Western Showing 101 - Halter & Showmanship


What’s the difference? 

Halter focuses on the horse’s conformation whereas showmanship concentrates on the handler and the performance. 

In a halter class, horses are judged on their conformation and whether it represents the breed ideal. They should be well-mannered and show balance, structural correctness and good movement and characteristics appropriate to their breed and sex. 

Classes are typically split by sex (mares, geldings and stallions) and age (weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds and aged horses), but sometimes they may be grouped together. These classes are usually affiliated with a breed association such as AQHA or APHA. 

If you’re unsure whether your horse will be competitive in Halter classes, ask a trainer or more experienced competitor for their opinion. However, just because your horse may not be a multiple Grand Champion does not mean you can’t still have a go. Halter classes provide valuable show experience, especially for younger horses. Additionally, remember that different Judges have different preferences. It is not unknown to see a horse place low under one judge only to win under another.  

Differing from Halter, Showmanship does not focus on the horse’s conformation but instead on the handler’s ability to show the horse. The class is judged on the ability of an exhibitor and their horse to execute a pattern consisting of a combination of manoeuvres. The horse must be well conditioned and groomed, and the pattern executed smoothly and precisely. The exhibitor should be poised and confident, and their body position is also judged. Turnout is important, but in this class, unlike Halter, the horse is not judged on its conformation. Any horse (and anyone) can excel in Showmanship! 

For most associations, Showmanship is a scored class. For example, the AQHA judging system scores each manoeuvre from very good, to very poor. An overall final score from 0-100 is chosen. Minor, major and severe faults result in point deductions. The overall presentation of exhibitor and horse is also a factor. Showmanship is usually a class for Amateur or Youth exhibitors; however, some associations and unaffiliated shows will put on Open Showmanship classes. 


Why not would be a better question. There are many reasons to have a go at these classes. These classes teach a horse to have good ground manners, something which is important in any successful partnership. Learning to control your horse on the ground has many benefits including helping to build a relationship and ensuring your horse is safe to handle. This relationship can also make your horse easier to handle for farriers, vets, etc. – particularly useful in critical times. Having a horse that will stand calmly for a vet can help in a stressful situation. Good control on the ground can improve your ridden work too. Another reason may be that your horse may be too young to be shown in ridden classes yet. Also, they are an excellent way to get points on your horse if you are competing in affiliated events. Last but not least, a key reason to have a go is that they’re fun!

Showmanship Manoeuvres 
-Extended jog
-Backup (straight and curved)
-Turn 90 (1/4), 180 (1/2), 270 (3/4) or 360 (full turn) degrees. Pull turns are not used.
-Set up (setting the horse up to stand squarely) 
-Inspection (where the judge ‘inspects’ the horse) 


Halter and showmanship require less equipment than ridden classes. All you need is a halter and lead. A show halter is leather and often adorned with varying amounts of silver. A leather lead with a chain is then attached. The halter must be well fitted, and they do come in different sizes. It may be worth asking others to try theirs on for size before investing in your own. The quality can also vary widely.

Turnout & Presentation

Turnout is crucial in these classes. Horse and exhibitor should be immaculate. Horses need to be well conditioned and groomed. Many exhibitors also clip their horses’ facial hair (whiskers and ears), around the coronet band and sometimes the white markings. Turnout is now often influenced by the other classes the horse may be shown in. For example, an all around pleasure type horse will often have a short mane that will be banded whereas a reiner, or ranch horse, may have a longer mane left un-banded. Furthermore, a horse shown in ranch riding won’t wear hoof black. 

The exhibitor’s presentation is also paramount in Showmanship. You need to be smart and tidy. Remember, you can be up close with the judge in this class so details matter. Makeup and clean, manicured nails can be the finishing touches that make a difference in a close competition. In Halter, there is less emphasis on the exhibitor with more focus on the horse, but as with any class, you should always try and present yourself as best as you can. 

Get Practising
The best way to get started, and succeed, in these classes (especially Showmanship) is to get practising. In both classes, your horse needs to be able to be set up to stand squarely – something that takes practice. However, methods will differ between the classes. In Halter, you can manually move their feet. In Showmanship, the set up must be achieved 'off the halter' in other words you cannot touch the horse or point at their feet. Teaching a horse to stand still and quietly can take time. Showmanship manoeuvres take practice; it is the key to success. Ten minutes a day can make all the difference. If you don’t get to see your horse regularly, there are still things you can practice in the comfort of your home. Hang a halter on a chair and practise your footwork for the inspection. Make a conscious effort to move with good posture, poise and confidence. Showmanship can be addictive and very rewarding when you start to see the results of your hard work. Halter has fewer manoeuvres and is not centred around executing a perfect pattern. However, this does not mean there is nothing to practice! Your horse still needs to be able to lead at the walk and jog, be able to be set up to stand squarely and stand still and quietly to be judged. They must also be well mannered. It is worth spending time on this at home in preparation, especially with younger horses. Remember on the day of the show horses can be more unsettled so if you can’t do these things at home, it’ll be even harder in the class.