The hunter-jumper division is a branch of competitive horseback riding that is judged on the horse's performance, soundness and when indicated, conformation, suitability or manners. A "show hunter" is a horse that competes in this division. Show hunters, ideally, show many qualities that were rewarded in the fox hunting field such as manners, fluid movement, and correct jumping style. They are shown in hunt seat style tack, and are often of Warmblood or Thoroughbred type, though a hunter-style pony is also seen in youth classes. In the United States, show hunters are primarily exhibited over fences, with a few additional classes offered for horses shown in-hand or on the flat. In the United Kingdom, competition over fences is called "Working Hunter," and the term "Show Hunter" describes classes held on the flat.
The show hunter should have a balanced frame, where they are ‘round’ in their top line and ‘on the bit’ softly. They should have a long, sweeping step that covers maximum ground per minimum effort, and have a rhythmic, 12' stride at the canter. Ideally, the majority of the movement occurs from the horse's shoulder and hip, and there is minimal flexion in the horse's joints.
The frame of the show hunter differs from that of dressage horses, eventers, and show jumpers, as it travels in a long and low frame, with its head moderately extended. Its frame is more "stretched out" than horses competing in dressage, eventing, or show jumping, but the horse should not be on its forehand. The riders of show hunters often ride on a slightly looser rein than seen elsewhere to facilitate this type of movement, and the horse carries its head just in front of the vertical. The show hunter should be mannerly and have the appearance of being a pleasure to ride.
Although the horse is in a long and low frame, it should still be able to collect its stride when asked. The horse must also be proficient at lengthening its canter stride while still maintaining its tempo and rhythm.
The walk of the show hunter is free and ground-covering; the trot should be balanced and flowing. The canter should be moderately collected. The horse should have a long galloping stride (12 feet is the expected length), but it should still be balanced and rhythmic.
A good show hunter must possess an excellent jumping form. The forearm should be parallel or higher with the ground, and the knees and lower legs should be even. The horse should not be lazy with its lower legs, but should tuck them under its forearm as it clears the fence, clearly bending its fetlocks and knees. The horse should not throw its body or legs to one side, but should stay perfectly straight over the fence. A good show hunter should show a great bascule, or roundness over a jump. This is often described as the horse taking the shape of a dolphin jumping out of the water, with the horse's back up, and its head reaching forward and down over the fence.
Show hunters are well groomed for show, clean with a shiny coat. The horse is to be bathed before the competition, with special attention paid to white markings. Depending on the level of show, show hunters may need to be braided. Horses are to be braided on the right side of the neck for hunters with yarn that matches the color of the mane. Braids are to be small, neat, and tight. Lower level shows do not require braiding, however higher rated shows frown upon unbraided horses and might penalize for their informality. In these higher level shows, horses will have a braided mane and sometimes a braided tail. The horses' hooves are polished before they enter the show ring.
The show hunter's hair is to be clipped prior to a show. This includes the whiskers around the muzzle, the hair in and around the ears, the bridle path, and lower jaw. The legs are also trimmed, removing all fetlock hair and feathering, and trimming the pasterns and coronet. In the winter, show hunters are often given a full clip, removing all the body hair, to give them a neater appearance in the show ring. The mane and forelock are braided, usually using yarn matching the color of the mane.
Tails are not pulled at the dock, so that it may be braided, and the bottom of the tail is left natural in US competition, not trimmed. The tail is braided from the top down to the end of the tail bone, with the rest of the tail left loose.
The course of fences a show hunter must jump is usually made up of 8-12 obstacles and must be set at the required height . that corresponds to each division. Obstacles must simulate those found in the hunting field such as natural post and rail, brush, stone wall, white board fence or gate, chicken coop, aiken, hedge, oxer, etc. The fences in hunters are not brightly colored as in show jumping, instead they are mostly natural colors such as brown, green, white, and beige. Open water jumps and liverpools, common obstacles in show jumping arena, are not used in a show hunter course. Although combination fences may be seen, they are usually only two elements, and have easier distances between them than those found in show jumping. Banks and ditches are not found on the show hunter course, nor are any major changes in terrain, and often the horses jump on level footing in an enclosed arena.
