Halter classes are events in which horses are led in hand and judged on the basis of their conformation. Each horse is judged against a breed standard for that animal, and the best representative of the breed standard is the winner of the class. Examples of breed classes would be Morgan Halter, Arabian Half/Arabian Halter, Quarter Horse Halter, etc. Classes that are not “breed” classes, like color class, best groomed, sport horse etc. are judged against what would be the best representation of what the emphasis of the class is. Winners of those classes then, would demonstrate the best color, best turnout, or best representation of a sport horse type.
Equitation is hybrid class where the rider’s abilities are judged subjectively; it may be viewed as the “art of riding”. The horse is not judged with the exception of how well it executes the directions of its rider. The riders form and skill are tested, often with the use of a pattern which asks rider and horse to execute a series of movements to demonstrate communication, control, balance, suppleness, and straightness.
Jumpers ride over technically difficult courses that tend to twist and turn. Judging is objective and mathematical based on whether the horse knocks down a fence, stops at a fence, or does not complete the course in a certain time frame. All of those mistakes incur “faults” or penalties. The horse with the fewest faults and the fastest time taken to complete the course wins the competition.
Hunters are a type of horse and horse show competition judged on movement, manners, and way of going, particularly over fences (jumps). Hunters show over courses that mimic traditional hunt field obstacles and the judging is subjective. In general, judges are looking for horses that are well mannered, attractive, and athletic as they negotiate courses in a safe and smooth manner.
Dressage is often equated with ballet as it is a kind of equine dancing. Horses exhibit suppleness, athleticism, and artistry as they are guided seemingly invisibly by their rider. They perform extremely difficult maneuvers in a precise pattern of compulsory moves, sometimes set to music, in an effort to achieve the impossible perfect score of 100-percent. The highest score ever achieved is 92.3-percent. Dressage principles, which trace to the earliest days of riding, are used in virtually every form of riding.