Your horse misses markers. He swings his hips when he stops. The worst: His hoof clips your foot, causing you to stumble and fall. You’ve decided that showmanship at halter just might not be your horse’s event.
Before you jump to that conclusion, closely examine each of those statements. Each of them blames your horse for your showmanship woes. But here’s the thing: Each of these problems is more likely to be caused by your position alongside your horse than by his unwillingness to cooperate.
Here I’ll give you showmanship-position pointers to solve your pattern woes.
1. Let’s start with the view from the front. You can see that the handler is pulling her horse’s head down and toward her. This causes numerous problems. First, it puts an arc in the horse’s barrel, which means he won’t be able to track or stop straight. This complicates achieving correct timing and position at markers. Second, by pulling her horse’s head toward her, the handler is in his way, which puts her at risk of running into his shoulder or, worse, having their feet interfere, which could cause her to trip and fall.
2. The pair is trotting here, with the handler in correct position. She isn’t pulling on the lead shank; instead, she leaves slack so that her horse’s head can be in straight alignment with the rest of his body. This means that he’ll be able to stop straight and square. You can see a notable difference in the handler’s distance from her horse—she’s safely out of his way, but he can still see her. In this position, the handler shows poised control.
3. We can assess the handler’s position with her horse from the side, too. Here, she’s too far back, which often leads to the head-pulling discussed in Photo 1. In terms of safety, her horse can’t see her when she lags behind his throatlatch. It also causes position flaws in the handler’s body, because she has to reach out in front of herself and lean forward to keep up. This also makes her elbows stick out in an unappealing fashion.
4. Here, the handler is in correct position. She’s up by her horse’s eye, which means he can see her; she’s not pulling on his head from behind; and she’s not at risk of interfering with his stride. By staying in this position, she’s also able to keep her body correct—upright, square, elbows in. She and her horse look in sync, and she looks like the confident leader of the pair.
5. In terms of presentation, the handler’s arm and hand position isn’t ideal here. With her elbows out and her right wrist turned slightly downward, she’s likely to pull on her horse’s head and her elbows will get in her way. It’s not a “tight” presentation and looks a little sloppy.
6. Here she looks sharp, confident, and correct. Her neck is straight, her shoulders and torso are square, and her right wrist is straight, helping to keep her horse’s head straight. This “tight” position demonstrates that she’s alert and ready.
7. The incorrect body positions discussed in Photos 1 and 3 have a detrimental effect on stopping squarely at a marker. This photo demonstrates the problems. First, the handler is too far behind, so her horse can’t see her change her body position to prepare for a stop. That means he’ll keep right on moving, even when she halts. Second, she’s pulling on his head, which puts the arc in his body and means that when he does stop, he’ll swing his hips away from her. Third, and possibly most important, she’s lagging behind, so when she stops and he doesn’t, there’s an even higher likelihood that the horse’s shoulder will run into her.
8. With the handler even with her horse’s eye, they can stop together. The horse’s head is straight, which means he can stop straighter, with his feet set up in position for inspection. The ability for the handler and horse to read each other and remain in sync takes lots of practice, but it’s all based on the handler staying in position so the horse stands a chance of getting it correct.
Jill Newcomb, San Marcos, California, is a lifelong horsewoman and an AQHA judge. She specializes in all-around events and has successfully coached and shown world champions and All American Quarter Horse Congress winners. Learn more about Newcomb’s program at jillnewcomb.com.