When showing halter, the judges are looking for balance, muscling, soundness, structure, and overall refinement of the animal. What we need to ask ourselves, as an exhibitor is what can I do to enhance these features of my horse for the judge? This also applies to Showmanship at Halter exhibitors since a proper set up is vital to a high score.
The first essential part of setting up a halter horse is making sure your animal is straight from the beginning, even before attempting to square up. If the horse is not straight the overall picture of what the judge sees is off balance and can cause illusions to the judge that might not be beneficial. There should be a straight line from the poll down the neck and back to the top of the tail bone. When setting up a halter horse we teach them to set their right back foot first and we use that as our guide for all the other feet. Our animal is now straight, and the right back foot is in place so we can work on proper positioning of the other three legs. Setting the back legs is important because it represents the strength of our horses’ hocks, imagine a line that should drop straight down from the back of the hip to the back of the hock to the back of the pastern then ground. We always want to set the back feet first, draw an imaginary line in the dirt of the toe of the right foot and bring the toe of the left back foot to line up evenly. Next, move to the “passenger” front and then finally the “driver side” front. When setting the front feet, it’s important to be aware of the spacing, a general rule is to have a fist width between the front feet. The front legs need to come straight down and to put your horse in a position to show they are sound and stable on their front legs. Your horse should now be squared up, next is proper head and neck placement. The neck should appear to come out of the shoulder high and correct. A good rule of thumb to know how high to place your horses head is you should look them in the eye. And remember keep them straight.
The best advice I have for halter enthusiasts and showmanship exhibitors about properly squaring up and showing is to practice. Have someone else set up the horse and you step away, then you can see how your animal looks and the changes it makes in the presentation of the animal. Never feel rushed and always have a smile on for the judge!