The distance between fences is usually a set number of strides, with each stride 12 feet in length. Unlike a show jumper, the show hunter does not need to go to extreme lengths to collect or extend its stride to meet the distances correctly. The horse must put a certain amount of strides between each set of fences if they are in a line. If the horse and rider don't do this, points will be taken off the overall score.
The show hunter should maintain a good pace throughout the course of fences, but keep an even rhythm, neither speeding up nor slowing down. The horse is judged on its smoothness around the course, its movement, jumping form, and whether it reaches each "spot", or the distance of takeoff in front of a jump, correctly. A poor spot would put the horse too close or too far back from the jump, so that it would either have to stretch and make a great effort over the fence, or have to jump more "up and down" rather than over the fence. A poor spot interrupts the rhythm of a course, and increases the likelihood that a horse will rub or drop a rail.
A good ride over fences will look easy, with the horse jumping from the correct takeoff spot, easily fitting the strides in between the jumps (as opposed to having to really stretch out or collect its stride), and cleanly making the flying changes required. Refusals, knocked rails, or rubs over fences incur a severe drop (faults) in the rider's score.
A high scoring hunter maintains an even 12’ foot stride to the jumps, as well as around the corners and between the jumps. They will look relaxed and seem to float effortlessly around the courses, meeting all of their fences in the ideal 6’ takeoff distance. Courses are to be ridden jumps are ridden on a straight line
Although the qualities of the show hunter are based on those of the field hunter, the modern show horse is somewhat different from its counterpart in the field. Show hunters prioritize perfection whereas field hunters reward efficiency and durability.
A show hunter is supposed to make its movements look effortless; and maintain a long, low, ground-covering stride with a swinging shoulder, and a low head and neck set  They are expected to never stop at a fence, cause a knockdown or a rub, and take every fence in good form and hitting every planned stride in between  While these characteristics are important for a field hunter, as a knockdown or a rub could result in a fall for the rider, the way of going is not as important for the field hunter as for the show hunter. The show hunter typically takes the fences at a far slower pace than the field hunter, and in far more controlled conditions. Hunters showing at indoor shows compete on flat, even surfaces over specified "natural type" fences such as coops, post and rails, hanging gates, brush, roll-backs, faux stone and brick walls, and natural-colored rails. Hunters competing at outdoor shows may or may not compete on even surfaces, however even when competing on an outdoor grass course with a couple of rolling surfaces, they still don't have to worry about navigating holes, rocks trees, lumpy cornfields, macadam road surfaces, and the like, which means that their hardiness is not generally tested at the show.
The field hunter's primary requirements have more to do with ability than with looks; therefore he may be any type of horse or pony which can get the job done, safely and competently for his rider. They must be able to keep up with the field, negotiate any type of terrain or footing competently, and be agile and competent white doing it. He is expected to "stand" at "check," (while hounds are working) or for his rider to re-mount him when necessary, never to kick a hound or another horse, and to be under complete control at all times. He should be steady, tough and robust, and able to withstand the inevitable knocks, bumps, bruises, minor injuries, and sometimes falls which happen in the hunt field. Field hunters must have the ability of "staying sane" at all times in the high excitement in a crush of galloping horses, and he should have brakes whenever he is called on, to stop quickly. It also helps if he happens to be good-natured, and enjoys his job. He needs a good sound foot, strong legs, and an amenable brain. Riding safely at speed, the ability to stay under control, and attitude all play a vital role for the field hunter. The type of fences he could encounter in the field run from low stone walls to brush, to coops in fence lines to rail fences, logs, railroad timber obstacles, and other "natural boundaries" found in hunting territories. It matters not whether he looks like a peacock or a plow horse, so long as he can do the job, do it well, and bring his rider safely home at the end of the day.
Show hunter competition at a horse show consists of multiple classes of different types grouped into divisions, usually based on the experience or age of the rider or horse, or the height of the animal. In all classes except equitation, the horse is judged on performance and soundness, and usually also on conformation, suitability and manners.