If you have never shown, or have not in quite some time the thought of stepping into the show pen can be rather intimidating. “Where do I start? Is my horse good enough? Am I good enough? Where are the shows? How do I do this?!” These are some questions that everyone asks themselves when thinking of their first competition. A safe, and easy place to start is the Halter , even if you hope to one day also show in under saddle classes.
Halter or in-hand classes are the perfect way to get your feet wet at open or breed shows. The class is a simple concept that any horse can compete in and find success. The whole point of halter is to judge your horse's conformation on the breed standard, along with overall appearance, grooming and presentation. Anyone that is willing to dedicate themselves to their horse can easily succeed and even win. Patience, consistency, good feed, and a lot of elbow grease is all you need to turn your horse into a professional in the show pen. Below you will find some helpful insight and tips from veterans of the Halter and in hand classes.
The first thing to start for halter is very obviously a horse, if you have one you are already 50% of the way to the show pen! Considering the in hand classes is based and judged off of your horse's conformation it is highly suggested to familiarize yourself with your breed standards, and compare your very own horse's conformation to that standard. Of course not many horses are going to be perfect by any standard, so don’t be discouraged if your horse isn't the textbook standard. A horse who is not perfect can still be known to do their fair share of winning, because just as your horse is not perfect, many others peoples horses are not either. You also must remember that every show is judged by a different judge with differing opinions, so maybe your horse is their ideal.
So you’ve got the horse, now what? Now it is time for a strong evaluation on your horses Conditioning. What exactly IS Conditioning? Well, that is when you pin point all of your horses nutritional and exercise needs both interior and exterior. What we feed our horses is extremely important, and you will learn this the more you become invested in the in-hand and halter classes. What we put into our horses can make a world of difference. Not only can it result in great coverage over their bones, it also helps them build and maintain healthy muscles, joints, growth plates, and of course coats. If you are unsure we highly suggest giving your favorite company a call and seeing if one of their helpful representatives can help you make smart decisions. Each horse is different, which you will soon come to learn, and the feed you give them will affect them in various ways. High Sugar grains might make your horse hot, flaxseed and rice bran might make your horse's coat more vibrant, MSM might help your horse's joints be more comfortable and lubricated. Read your feeds labels and educate yourself in the ingredients.
Exercise is of course extremely important in maintaining your horses health, and muscle. A horse who is just fed , and not worked might be big and beefy, but they will lack definition and muscle mass, just as any horse in consistent work should have. Quality muscle mass means your horse's conformation will be stronger, as obviously muscle helps maintain a strong topline, help fill out their hips, and give them a well conditioned look. You as the owner know your horse the best, and each horse is different, some horses only need a couple minutes in the round pen doing some roll backs, others might need 20 minutes being ponied at a long trot, so find the perfect rhythm that works best for your horse.
Now, break out your grooming box, because one of the biggest parts of Conditioning is good ole elbow grease. Groom your horse prior to exercise, use a new curry comb, and use enough strength to get to the skin, and break up any dirt or oils. Use everything you were taught in grooming when you were a kid back at horse camp. From their forelock, to their tail, and everywhere in between. After you work your horse, their body will be warm, which means their follicles will open up and allow their coat to release dead hair, skin and oils from their coat- once again curry them down head to toe, and them brush them down with a stiff brush and a quality coat conditioner like Show Sheen, Rose Oil or Healthy Hair. In no time your horse's coat will be glistening with life.
You’ve got it all nailed down, the horse that is well fed, with fine toned muscles and a glistening coat, but now you have to actually show. All your horse needs to know what to do is walk, jog and stand. Unfortunately it isn't quite that easy. The way you present your horse can truly make or break a class for you. Horses must be well behaved and stand squared up for the the entire class allowing the judge to inspect them. The only way to achieve this is to practice patience at home. It really is as simple as it sounds, you just have to make sure you do your homework before you show off.
At home do a ton of standing around, yes, really, stand around. Ask your horse to square up so his front legs are nicely set underneath his front, while his hocks align with the point of his hip, and work on his “whoa” and patience. As they become more relaxed, start testing them by switching side you stand on, all while making sure they don't budge a muscle. To show off your horses beautiful neck shape, practice getting them to put their ears up, and stretch out their neck a little so it shows off the shape and length of their neck and throat latch. Do this multiple times a day, in different places, inside and outside of the arena, hang out in the arena while others ride, and practice your patience.
You as a handler also need to work on your positioning on how you will stand, Always stand with your feet together, and point them towards your own horses toes; Toes to Toes. practice the way you hold the lead , and how you position your arms. Typically holding your arms at a 90 degree angle is ideal, and makes it easy to show off your horse, and get ears up. Everyone's style with vary, as everyone is different in how they feel comfortable showing their horse, so find what makes you feel the most confident.
TACK & CLOTHING
All you will need is a nicely fit halter, and don’t be tricked into thinking you must have a silver halter. Judges will appreciate a perfectly fit quality leather halter over a poorly fit silver halter. Same goes for you, the handler. High-waisted fitted jeans that are long enough to go with your boots, a well fit starched button up shirt (Port Authority is a nice brand!), and a freshly shaped hat will bring the whole look together. Make sure your hair is brushed back , and for the ladies placed into a bun or ponytail. Hair spray is a great way to tame fly aways' as well.
Now you are just about set to hit your first show, if you are still a little unsure, reach out to your local community, Talk with a trainer who competes, even if not in halter, to see if they will be able to give you a couple pointers, watch videos of major competitions, such as the World or Nationals of your breed for great ideas on perfecting “the look”. The horse show industry is one big group of people that have one thing in common; A passion for horses. Come out, and share in on the fun.