Showing Halter Horses: Dental Inspection How-To

Showing Halter Horses: Dental Inspection How-To

Here’s how judges check the teeth of mares and stallions competing in halter.

an exhibitor shows the teeth of her red roan American Quarter Horse to AQHA Judge John Boxell during a halter class (Credit: Jennifer Horton)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Jennifer Horton

A halter class is defined, by the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, as a class where the horse is judged based on its conformation. The purpose of the class is to preserve American Quarter Horse type by selecting well-mannered individuals in the order of their resemblance to the breed ideal.

AQHA Rule REG109.1 describes the parrot mouth genetic defect as either overshot or undershot, defined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners as “no occlusal contact between the upper and lower central incisors.”

It’s an overbite or underbite where the front top teeth and the front bottom teeth don’t line up and touch each other. Mares and stallions with this genetic defect are ineligible to compete in halter classes, which is the reason the teeth are checked.

The procedure for judging halter is explained in Rule SHW362. Horses will walk to the judge one at a time. As the horse approaches, the judge will step to the right (left of the horse) to enable the horse to trot straight to a cone placed 50 feet away. At the cone, the horse will continue trotting, turn to the left making a true “L” and trot toward the next cone placed before the left wall or fence of the arena. After trotting, horses will be lined up head to tail for individual inspection by the judge. The judge will inspect each horse from both sides, front and rear.

In AQHA halter classes, Rule SHW362.7 states that all mares and stallions shall be examined for parrot mouth. Geldings get a pass on this, since they cannot reproduce to pass on the defect.

Exhibitors might pause the horse when they walk in, before they trot off, so judges can check the mouth, or judges might check each horse during individual inspections. In multiple judge classes, it’s common for all of the judges to check the teeth at the same time, as the horses come in, rather than asking the exhibitor to show the teeth to each individual judge during inspection.

AQHA Judge and Professional Horseman John Boxell of Auburn, Illinois, prefers to do the teeth check as the exhibitors walk in. It’s convenient for the group of judges to all do it together.

“I feel like it’s a good place to start off being friendly with the exhibitor when we ask to see their teeth,” he says. “It gives us the opportunity to put them at ease, and the brief exchange between the exhibitor and us judges lets us look human. Walking in to four or six judges can feel intimidating for an exhibitor, so when we speak with them right away to check their horse’s teeth, they may take a breath and be calmer when they line up to set up their horse. I want this to be a positive experience for our exhibitors. I think part of our job as judges is public relations.

“We may joke with the Select exhibitors: Can I see your teeth? Well, not your teeth, your horse’s teeth,” John says. “It’s a way to break the ice with them. I want showing horses to be fun for them.”

John says mouthing the horses as they come in is also more efficient in time, especially when multiple judges are present. During inspection, there’s the chance that horses might become agitated and move out of their set ups, forcing the judge to wait for the exhibitor to reset. Exhibitors’ nerves also come into play in that situation.

How to Show the Judge Your Horse’s Teeth

“I think maybe a lot of people aren’t ever taught how to properly mouth a horse anymore, and they may not understand the importance of it,” John says.

“I was taught you start at the halter, run your left hand down their nose, cup their chin with your right hand and open their lips. You can also use what I call ‘pinching fingers’ – slip your index finger and thumb between their lips to separate them. But if you do it this way, you need to make sure your fingers are not blocking the judge seeing the teeth.”

John says he has never seen a mouth that would cause him to disqualify the entry.

“There are always horses whose teeth are not perfectly lined up, maybe something happened to them at some point, but I’ve not seen a mouth where it was an overbite that would cause disqualification.”