David Deptford answers a question on the halter class.


Q. What do judges look for in a generic halter class? I hear things about balance and tone, but I find it hard to assess my horse


Halter is a class where the horse is judged based upon its conformation or its physical appearance. The judge’s goal in selection should always be to find the best-conformed horse possible. 


AQHA introduced the new ‘performance halter’ class a few years ago to recognise those horses that had earned Performance Register of Merits (ROMs). To encourage people to show these horses in halter classes, separating them initially from the larger, more muscular, ‘pure’ halter horses that you find in the USA. In all cases, judges are taught that rating conformation depends upon the objective evaluation of the four basic traits; balance, structural correctness, breed and sex characteristics, and degree of muscling.




As far as most breed societies are concerned, of the four traits, balance is the most important and refers to the structural and aesthetic blending of body parts. A lot of people think that bigger is better, but that’s not necessarily the case- especially in performance halter. What you need to remember is that you need to ‘fit’ your horse to his frame to get the best possible balance and pleasing look. You need to take advantage of the good parts of your horse and work around any faults. Remember, it’s a conformation class, and that’s what the judges are looking at, balance (how it all fits together), correctness and conformation.


When showing in halter, you have to make sure you get your horse set up well with his head and ears up, even if it takes a little longer. Practice at home and get someone to video you. When in the class don’t panic, move slowly around the horse either setting his legs from the chain or hand setting them. Slower is better, especially with young stock, and judges understand this. Remember, practice makes perfect.


It’s essential when you jog your horse to the judge that you keep your horse straight, and the horse itself is straight on to the judge. The judge isn’t looking at you; he’s looking at your horse. Keep a consistent speed at the walk and jog as you can make a sound horse look sore if you are pulling his head into you and he’s shortening his stride on one side because you don’t have him straight. Find your horse’s best and most attractive speed at these gaits. 


Once you are in a lineup, keep an eye on what’s going on. Don’t make your horse ‘show himself’ all the time or he’ll get bored. Let him rest, not with a foot cocked obviously, but get him so that when the judge comes around, he’s ready to show. Be aware of ways of standing your horse that compliments him, for this you do need to look at your horse at home and practice (again video or photos help). Focus in on his good points and find ways to enhance those.


When showing halter, you need everything clean and tidy. Clip and chalk the white bits and maybe add a little bit of grease or oil around the eyes and muzzle. Your horse’s coat should have a healthy shine and, where allowed, hoof black should be applied carefully. Always use a well-fitting and complimentary halter.


I get asked a lot, ‘What should I do with my horse’s mane? Do I shorten it and band it, or leave it?’ Well, we show horses in halter with short banded manes, and we also show them with long manes. It depends on their job. As long as the mane is clean, well brushed and looks good, go with what suits your horse and its job. 


Although there are guidelines that judges follow, one of the fun things about showing in halter is that a judge’s own opinion is called into play. Take a look at the halter classes in the UK, most of the horses showing in the aged geldings or mares have earned Grand Championships before, but at the end of the day, the results will change depending on how each horse is shown and the judge’s individual preference.