Showing Your Horse at Halter

Nowhere in the show world are first impressions more important than in halter competition.

How to show like a pro, with tips from AQHA Professional Horseman Mark DeFreece.

Josh Weakly
Josh Weakly makes his first impression on the judges at the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show. Journal photo.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression.

A cliché, yes – but true.

Nowhere in the show world are first impressions more important than in halter competition, where a horse’s conformation is scrutinized and a showman’s ability can make or break a performance.

While getting your halter horse in top show shape is key to his success, many competitors overlook an equally important factor of the equation: the showmanship aspect of halter. You’ve got to know how to best show your horse to the judge, so that the judge can examine – and appreciate – your horse’s “best side.”

AQHA Professional Horseman Mark DeFreece of Whitesboro, Texas, has been training and showing halter and performance horses since the early 1980s, and he uses his AQHA judge savvy whether he’s standing at the end of the lead shank or behind the clipboard. Here are his suggestions for the best way to show off your halter horse.

Grooming Basics

In halter classes, it’s not necessary for the human competitor to dazzle the judge; that’s the horse’s job. The showman’s appearance should complement a well-groomed horse with an air of professionalism.

“The showman’s first impression to the judge is by means of his attire,” Mark says. “The best impression can be made with a clean, neat appearance.”

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For clothing, Mark’s motto is simple and clean. Blue jeans, nice boots and a button-down shirt score as appropriate attire – for both male and female competitors – at weekend shows. Large shows, like circuits or the AQHA World Championship Show, may entice competitors to dress up, but Mark still stresses simple colors and quiet prints. Clothing can be dressy without distracting a judge’s attention away from the horse.

For the horse, first impressions are made by looking at the judge through the halter, so halter fit is immediately significant. A correctly fitted halter lays tight against the horse’s head, close behind the ears and close to the throat. Sizing is essential; the noseband should lay flat halfway between the muzzle and the eye, and the silver plating and buckles should follow the line of the leather.

The overall appearance of a well-groomed halter horse mirrors that of the showman: simple and clean.

Traveling to the Judge

Judging begins with the horse’s walk to the judge.

It is the showman’s job to keep the horse under control, alert and traveling in a straight line, to give the judge the best opportunity to examine the horse’s soundness, muscling and balance.

“You need to get your horse traveled to the judge as quietly and as mannerly as possible,” Mark says. “I don’t mind one jumping and bucking a little bit when I’m leading to the judge, because it just tightens up the horse’s body and makes him look better, but he must not be a danger to himself or to the judge when he’s traveling.”

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In the Lineup

Alertness and manners in the lineup both depend on the showman’s ability to control the horse’s body and mind.

“Being able to set your horse up with the halter – with your hand on the lead shank only – is preferred to moving their feet with your hands,” Mark says, who suggests leaving 10 to 12 feet between horses in the lineup. “It’s a lot quicker if they set up from the halter, and it shows you’ve done your homework.”

To set up his horses, Mark teaches them to plant the right hind leg, move the left hind leg even with the right and then adjust the front feet. For an even, balanced stance, the horse should “stand on the corners of his body.” Each leg should be squarely under a “corner” of the horse’s body, as opposed to being spread too far apart or crowded too close together.

After setting the legs, Marks usually lets the horse relax, and brings him to attention when the judge is two or three horses away. To bring the horse to attention, Mark suggests finding something for him to focus on, in your hand or across the arena. Ultimately, however, the charisma is up to the horse.

You and the Judge

Mark suggests watching the paths judges walk around other horses in the class, so you can anticipate where you will need to stand when the judge gets to your horse.

“You want to stay on the opposite side from the judge, to keep the horse exposed to the judge,” Marks says. “Stay alert to where the judge is at all times, and move no more than twice while the judge is inspecting you horse. You won’t be distracting to the judge or to the horse, and your horse will stand more quietly and more alertly.”

16 thoughts on “Showing Your Horse at Halter”

  1. My mare is from the leaguer family. She is also from the impressive line. Very well muscled, big eyes,has the jowals of a stallion. she recently gave birth to a colt (futurity foal)who has her same body type, learns fast,he is sired by leageurs “Lil” chip. How is the impressive line accepted by QH judges and fans?

  2. ^^^^^ Responding to Dr.Powell Owens. There is a stigma with the Impressive line. At least educated horse people and Quarter horse people are trying not to breed it at all, or at least breed carefully. Your colt sounds nice, and he himself should be fine as long as he is tested for HYPP and shows up N/N. I won’t buy a horse unless it comes back N/N, just for my or my family’s safety.

    “This genetic defect has been identified in descendents of the American Quarter Horse sire, Impressive. The original genetic defect causing HYPP was a natural mutation that occurred as part of the evolutionary process. The majority of such mutations, which are constantly occurring, are not compatible with survival. However, the genetic mutation causing HYPP produced a functional, yet altered, sodium ion channel. This gene mutation is not a product of inbreeding. The gene mutation causing HYPP inadvertently became widespread when breeders sought to produce horses with heavy musculature. To date, confirmed cases of HYPP have been restricted to descendants of this horse.

