Performance Halter Advice

A world champion halter trainer’s advice on showing in performance halter.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

The biggest misperception I think people have about halter is that bigger is supposed to be better. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and especially not in performance halter. It’s form to function.

What I tell exhibitors in performance halter is to fit your horse for his frame.

I don’t think you need to try to make a small-framed horse look like a big halter horse. And I don’t think you need to make a heavier-muscled horse look like a hunt seat horse. The best thing you can do is take advantage of the good parts of your horse and try to work around his faults.

It’s a conformation class, and that’s what the judges are going by. It’s not how much muscle, how big or whatever; it’s correctness, balance and conformation.

Another extremely popular AQHA class is showmanship. If you're interested in this class, you should check out our Showmanship at Halter DVD.

Unlike showmanship, in halter, you can just show from one side. But you have to make sure you get your horse set up really good, even if it takes a little longer. You want to keep his head and ears up. You’re showing your horse more than you are yourself.


When you track your horse, the biggest thing is to keep your horse straight and at a consistent speed at the walk and the jog. You can track a sound horse and make him look sore if you’re pulling his head into you and he’s shortening on one side because you’re pulling him around.

You want to track him correctly so it compliments him. If he’s a hunt seat horse, don’t go out there and try to make him just jog beside you. Trot him out there and show his best stride.

If it’s a short-strided rope horse or a pleasure horse, you don’t want to take off with him, just let him go at his own pace beside you.

The Line-Up

When you’re lined up in the class, you’ve got to know when to present your horse and when to let him rest. Look to see where the judges are and know where everybody is in the pen.

The biggest thing is to have your horse broke and don’t do your training in the class. If you’re having a hard time setting him up and the judge doesn’t get to look at him because he has his head down while you’re placing a foot, it could really cost you.

You also don’t want to burn your horse out. You’ve got to show him to each judge and keep him fresh and get him presented to each judge. It’s hard for a horse to look really fresh if you’re calling on him the whole time you’re in there, constantly trying to get his ears up, etc.

It’s especially the case at the world shows. If you try to show your horse the whole time you’re in there, he’ll get tired and quit showing.

You also need to be aware of ways to compliment your horse. For example, if he runs downhill, you don’t want his front end pointed away from the center of the pen. From the side, it’ll create the illusion that he’s running even more downhill.


With halter horses, you want everything clean and neat. You don’t want them greased up so much that you can’t even touch them and that they look like they’re wearing too much makeup.

Learn about grooming tips for showmanship as well with our Showmanship at Halter DVD. There's also information about clipping, halter fit, body position, posture and more!

The hoof black should be lined just right, not up in the hair. You want the ears and the muzzle oiled where it looks clean, not greasy. You want horses clipped well with a good shine on their hair.

I think what makes a lot of the performance halter is showing the horse with a little of the characteristics of what they do. Everybody, especially a horseman, appreciates that a little more.

For example, I want rope horse manes to be just like you’d have them for the roping. I don’t band them; I just comb them really good and have them clean. On a longer-maned horse, some people do prefer to band them, but I don’t think you should pull them and change the appearance of the horse.

The pleasure horses have their manes pulled, so go ahead and band those. And for the hunt seat horses, band those the same way or leave them down. Don’t leave a hunt seat horse braided. I still think that when you go into a Quarter Horse conformation class, your horse is a representative of a stock breed.

I don’t ever use a tied-in tail; I don’t like them. But if a tail is really thin and gives the illusion of the horse being off-balance, you might need to add a bit.

Opinion Is OK

I think what’s fun about the judging in performance halter is that there are no determined guidelines. A lot of opinion goes back into it, and that’s something I like. That’s what makes horse shows, a horseman’s opinion.

If we were to put everything on a computer and say, “this is the horse, this is the winner,” then you just go out there and match up that horse and that’s the winner every time. To make people come back, you’ve got to go by what you like. What I like is not necessarily what you like, but that’s what makes the world go round.