers both for a lot of simple reasons. Learning to ride is learning to ride - likewise learning to jump is learning to jump however you look at it. Once you’re at a level where you are jumping a 2 - 2’9 course confidently, usually at that time a trainer can see where the passion and nerve of the rider exists. You can always fall back on one of the disciplines. Most importantly … you need to be with a good trainer who practices good basics -equitation and dressage in their daily routines, not only do you want to be effective, but you need to look the part … tidy, neat and effective in all aspects. It’s expensive you might as well do it properly right from the beginning instead of going back to correct bad instruction.
Hunters is unfortunately very political and is initially fairly costly. Jumpers on the other hand are a little cheaper as most horses can jump … like any sport it all depends on the path you choose … the better you get, the better equipment you need – the same goes with horses! A lot of professional riders end up doing both as both disciplines, as each have their own place and do however compliment each other!