Halter classes can be a lot of fun, and work!
First you will need to take a good look at your horse or pony. Is the conformation correct?
A judge once told me there are no perfectly correct horses. Each one will have some little thing wrong with their conformation. Perhaps the way the neck cuts into the body, size and shape of head, slant on shoulder, size of ears, muscles etc. and the list goes on. What the judge does is to look at the overall picture and structure and judge according to which horse is best "put together" based on all the horses he is judging at the moment.
Take a good look at your animal. Is there something you can work on? For instance, if his neck is a little thick you can lunge him with a neck sweat. Need more muscle in the hind end? Lunge him backwards. Now all of this needs to be dealt with according to age. (You would not lunge a young horse for more than 5 min. and gradually build up to 7 min. in any direction).
In training a horse (at any age) for halter you'll need several things.
1. A round pen for lunging (to build muscle mass).
2. Halter and lead rope with a stud chain.
3. Lots of time and patience.
First you will want to teach your horse to stand when you say whoa. Use a halter and a lead with a stud chain and loop it through the halter on the left side (near his muzzle), slide through the buckle under chin back through the halter and go up and snap on the buckle near the eye on the right side. Walk around and teach him to whoa. Go easy when pulling on the lead as the chain under his chin should get his attention. (Some people will slide the chain over the nose for more control and with stallions the chain will be slid under the top lip to make contact with the gums).
Teach him to slow jog trot with head lowered. This can be done with flexible tube reins which go across the back, through the front legs and attach to the halter (clip on sides of halter), you may also want to let out the halter so the nose band drops onto the nose to encourage him to lower his head. Adjust rein pressure so relief is given when his head is "set". These can be used while lunging, you'll be surprised how quickly they will collect into proper balance using these reins.
Next you'll need to teach him to allow you to lift each leg and position it. (This is not as easy as it sounds). You might lift his front legs and get them straight and then low and behold he'll move when you begin straightening his back legs. So lots of patience here. This is called setting the horse up. If you are having trouble you might want to back him against a wall, position his back legs and then his front. If he wants to cock one rear leg push or pull his hip to make him stand up straight. Give him lots of praise when it is done right. A tip for straightening the back legs is to pull the head either left or right. This causes them to move a back leg to get balance. For instance, if the rear right leg is too far forward, pull the head slightly to the left and gently ask for them to back slowly, they will then move the leg even with the other one. Opposite for other leg. When they are positioned, tell your horse to "stand". Once he is standing fairly square you'll need to get his head up and ears at attention. You might try having gum or peppermint in your mouth and gently blowing in his direction. This will get his attention and his ears will go up. When you are blowing try not to be noticeable. Some folks jiggle the end of the lead rope in front of the horse.
At the show you will walk your horse toward the judge, slow jog with horses head lowered, as you pass and then line up. The judge will approach each horse and go all around them. You will want your horse standing straight with head up and ears at attention. You will always be facing the judge with a bright smile on your face, moving from the left side to the right side of your horse as the judge moves. In the younger classes a judge will need to look into your horses mouth to see his teeth. Go to several shows and take your video camera and watch carefully what each competitor and judge does.
Go home and practice with your horse. Get others to bring horses and pretend you are in a class.
While you are training for show you should also remember your horse must look his best, after all - this is a beauty pageant for horses! The day of the show he should be slick and clean, muzzle, fetlock and ears shaved, mane banded and tail fluffed along with polished hoofs. In other words, looking his best. Begin to introduce him to the clippers on his muzzle and ears. You will need cordless clippers a gentle hand and lots of patience. Try to find the quietest clippers you can. If you are wondering why your horse overreacts to them just put it up to your ear! (Usually in the summer months a horses ears are not quite so hairy so a little Vaseline in the ear to rub the hairs together will work).
If you want to show your horse in winter months you'll need to blanket him with a hood and use a bright light 24-7 to keep his hair short year round.
If you will only be showing in the spring and summer you'll need to groom him everyday with a rubber curry to get the winter hair off. Use the clippers to trim fetlocks and around hoofs, muzzle, ears and halter path. Practice banding the mane.
(To band a mane you'll need banding rubber bands which can be purchased at any tack store or catalog, buy a color that matches your horses mane, or with a black horse white bands will really stand out).
To band a mane first trim to about 41/2 to 5 inches (you'll trim shorter before showing). Beginning at the end of the halter path grasp 1/4 inch of hair. While holding hair down on neck (this is the secret to nice straight lay-down banding) wrap the rubber band around the hair 4-6 times. Grasp the next 1/4 inch section and continue all the way down the neck, keeping all bands in a straight line.