    HYPP is inherited as an autosomal dominant trait, which means it can occur in both males and females and only one copy of the gene is required to produce the disease. The trait is inherited from generation to generation with equal frequency; it does not get “diluted” out or skip generations. Breeding an affected heterozygous horse (N/H) to an affected heterozygous horse (N/H) will result in approximately 50% carrying the defective gene (N/H), approximately 25% will be normal (N/N) and approximately 25% will be homozygous carriers (H/H). Breeding an affected heterozygous horse (N/H) to a normal horse (N/N) will result in approximately 50% normal offspring and approximately 50% carrying the defective gene (N/H)”-http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/hypp.php

    So I’m wary of the line but not of the horse. Your colt sounds nice it just depends on what he test because he has the chance to have HYPP.

  3. I really think the whole HYPP thing is really blown out of proportion!I have had double positives as well as N/H horses, if they are managed correctly they really are no probem. Yes maybe once in a while it is a tramatic event but for the most part it really is no different than any other horse. Not buying a horse because it is N/H is really a very personal decision. I don’t think people should be discouraged but instead just educated.I have two double positives that are 12 years old been hauled enough to get over 8 hundred halter points each and still lay down and have thier own babies. World Champion babies I might add. People need education not fear.But again that is just my personal oppionion.

  4. Yes, people need education on hypp, because all too often uneducated people look at Impressive bred horses and turn away or turn up their noses at them. If they are N/N they DO NOT have the hypp gene and CAN NOT pass it along – period! Impressive bred horses are very talented, athletic and beautiful horses. If you look at Impressive’s bloodlines he is closely related to Doc Bar and all the other athletic foundation sires who were sired by Three Bars. Dont pass up a good horse because it has Impressive in his bloodlines – chances are that is why it is good!

  5. Unfortunitely, I had an Impressive son who was down on his side for 3 months and sloughed all four feet before he “healed” and was able to stand. After that episode, his stall was bedded with soft sand to protect his feet and shape to his feet when walking in the stall. I ended up gelding him as it had been found that the incidence of recurrance on episodes was less if the horse had been neutered. Since then I have never purchased a horse with Impressive on the papers. I am amazed at how many uneducated people there are that believe HYPP positive is OK. This is a genetic malfunction that needs to be eradicated from breeding much as parrot mouth was. The reason associations (be it for dogs, cattle or whatever) keeping records is to help breeders know what blood lines to exclude from breeding – and Impressive is a bloodline that needs to be excluded in order to improve the breed.

  6. I begin my first showing experience this Jan. with my mare. Everything I read in this article is what I have been doing. I need to know how to keep her alert looking. My sisters gelding, sleeps when he is in the arena. Any one have any suggestions? Thanks

  7. is it ok for your horse to have bite marks?
    My gelding im showing has a few because hes new and if not how would i clear these up in about 2 weeks?? great article!
    Thanks

  8. As eloquently spoken by a previous poster, HYPP MUST be eradicated BUT it is wrong to exclude every horse who has Impressive in his pedigree. If the tests show HYPP N/N there is absolutely no issue and all you get is the excellence that led to the problem becoming so wide spread in the first place. That is to say, everyone used him because he was so talented. Surely if we can utilise that talent WITHOUT the issue of HYPP we should grab it with both hands. But anyone who says HYPP is not an issue needs a reality check. I just lost a wonderful mare who I managed to keep right for 22 years but the end was sudden and awful and I never want any horse to go through that again. Not on my watch!

  9. Before any horse owner becomes a breeder of Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Paint or any other breed they need to understand Genetics of Undesirable Traits. There are too many horses on the market right now to breed for animals that will end up at the slaughter houses. Forget the almighty dollar and be responsible pet owners, amatures or breeders. Responsible breeders improve the breed not perpetuate faults. Yes, we still have N/H and we should use them as geldings and spayed mares, NOT Breeders.

  10. I really need tips because I never did a show before. I’m planning on doing a dressage show in November any helpful tips for newbies?

  11. I’m going to be showing my 22 year old bay gelding for FFA, an truth be told I’m not 100% sure on what I’m doing or need to be doing with him. All I know is he should do fine because he has been through all this before I got him….. but for owners sake I have no idea on any of it. I’m just hoping he(my horse) will help me when I go to show him, an hope my ag teacher helps me figure out what I’m doing…. 🙂

  12. To the person who thinks its ok to breed H/H impressive lines please tell us your farm name so those of us who want to improve the AQHA horse don’t buy from you!

    I also feel AQHA should not allow any foal out of HYPP H/H parents to be registered, and the breeder banned from the AQHA!

  13. Should we use the quarter system while the judge is judging like we would in a showmanship class, or just keep it simple and stay on opposite sides?

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