Ask an Expert

A Great Halter Horse

November 15, 2010

AQHA asked our Facebook fans what showing questions they would ask of any of the trainers at World Show. Here is one of those questions:


What’s the difference between a good and a great halter horse?
-Cynthia Tatum Reichel


The most important thing when we look at a halter horse today is a really well-balanced horse.

I think if I could start at the head – if you are talking about a good versus great halter horse – you want a really pretty head and when you look at it, your first impression is just this is a really pretty horse.

Then when you go back, its throatlatch should be really tight going back into a flat neck – not a round neck over the top – but a flat neck right into its withers, and its neck should come out high on the underneath side, not low between its legs.

Then the next thing, the second most important thing is its heartgirth. That’s where that saddle sits, and that’s where the balance comes from on a horse. With that heartgirth being above the back, the wither sitting there where it should be above the back, that assures that the saddle will sit up there where it should not tilted forward, flat or even up hill. So I really like a strong horse in its heartgirth. That goes back into function, and if the wither is in the right spot, the saddle is going to sit just right.

The next thing is their back and underline. You don’t want a really long-backed horse, with that wither sitting up high a nice short backed horse with a long underline is what we would look for.

Then we fall back into their loin, where a horse gets his most strength and from his hocks and using his hind end to propel himself. Most of our outstanding racehorses of today, if you look at them across their backs and loins, they are extremely strong and that’s where that strength comes from.

I like a horse with a really short, strong back across their loin. Then we come to the croup, across the topline. That should be, if you put it in proportion to the back, longer than the back. If you see a horse that’s really long in his back and really short in his croup, that’s just backwards. It should be short in the back and long in the croup, and you don’t want a horse that peaks at the butt and has a real steep slope off to his tailset. You want a nice smooth horse that is strong in his loin and smooth all the way back into his tailset – long and little bit flat, not too pointed on top or steep off that croup.

That really well balanced horse across his topline carries smoothly into a big hip that hangs off the backend under his tail and a really good set of hocks that sets under him. We don’t want the hocks too straight or too much set in the hocks, so a nice angle in the hock, not excessive set or excessive straightness.

Then, going back up to the front, we look at the front legs, which is probably the most important part on the function of that horse. If his legs are poor, then he’s not going to function very well.

I want the front legs really straight, I don’t want to see them bucked over at their knees or the opposite of that which is back on their knees – which is even worse because you are going to look at soundness problems there. Sometimes those horses that have a little bit of give in the knee, we’ll forgive them a little, but still we are talking about good and great, so a great one better stand really good on his front feet and have a nice shaped foot.

Also, I want to mention the slope of that shoulder. The slope on that horse is so important, we don’t want too steep of a slope, nor do we want it laid back where it’s really long. The slope of the shoulder should carry down to his front feet and be consistent with his patterns and his plane of the foot. That should all be consistent, the angle of the shoulder, the angle of the pastern and the angle of the foot. When you get that, you’ve got a pretty balanced horse with a lot of muscle and that pretty stand up structure. That’s what I look for, and I think those are the traits that separate the good from the great ones.

-Bob Kail, an AQHA an NRHA judge for 26 years