Tracking Your Horse Straight, Part 1

Utilize this horse-training advice to teach your halter or showmanship horse to track straight.

Tracking straight is important for the judge to properly evaluate your horse at halter. Journal photo

Tracking is the art of keeping your horse moving forward in a straight line. As you lead your horse forward, you must be able to maintain your horse’s body - poll, withers, tail - in a straight line. The horse shouldn’t curl his nose in toward you, track with his body sideways or bow his neck.

I show halter horses, and I start and train showmanship horses. The basics of tracking for both classes are the same. And it appears to me - as an AQHA judge - that many exhibitors in both classes need to practice it more.

More than 60 percent of the showmanship class is about being able to lead and control your horse in a straight line or on a circle, and having that horse listen. It’s about tracking. If you can’t track a horse straight, you can’t ever do the class well.

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In addition, tracking straight is important for the judges’ ability to properly evaluate your horse in a halter or performance halter class. They want to evaluate how straight and correct his legs are and his footfall.

It is annoying to judges when an exhibitor walks a horse into a halter class and the horse tracks sideways, does not come straight to the judge, begins trotting too soon, then bounces to the cone and, while going around the cone, loses the trot and whips sideways around the cone. Many of our halter horses are young, well fed and very fit, but they still must track straight and be under control to be shown properly.

There are some simple exercises you can practice at home that will help.

First Things First

When I start out working on tracking with a horse, I always practice at the walk with the chain over the nose first.

If you start right away with the chain under the chin - which is a sharper feel - a horse tends to start thinking about that chain more than you, and he’ll lock up. When a horse locks up, he’s not thinking about work, all he can think about is the chain under his chin.

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So as I work on different exercises, I start out working with the chain over my horse’s nose and just walking. Once I have a horse that moves with me in those exercises at the walk, then I go to the jog, still with the chain over the nose. Again, once he’s good at that, I move the chain under the chin and go back to the same exercises just walking. Then I move up to the jog again with the chain under the chin.

I think if you start out working with the chain under the chin and a horse does not know what you want, he’ll get afraid of it and lock up, and that’s counter-productive. You have to teach and give him time to learn what you want.

In my opinion, handlers tend to overuse the chain. We need to remind ourselves that it’s a tool to help us teach. It is not a weapon.

I also like to work on tracking with a horse after he has been worked and he’s a little quieter and is listening. I try to walk my horses around my farm and do little exercises so they get stimulation but are still listening. I’m asking them to listen in different areas.

Stay tuned. Part 2 will outline techniques handlers can use to encourage horses to track straight.