Monday, December 28, 2009

Halter Vs. Performance

These days many breeds seem to be splintering off into various factions, however it frequently boils down to Halter or performance as though the two are not (or should not be) intrinsically linked.

There are still a few stellar performers who can also win in the Halter ring, but they are disappearing in a myriad of breeds. My question is, why are there not Halter judging standards across the board which reward overall good conformation, movement and form-to-function in a horse? Both segments of the industry would benefit from such a thing, in my opinion.

One of the most glaring examples is the difference between a World Championship Quarter Horse from the Halter ring and a Western Pleasure horse of identical quality within his chosen division. Add in the working performance horse (Reiners, Cutters, Reined Cow Horses) and you've got three distinct types of horses. When judges are pinning post legged, crippled moving beasts that often look more like beef cattle than horses, there is likely a problem.

We have a similar issue in the Arabian breed, which was a major reason there was such strong support for a numerical scoring system from the performance enthusiasts. A good many Arabian Halter horses have lost the breed's trademark athletic ability, rendering them virtually useless as performance horses. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Another issue along the same lines are those folks who just prefer one over the other. This is something I've never really quite understood, because I enjoy both ~ whether watching or competing. Some folks just seem to have that preference for either Halter or performance. That's fine, I guess. It just doesn't resonate with me.

Here is how I view it: You judge a Halter horse based on two basic criteria; how he most exemplifies his breed and how well he is put together for a performance career. From my perspective, you cannot have one without the other. Some may say, what about the horse who becomes injured and cannot reasonably compete to win under saddle? As long as he is conformed correctly in the first place, there is no issue. He is still a correct individual and had he not been injured he likely would have excelled as a performance prospect.

Getting back to basics, here is why to my way of thinking it is important that Halter judging needs to become based more on form-to-function and conformation as opposed to remaining strictly a beauty contest. We have some truly beautiful horses out there, however, National or World Champion Halter winners are held up as each breed's ideal. So, what happens when folks who are looking for a nice, solid, sound horse who's going to have longevity in a performance discipline are swayed by images of "perfect" Halter horses held up as the epitome of what their chosen breed is supposed to look like? See the problem there?

When the naive public views those Halter winning horses as what they should be searching for to have a distinguished career in Dressage, or Reining, or Endurance (for instance) and the vet bills are mounting after purchase because it wasn't wise to buy that "pretty Halter horse" to begin with, making such an investment can be viewed as throwing good money after bad. Which, in turn, causes people to flock away from the horse industry in general (and the show ring specifically) having been burned by reality.

Nothing is wrong with owning, breeding, training or showing Halter horses. I would just rather see judges rewarding what they should be and see better horses being pinned as the "perfect" or "ideal" representative of any given breed, that's all.



  1. I have a hard time with what constitutes "the modern Arabian". Those I have dealt with that are"typey"(?) seem to have absolutely nothing between their ears. The ones that are sane and sound, "nobody" wants because they cannot compete in the show ring. Huh. I would rather deal with a thinkin', workin', doin' horse than a showy idiot that can never be saddle trained because she totally freaked when the trainer tried to mount her. Sixteen hands of total lunatic. She never really looked pretty to me, again. If I ever went Arab shopping, I would never go anywhere near a "show" farm. Too amny nice ones out there, safe and sane and wanting to be your partner, to deal with the "show" mentality.

  2. Much of that depends on the background of the horse itself (living in a "Halter barn" with the abuse that sometimes accompanies such training versus being treated like a horse). Believe me, that airhead attitude it not an inherent Arabian trait. :)

    Three of my horses are accomplished Halter horses (Championships, Reserve Championships, Regional Top Fives up to Regional Championships in hand) and they are ALL safe, sane, thinking, working horses. One is a former multi-Champion Country English Pleasure and Regionally winning English Show Hack horse who went on to become a multi-Champion Western Pleasure horse, a High Point Jumper, a kid safe lesson horse and one of the best trail horses on the planet. Another is a Third Level Dressage horse who has Pacific Slopes Championship titles under saddle. Finally is a multiple Champion in Country English Pleasure, English Show Hack and Native Costume who has also been a child's Saddleseat Equitation mount and is also a fabulous trail horse. Every one of them is completely safe, sane and sound of mind.

    However, I myself have been confronted with those types of horses like you mention. It is tragic that a few bad apples can spoil the opinion of people on a wonderful, people loving breed because of the greed of an owner and a trainer. Like I said, it doesn't have to be like that and there are many "show farms" who do produce the kind of horses I have. We are one of them. :) So, don't discount them all because of one bad experience!

  3. No, I do not. I probably will never buy another horse simply because I have reached a point physically where I doubt I can ride. I am going to try again this Spring. I can and will drive my gelding, and might just put the gaited mutt to harness since she really seems to want something to do. Otherwise, I will have pasture ornaments simply because I could not bear to be without a horse in my life(though there are days when the wind chill is waaaaay below zero....). I have always loved Arabs and have seen many I would adore having and I have seen some that leave me wondering WTF? Eleca was a dream and I wish she were still here, but that was not my call to make. I do know where she is and she seems to be doing well. SHE was an ARAB--my ideal, anyway. So, no, I do not discount them. I am more disheartened and upset by the abuse that constitute SHOW HORSE in alot of breeds. I just cannot figure out WHY.

  4. I hear you about the abuse that can be common in training for the show ring.

    There really is no "why" other than money and greed. Horses that win in the show ring are worth more, so some trainers will do whatever it takes just to garner those wins, no matter the cost to the horses themselves. Show horses are often simply a commodity, which is a tragedy.

    What I have an equally hard time wrapping my head around is why owners allow these things to be done to their horses. Owners have a responsibility to protect their horses. Too many do not and seem more concerned with having pretty ribbons to show off to their friends. :(

  5. I should also quickly point out ~ abuse is not just restricted to show horse training. There is just far too much abuse rampant across the horse world.


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