Show Pen Preparedness, Part II: Showmanship at Halter

Carly Kade’s series on western performance events with Christy Snyder Kelly continues! In today’s installment, Christy explains current trends and tips for showmanship at halter.

Need to catch up? Click here to view all of our Show Pen Preparedness articles!

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In this new series for Horse Nation, I talk with Christy Snyder Kelly, head horse trainer at Hold Your Horses Inc., an organization that has been in the business of training AQHA, APHA, and NSBA horses for three generations. Through the interviews and video sessions, Horse Nation followers will glean insight from someone who has been coaching and training champions for years. The topics are sure to be of interest to enthusiasts of the western horseback riding discipline:

In this second edition, let’s talk showmanship at halter and show pen best practices!

What trends should we be taking notice of pertaining to showmanship in the show pen? Fashion? Ways of presenting? Horse wear?

Dark leather is the standard for halters. Short cheek silver sides will complement a not so pretty head and will enhance those horses with a very nice head, so you can’t go wrong there. Try not to go overboard with silver as it can distract. The chain should always be under the jaw for a classic presentation and the chain should be cut to length – not too long or too short. The snap and clasp on the right side of the horse’s head should be facing out.

Graceful and classy is what is winning in the showmanship today. It needs to be snappy, precise and most of all, correct. Showmanship is a beautiful dance between two partners so a pattern needs to be clean and have a flow. The top showmanship exhibitors have a way about them that make you want to perk up and see more.

What are your tips for a quick square up? Straight backup?

Practice, practice, practice for a quick set up. This class is about presentation, so your horse should be square when setting up to present to the judge. However, use your judgment and know your horse. If he’s green and you are close to square at a weekend show, leave it for now and continue to work on it. If you are at the world show and your horse is advanced, you need to be setting up quickly and perfectly.

As far as a backup, you need to be sure to look up and where you want to go. Look right down the horse’s spine. Think up and back with your hand. Be sure you are closing your backup and not leaving one foot out a lot farther than another. Get the hind feet as close to square as you can. Eventually, the horse will start to learn to do this on their own.

You also want to make sure the horse is moving off your body. Use a crop to tap the horse’s chest if they are reluctant to move off your hand until they understand what you are asking. Be sure you have control of this before you ramp up the speed on this maneuver.

What’s the trick to nailing a pivot from the ground?

If you have a green showmanship horse, you are going to really watch that right hind pivot foot and make adjustments, either back or forward as needed until they learn what you are asking them to do. You’ll also want to be sure you are asking them to bring around the left hind foot. Again, closing your pivot on every quarter turn. Keeping your horse square throughout every maneuver, whether it is a backup or a turn, will set you up for success on your next maneuver. As your horse advances and starts to plant the right hind foot, you can start watching the right hind hip and that will give you an indication where the hint foot is and if you need to make a slight adjustment.

Can you recommend some best practices for presenting to the judge?

Smile and be natural. This class is all about presentation and this is your time to show your personality. Don’t over exaggerate your moments, but show off your horse and make them want to watch you.

The practice pen: What warm ups do you recommend ringside and at home?

Know your horse and what kind of practice it needs for this class. Some need a lengthy warm-up session and some just need a reminder on a few maneuvers. Don’t pick a fight and end on a good note.


About Christy Snyder Kelly: Christy trains, teaches, buys and sells, prepares show horses and develops horse and rider teams in Arizona. Anyone interested in learning more about the Hold Your Horses Equestrian Team and Christy’s Angels can visit the Hold Your Horses, Inc. website here:

About Carly Kade: Carly Kade is an author of equestrian fiction. In her free time, Carly enjoys competitively showing her registered Paint Horse, and works on her next novel. In The Reins, Carly’s cowboy romance novel inspired by the equestrian lifestyle has been an Amazon equestrian best seller for more than 10 weeks and is an official 2016 EQUUS Film Festival literary selection. The novel is available now in paperback and eBook. Visit for details. Connect with Carly Kade Creative on Facebook or Twitter @carlykadeauthor.

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