Once it gets warm enough you'll be ready to bathe your horse. He must be able to tie and you should bathe him somewhere other than the grass. (it will get muddy). In the early morning fill up 2 large buckets with water and stretch the hose out leaving them in the sun. (This will warm the water slightly). Lunge him later that afternoon until he is really hot.
When you bathe a horse for the first time don't use a spray nozzle just a nice trickle from the hose, gradually you can introduce the nozzle. Tie him and start wetting him on his front legs first gradually working up to his body and neck. (I use this method on all our babies and it works great and they love it!) Watch his body language, you'll know when he is not enjoying it.
Lather him up with any shampoo. If you have a paint horse and the white is stained or yellow you will need to use a special product. I like "Shimmering Lights". This is a people product that I have found works great on our paint horses. If the horse's white is really stained it will take several treatments. (After he is dry and is still yellowish try patting some corn starch or baby powder on the white parts)
Use the special whitening shampoo only on their white hair, regular shampoo on the rest, for a mostly black horse try a product formulated for blacks. Once you have scrubbed their body don't forget the mane and tail and rinse well. If you have him accustomed to water in his face rinse well to get dirt at skin level. If not use a towel for face, ears and nose. While they are tied you could use a disposable razor on their muzzle if you have not been working with the electric clippers. Cut the halter path (remember, hold his ear back, end the cutting with the length of his ear). Finish off with the clippers.
Next use a sweat scrape to get off excess water and condition mane and tail. Comb out tail and braid - end with a rubber band. (it is much easier to braid the tail while it is wet). Next comb out the mane and trim. Remember not too short, you can always cut more later.
Now walk him around and let him dry. Once you put him back into the stall you know he'll roll around in the shavings! Keep plenty of shavings and keep the stall picked up and clean.
If your horse fades in the summer sun you'll need to keep him stalled during the day with a fan on him. Horses that usually fade are: Black and Palominos. If your horse is black and their mane and tail have turned reddish just go to the store and buy black hair coloring. Be sure to also buy heavy duty gloves, the little plastic ones that come with the hair dye don't work very well. Regarding Palominos, I have never owned a Palomino but I have learned from others who show at halter a little trick about keeping that deep golden coat. 1 tablespoon of Paprika at each feeding. I know sounds crazy but they say it works.
For the show:
You will need a leather show halter with silver bars (these can be purchased at any tack store or catalog), and a matching lead. When fitting the halter to the horse remember to have the throat latch strap behind the jaw to show off their jaw and head. You may have to adjust the halter slightly, silver tips can be taken off and straps cut for a better fit.
Use this on your horse occasionally so he can get used to it. Be sure you take care of this halter and clean it thoroughly as they can be quite expensive.
Check back on the video as to what the competitors are wearing. Remember styles change and weather dictates what to wear. (summer attire will be different from winter). Look at everything, their hats, boots, pants, shirts etc.
Once you have all of this you'll be ready to go to the show!
Day before the show:
Lunge and bathe your horse (bath if necessary), clean him really well, don't forget to shave his muzzle, also check wispy hairs at the fetlock joint, cut or shave. If his ears are hairy you might try the clippers (if you have been working with him). Braid his tail and forelock (thin forelocks don't have to be braided) and band his mane. Walk him around to dry. Some people use a stretch hood which goes over the face, down the neck and connects at the girth area to keep the mane in place and clean (can be purchased at tack stores). Make sure your farrier has trimmed so his hoofs are in top shape.
Day of the show:
Brush your horse (remember those wood chips he rolled around on.) Pick out his hoofs. Polish his hoofs (hoof polish can be purchased at the tack store). You must have a steady hand and keep the polish off the hairline of the hoof. Allow hoof polish to dry before he goes into trailer. We use a gloss black.
Gather your supplies:
Bucket for water (If you can bring your own water your horse will be more likely to drink at the show).
Hay and feed (depending on how long you will be at the show)
Corn Oil (more about this later)
Corn starch (for the white on paint horses)
Show Halter and Lead
Baby wipes, Fly Spray
Shot for Colic (get from your vet)
At the show:
Once you and your horse are registered, take him off the trailer, brush him well, take out the rubber band in his tail and fluff. Use a baby wipe to clean him if necessary. Put on the show halter, use the corn oil on a baby wipe and rub around his muzzle and eyes, taking care not to get any in his eyes. Check his hoof polish, touch up if needed.
If you are not already dressed do so and go have some fun!!!