Saturday, November 23, 2019

Halter class - the basics - part 1

I’ve been trying to draft this post for a while!  I have a hard time 100% endorsing halter classes, with the halter industry being so specialized.  Yes, I own a horse from halter bloodlines that was bred in the hopes of doing well in that one particular class.  There is A LOT of criticism of halter horses online – a quick google search will show you all that you need to see.  As an amateur, I feel that I can experience the class, learn about how to show my horse and learn about feeding and keeping him fit to do as well as I can locally without being a big supporter of the whole industry.
Having "fun" at a schooling show with a broken ankle. 
Why do I do it if I don’t 100% like it?  That is a question I struggle with – I wrote about it more detail in an earlier post so I won’t go into it again here.  Tl;dr – I can work with Fred at home without a coach, lessons or fancy tack and I can still experience breed shows without needing a fancy riding horse.

Another note: I did not want to use photos I found online from shows/breeders in this post, as I don't want to bash anyone or anything, as that is just not how I roll!

Ok, on to the meat of this post:
AQHA has halter classes broken down by age and sex and they also have a performance halter class, which is for riding horses that have a certain amount of points from riding classes.    All of the 1st and 2nd place geldings from all the classes then go in for a grand/reserve championship and then the same happens for mares and stallions.  The grand/reserve titles are what people are really after, as your horses is up against a larger selection of the best at that particular show. 
Reserve champ x 3? Sure just give me all the ribbons!  Also, with this horse (not Fred) I said a lot of "whoa motherfucker" in the ring! LOL
Many western performance classes are scored and have comments, such as showmanship, horsemanship, trail, reining, western riding and ranch riding.  Halter does not have any scoring or feedback, so it is purely the opinion and tastes of the judge.  All breed show judges are carded and go through training, but trends, personal preferences and politics (at big shows) definitely come into play.
There is some really good info on the University of Arkansas Ag Dept. website about judging a halter horse ( and some of the info in my post is from that article. 
The halter class is a class where the horse is judged based upon its conformation, overall appearance, and usefulness. Conformation is defined as the physical appearance of a horse due to the arrangement of muscle, bone, and other body tissues.
When evaluating a halter class, the following four factors should be used (in that order) to select and rank the horses being judged.
  1. Balance and Quality
  2. Structural Correctness
  3. Breed and Sex Character
  4. Muscling
This stallion photo gives you an idea of the balance and proportions that are sought.
(Edited 11/16) For a halter class, you walk into the ring toward the judges, they then move out of the way and you jog the horse straight away from the judges and then around a corner.  They are watching for soundness and decent movement and if the horse tracks well (ie  - minimal paddling/interference, etc. ) A lack of muscle and overall turnout/appearance will affect the judge’s first impression also. 

The handler is not judged in a halter class, but if you cannot set your horse up in a way to show it off to the judge, it will affect your placing  – especially in an open class, in amateur classes they cut you more slack.   For example – if you do not try to set your horse up squarely (breed halter doesn’t use the same set up as English in-hand with one back leg set back) or are not trying to show your horse to the best of your ability, they will ding you. 
I don’t have many pics of me showing Fred, but here is one where I am trying to keep his head and neck up and his ears up.  The horse can’t be moving around and bopping around with their head.

You can’t tell a lot from this picture of Fred (he is a 3yo here), but he has moderate muscling – especially his forearms, gaskins and hip.  He is turned out properly – clean, shiny, chalked white socks, properly fitting show halter.  Fred is a bit weak in how his neck ties in to his withers and in this picture, needs more weight over his ribs/mid section.   He doesn’t have the nicest head either – he is a bit plain looking.
Now that he is 4, going on 5, he has put on more weight, his topline is filling in and his chest has widened, but I don’t have any pictures since he looks like a yak right now! lol
Compare Fred’s head to this picture of my friend’s horse – I showed him in 2016. He has a gorgeous head and is very striking.
Me and Spunky (not Fred)
Here is a video that is teaching people how to judge a halter class:
If you have time to watch the video all the way through you’ll see a pretty standard AQHA/APHA judging of a halter horse class.  They show the suggested placings and some rationale.  Read the comments though and you’ll see another story.  The horse that people would want to ride is not the class winner.  This kind of thing is common in halter as a specialized industry.  Some judges prefer “performance” horses, which are horses that are successful under saddle as opposed to the specialized beefcakes.
If you are interested in more details on QH conformation for halter – the University of Nebraska has a good 20 min video with lots of information:

And that is it in a nutshell...  More to come on selecting a stud for breeding to hopefully show in halter...


  1. I was just having this conversation with my pony's breeder. In the Welsh Cob world, we're almost seeing two breeds emerge purely from judges pinning ponies in line classes that would never do well in sport. One group has long, dippy backs and a massive trot with legs flying everywhere, and one has shorter, straighter backs and maybe a less impressive trot but a canter you'd actually want to ride. Like you, I compete in halter for fun and for points for his breeder whenever I can, but especially after watching what happened to QHs and now Welsh, I really wish they'd implement mandatory performance points for any halter horse of riding age. We're just damaging the breeds if we're breeding animals that aren't going to hold up to riding, whether it's because of tiny feet or dippy backs.

    1. Yeah- totally agree! I'm not surprised to hear/see this in other breeds - I know the morgans and arabs have similar issues. It is a shame that conformation and balance/movement aren't the first/main points to judge on. I tried to buy a horse that was a more modern halter style that should do ok in the ring and maybe be rideable as well... Halter classes for youngsters is a great way to get them out and get exposure,but points for the aged would make sense.

  2. Thanks for explaining this to those of us with no halter experience. I think that ANY discipline gets a lot of criticism online. I too have struggled with "why do I do this if I don't agree with all of it?" In my case, "this" is working with racehorses.

    1. yes, the racehorse industry has its share of nasty stuff too. The internet is such a cesspool most days - I have to try and ignore 99% of it!

    2. I have a rule against reading the comments (or god forbid responding).

  3. Thanks for the education! I know next to nothing about halter, so this was really informative. And I love Fred's head, stop picking on him! ;)

    1. He has a big TB/warmblood looking head, not a QH head! lol Poor Fred.

  4. Gosh I’m so late to the party here but am so glad you wrote it all out! Honestly I kinda love that there are so many variations of horse sport. There are few horses that can excel in all of them but that’s kinda the point - specialization is what makes our own unique interests and pursuits special. We def need updated pictures of Fred tho ;)

    1. I'll try and get some new pics, but he is all shaggy with his winter coat!!!


Farewell Rip and Spunky (alternate title: What a f**ng awful week)

 I've had another spell of radio silence here.  This time for good reason. On Wednesday, October 20th, I lost Rip to colic.  He had just...