This horse-showing requisite can trip up some halter exhibitors. Learn more about properly tracking your horse to the judge.
Tracking your horse to the judge is a major part of a halter class – it allows the judge
to evaluate your horse’s movement. However, AQHA judge and halter trainer Tim Finkenbinder suspects “it’s the one thing that’s the least-practiced among exhibitors.”
He adds: “(Tracking in a halter class) is the simplest pattern done at a horse show. But it makes a huge impression on the judge when an exhibitor comes in. It shows how prepared you are and how broke your horse is.
“Movement and manners are part of judging halter, and your tracking shows that to the judge. It has surely broken ties on my card.”
AQHA Rule No 448 (E) (1) spells out proper tracking: “Horses will walk to the judge one at a time. As the horse approaches, the judge will step to the right (left of the horse) to enable the horse to trot straight to a cone placed 50 feet (15 meters) away. At the cone, the horse will continue trotting, turn to the left and trot toward the left wall or fence of the arena. After trotting, horses will be lined up head to tail for individual inspection by the judge. The judge shall inspect each horse from both sides, front and rear.”
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Here’s how Tim puts it:
“It’s always impressive when the exhibitor is prompt and ready to come into the ring. I want the horse to come in walking alongside the exhibitor. I like to see the exhibitor be confident and come right to me with a nice, brisk walk, the horse walking with his body straight. When I step aside (to the horse’s left), the handler clucks to the horse, and he breaks into a nice, easy, cadenced jog that you would see in a western pleasure class. They jog straight, then make a nice, soft, turn around the cone, continue to jog well past it and then come down to a nice stop.”
Be honest, do these tracking “don’ts” look like you?
- Not walking the horse straight to the judge. “Most exhibitors walk straight to the judge, with the horse off to the right,” Tim says. “You need to walk up so that the horse is walking straight to the judge, not you.”
- Poor turn at the jog around the cone. “At just about every show, I have to ask exhibitors to continue their jog around and past the cone,” Tim says.
“They’ll jog straight past the cone, and then turn a little; or they’ll jog to the cone, stop and walk around the cone.”
As you walk to the judge, when the judge steps to the side, that’s your cue to jog. With multiple judges it’s the same, Tim says. You walk right into the middle of the judges, and when they step aside, begin your jog.
Tim continues: “When you reach the cone, go a little beyond, make a nice, soft curve to the left and continue jogging long enough so the judge can evaluate soundness and movement. I like to see you go at least another 20 or 30 feet after the curve, if space allows. Then look over and check your judge before lining up.”
- A horse carrying its head up in the air. “It can happen if you don’t have him broke to the (lead shank) chain,” Tim says, “or if you’re too strong with the shank.”
You want your horse to track with his head level and comfortable, ears up.
“Now that we’ve reintroduced the lip chain for stallions, if you don’t properly break the horse to (a lip chain), he’ll hold his head up and won’t track freely or straight,” Tim adds. It is sure to happen if you make the mistake of using a lip chain on a horse for the first time at the horse show.
You often hear riders talk about having “feel” with their seat, legs and hands when they ride – it’s the same thing when you lead a horse, you want a light “feel” with the shank.
“Some amateurs can be a little heavy on the shank; they don’t have a lot of feel,” Tim explains. “Some people don’t have good balance themselves when they are jogging and want to balance on the shank.”
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If you do that, you throw your horse off balance and he can’t track straight: His head will be tipped in to you, and his hip will swing to the right. Or he might react and throw his head in the air.
“In order for your horse to make a soft turn (around the cone), he has to have his face,” Tim adds. “It just takes practice to get that horse to jog along beside you with just a little slack in that chain. So much of (tracking well) is you and your horse feeling comfortable and confident, and your horse not being intimidated by the shank.
“You have to get out in your arena or a flat area and practice. It’s the same thing as in showmanship. Those exhibitors practice their maneuvers; it’s no different.
“It just takes time and work with your horse. Anybody can do that.”