What is a Hunter Pace:
Hunter paces are based on the sport of field hunting. However, instead of following a pack of hounds that follow a scent trail, a pre-set trail is marked out that includes the natural objects you would find on an actual field hunting such as jumps and water crossings. The length of the hunter pace can be anywhere from five to twelve miles. Before the actual competition, the organizers time a group of experienced horses and riders who ride the course as fast as possible at a pace that is still safe. This becomes the pace time.
If there is more than one division, there may be separate pace times for each division, or the winning time may be the 'average time' based on the number of teams in a division. There's really no governing body of hunter paces, so rules tend to vary and are adjusted to suit the terrain, the level of competition, the organizers and the number of teams.
You may receive some information about the course before you set out. Riders are sent out in teams of three or four. They ride the course at their own pace, as fast or slow as they think acceptable, and may go around the obstacles, such as jumps, if they wish. Jumps can be checked thoroughly before you attempt them and there's no loss of points for going around them. There are checkpoints along the way to ensure horses aren't being ridden too hard. Sometimes refreshments are offered to the riders along the way as well. Some hunter paces will have two or more divisions for those who are really out for a relaxing trail ride, and for those who are more serious about competing.
The main goal of a hunter pace is to have an enjoyable ride. The prize for coming closest to the pace time is regarded as a secondary goal. Penalties are given for riding the course too fast, or too slow.
Equipment You'll Need:
There are no set rules about what you must wear to a hunter pace. This is not like a real field hunt that requires you to wear certain formal riding attire. Helmets, boots, riding pants and a neat shirt of some type should all be comfortable and safe. You'll want a saddle you feel safe and comfortable jumping in. You may want to wear a watch to keep track of time. If you're unsure, you could contact the organizers ahead of time to find out what is acceptable.
Preparing Your Horse:
Any competition can be a high-stress situation for your horse, no matter how casual it may seem to us. Other horses may come galloping by you, wild turkeys can run across your trail, and you may encounter off-road vehicles. You will be riding up and down hills and may go through water or ditches. Having a well schooled, trail-wise horse will make your first hunter pace more enjoyable. You'll be riding in a team of three or four horses, so your horse should be safe when ridden in a group.
Fun is the number-one priority so don't worry about being too competitive. Be aware that when you go to competitions, your horse may become quite excitable. This is normal and good schooling and experience will help overcome this. Arrive as early as you can so you don't feel rushed and can get organized before you ride.
The Benefits of Hunter Paces:
A hunter pace is a great way to have fun and experience a small taste of field hunting while spending time with friends and their horses. Competition is not the main purpose of a hunter pace, so winning is not the focus.