Horse Showing

The Perfect Setup

September 16, 2009

Teach young halter horses to set up in five easy steps.

PerfectSetupFrom The American Quarter Horse Journal

It looks like magic. A young halter horse, standing so still, so perfectly, with his head held high and his ears perked forward. He almost looks like a beautiful bronze statue. But it’s not magic. All it takes is repetition and patience, says Team Wrangler member and AQHA Professional Horseman Ted Turner Jr. He offers these five steps for achieving the perfect setup.

Step One

The first thing a young horse needs to learn is the word “whoa.” This should be your favorite word when teaching a young horse to set up. It not only means stop, it also means to stand still.

When you first start teaching your horse to stand, you will need to hand-set his feet. Always set the foot opposite from you first. Start with the right hind foot and then the left. Next, set the right front foot and then the left.

Once he is square, make him stand there to learn what you are asking of him. If he moves, say “whoa” and go through hand setting him up again.

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Step Two

When your horse has learned to stand correctly, it is time to start working him from the halter and teach him to move his feet with it.

Never back a horse into position. Always walk him forward into position. Once again, start with the right hind foot but this time instead of hand-setting the foot, use the halter to get him to put the foot into position. Once it is in position, then work on the left hind foot. Then move to the right front foot and lastly the left front foot.

In the beginning when you’re teaching a horse to work off a halter, you might need to use your hands to help the horse set his feet properly. That is OK, but ideally, you want the horse to set his feet in position off the halter so you don’t have to touch his feet.

If you want to move the front foot on the far side, which I call the passenger side, put your hand on the withers. If you want to move the side nearest to you, or the driver’s side, put your hand on his shoulder. You can also help him get into position by using your foot to move his feet.

When you get the horse where you want him, tell him “whoa.”

Step Three

Once I have him set up and standing still, I will back him up, then bring him forward and do it all over again. Everything you do in teaching a horse how to stand is repetition.

If he wants to be fidgety, one of the things I like to do is turn him in a tight circle a couple of times like a showmanship horse. Then back him up, making sure his body is straight, and say “whoa.”

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Step Four

Ask someone else to hold your horse so you can step back and look at him to determine the best position for his head. A horse that doesn’t have a good-looking back should not have its head up too high because it makes the horse’s back look bad. Some horses need to look straight out. That also depends on how their neck comes out of their shoulder.

To get a horse’s ears to come forward, you need to find out what it likes to look at. Some of them like to look at your hand go up and down. Sometimes snapping your fingers will work. For others, playing with the shank will bring the ears forward. Do whatever you can to get your horse’s ears up.

It is a good idea to practice setting up your horse in different environments. One day you might do it inside the barn, the next day outside the barn and the day after that maybe out away from the barn. This will help the horse become used to different settings, and he won’t be as unsettled when he’s at a show.

Ask someone to walk around the horse and act like a judge. Continue to say “whoa” to the horse and ask him to stand still. Remember, “whoa” is your favorite word and repetition is how horses learn: over and over and over until they know what you want.

Step Five

Once your horse is broke, you should only have to practice setting him up maybe once or twice before you take him to a show. This refresher course will help him remember what he has learned.

At the show, if you need to touch your horse’s feet, that’s OK. But when the judge comes to your horse, you need to stop moving around so you don’t block the judge’s view.

Your horse doesn’t have to be perfect every time. Let the judge look at your horse and when he moves away to look at another horse, reset a foot and set up your horse properly. The judge will come back to look at your horse again.

A good way to learn more about showing halter horses is to watch top trainers and amateurs. You can learn a lot that way.

And always, when you are in the show ring, act professionally and be courteous at all times to the judge and your fellow competitors.

Ted Turner Jr. realized early in life that his goal was to train and show world-class horses throughout the United States. This dream has been fulfilled as he has become one of the industry’s top horsemen.

With 64 AQHA world championships, Ted has won more than any other open exhibitor and topped his mentor Jerry Wells’ record in 2006. He currently lives in Thackerville, Oklahoma.

Nominating your horse for the AQHA Incentive Fund (link 3) could be very beneficial. Learn how you can earn money with the points your horse earns at AQHA shows.