While most people know that the Hack division at a hunter show is a flat division where the horses are not asked to jump, many people do not understand the difference between the classes that are offered. In fact, if you watch the division you will often see horses ridden the same way through the same gaits through all the classes without any obvious differences at all.
The hack division is usually split into three or four classes including the Pleasure Hack, the Road Hack, the Show Hack and the Hunter Hack. In each class the horse is judged according to a slightly different range of qualities and to be able to assess these abilities the judge may ask for a range of different things.
Perhaps the best understood of the hack classes, the pleasure hack judges how quiet and calm a horse is. The theory is that a pleasure horse should be a pleasure to ride. It should be safe and comfortable with easy transitions and a pleasant expression. To judge these qualities the judge will ask for a basic walk, trot and canter. In each gait the judge is looking for a long, low stride with a relaxed carriage and the appearance of a smooth ride. The horse should be forward, but should not appear rushed or stressed in any way. A rider who is relaxed and who uses minimal aids can show off the pleasure horse in the best light.
A road hack is a calm, yet forward horse that is capable of traveling long distances with minimal effort. He should have a pleasant attitude, yet look as though he has the energy to keep a brisk pace for an extended time. The judge will be looking for a horse who is not spooky or silly and who looks comfortable to ride. Not only will the basic walk, trot and canter be judged, but you might be asked for a working trot or a hand gallop. A working trot is a strong, forward trot that covers a lot of ground without being rushed. The hand gallop is executed in a two-point or half-seat where the horse is asked to gallop forward in a controlled manner so that it covers the maximum ground with minimal effort.
Unlike the road and pleasure hacks, the show hack asks for the horse to be collected and working well in hand. A show hack may be asked to perform a range of gaits including collected, working and extended trots and hand gallops. At all times the show hack should be paying close attention to its rider with prompt transitions and an alert expression. The rider should be attentive to his horse with good equitation and control. The horse should be an excellent mover who will stand out in a crowd. Working well on the bit a show hack should carry itself from the quarters and show impulsion.
Many hack divisions do not include this class, but it is really an important style that should remain a part of the division. A hunter hack is forward and works well on the bit. They should have three clean gaits with good transitions. While having good movement is still important the movement should be such that the horse would be suited to riding through the fields rather than just in the ring. Comfort is important, but a forward way of going is essential to a good hunter hack. Because the class is based on having a good field hunter the horse may be judged over a small single jump. This jump is comparable to what the horse might encounter when out on a hunt. A hand gallop may be requested in this class.
All of the hack classes are based on styles of riding that horses were used for in the past. Many of these uses are no longer common, but the hack division offers horses a chance to relive the past. Whether a horse was used for pleasure, ridden out on the road, used to show off or taken out on the hunts the skills required were suited to the task at hand. A well run hack division will show variation both in the demands of the classes and in the placings of the horses. A nice pleasure hack is unlikely to win the show hack class, while a good hunter hack might not have the easy-going nature of the pleasure hack. By understanding the nature of the division you can maximize your chances in each class and show your horse off to the best of its abilities.