Horse Showing

Halter in Detail

November 28, 2012

The basic setup- the routine every horse-showing pro uses.

halter horse

You can have a great halter showing experience with these tips from AQHA Professional Horseman Jack Brizendine. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horseman Jack Brizendine with Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal

When you hear how a pro approaches the basics of a class, you often hear tips you would have never thought of otherwise. And what’s more basic in halter than the setup?

“All good halter trainers, every one of us, sets a horse the same,” says AQHA Professional Horseman and Team Wrangler member Jack Brizendine. “It’s uniform among all the halter trainers – with slight variations – because it’s the easiest way to set those hocks and front feet.”

Jack talks through his set up:

Coming In

At a show with no order of go, I always try to go in first or last, because that will get you the longest look from the judge, and you get to pick your ground. The ground in all arenas is not even; they have low spots and high spots from being raked and worked on.

You want your horse to either be on level ground or coming slightly up out of a low spot, with his hind legs in the hole, which will show off his topline the best.

If you can’t get in first or last, pay attention outside the gate and watch for any unruly horses or horses that don’t appear very broke, and try not to enter next to them. If you do, invariably, that horse will move or circle his exhibitor and could cause your horse to move right when the judge wants to look at him.

Jogging

At home, you have to work on getting your horse to walk and jog right alongside you.

If the horse’s head is wandering side to side or if he’s pulling back as you go to walk or trot away, remember: Whatever that head does, the rear will do, too. You want your horse’s head looking where you are going.

When I start to walk or jog to a judge, I cluck or kiss to the horses – for me, a cluck means “go forward.”

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It’s important to show good movement. A good-moving horse can beat a lot of bigger, more powerful horses when he jogs by, especially if you can get a judge to think, “Wow, he could ride.”

Lining Up

As I get almost to the spot I want to be, I turn and face my horse to make sure he is lining up straight, parallel to the arena fence.

If your horse is crooked in the line, it will detract from the judge’s profile view: The farther the hip is angled away from the judge, the smaller it will look. I try to get it dead straight so the horse looks even and balanced through his body.

Position Yourself

As you start your setup, make sure you are standing at the ring of the halter, facing the horse diagonal to the horse’s left shoulder – you want to be able to see all four feet from where you are standing.

You want your right hand close to where the chain comes out from the ring of the halter, about an inch from the halter. From there, your horse will get your signals much faster as you set him. The farther out your hand is away from the halter, the more you have to exaggerate your hand movement to signal your horse.

Set the Right Hind

Once he plants that right hind, it’s easier to move the left hind. Use the shank to move his head back and forth or side to side until you get that left hind where you want it.

In deep sand, I move that left hind leg back and forth so the hoof clears a path in the sand a little so there’s no dirt balled up under the heel when he sets it down.

Say “Whoa” when it’s where you want it. I know several trainers who cluck to their horses while they move the leg, then say “Whoa” to plant it. The only thing the horse hears from me while I’m setting him up is “Whoa.”

Think as you place that left hind. If you move your horse’s head away from you, it causes him to step wider, away from the right hind. If you bring the head toward you, it causes him to step closer to his right hind, making him stand more narrow behind.

What you want depends on your horse. You have to study how to set your horse up to show him off best.

Standing wider behind can straighten his leg if he toes out a little in the hind end. But if you set him up too wide behind, it will hollow his back out and shorten the appearance of his hip length from the profile view.

Standing more narrow behind can give his leg more definition in the stifle from the rear view, if he needs that.

Before I move to the front feet, I make sure those back feet are planted correctly and solidly weight-bearing in the heels.

Set the Right Front

Set the right front foot by putting your right hand on the horse’s withers, fingers on the off side.

Put the outside edge of your right boot where you want that right front foot to land. If you want it forward, bring your boot out for him to bring his foot to you. If you want it back, tap your boot on the hoof and place your boot accordingly. When it’s where you want it, say “Whoa.”

Set the Left Front

Then put your right hand on the horse’s shoulder and do the same thing with your right boot and the left front foot.

Don’t Fuss

The less you mess with your horse, the better off you are. When you go to the front feet, if one is in the spot you want it, set it first.

For example, if I set the back and the left front foot is where I want it, but he doesn’t have his weight in the heel yet, I put my hand on his shoulder, and when he goes to move that foot, he’ll set his weight squarely on that heel, and that’s when I say “Whoa” to set it.

Most of my horses, 70 percent of the time, will step right where they belong on their own. It’s comfortable, and they know where they’re supposed to be.

Whoa

Once you say “Whoa,” don’t move. Make sure you are off to the side where you’re not hiding the head and neck, especially if he has a good head and neck – you want to show that off.

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Expression

Only ask for the ears when the judges are looking. Your horse can’t be on attention for 10 minutes or the entire class. When you ask for his ears with your hand, you want him to bring that ear forward, so give him a focal point (with your hand, shank, comb, candy wrapper, etc.) to look forward to, and then draw your hand away from his face.

Mouthing

Lots of people have trouble when the judges ask them to mouth the horse. People get frustrated, and the horse moves because he feels that frustration. Often, they come at the horse with the left hand, from the front, in the horse’s blind spot, and the horse reacts to something grabbing his nose.

If you let the horse feel your hand coming, it’s easier. Take hold of the chain with your right hand underneath the horse’s chin – where he can already feel your right hand – and slide your left hand from the back forward toward his mouth. Then run your first two fingers along his lips and use them like a pair of scissors to slide open the lips. It makes it so easy.

Practice

In my barn, we practice this at home and never change the routine. If you always do it the same way, it becomes automatic to them, which is what you want at the show.

But we only do it about five minutes. We bring a horse in, set him up, say “Whoa,” and let him stand there a few minutes, then pet him, back  him up and repeat it once more, then back him up and you’re done.

Once a horse gets really broke to set up, we leave him alone. We might practice once a week, as a refresher. Across a period of months, he’ll learn to be on point when he’s at a show, and he’ll use his ears.

If you drill the setup every day for 20 minutes, you make a horse stale, and then he gets bad-eared on you – he’s bored to death.