Training Andalusian Horses for Halter Classes

by Donna DeYoung

Question: How do you train a horse for halter classes?

Most people asking this question are amateurs or people who want to (or need to) train their own horses.

First of all, you need to know what is expected of an Andalusian horse in the halter classes.

Know the Rules

The official rules for the purebred Andalusian qualifying classes and National Championship classes can be found at the USEF website and in the IALHA handbook.

Basically, all “Andalusians”, PSL Lusitanos, PRE Andalusians, and Spanish/Portuguese Andalusians are shown together in the halter classes. With one exception – the “Specialty classes” – where the Purebred PRE Spanish horses are judged only with their own kind and likewise for PSL Portuguese horses.

In the regional and national Andalusian halter classes, the classes are usually split according to age. There are also classes for amateur handlers only.

Find a Good Handler

Handlers are either professionals, owner handlers, or amateurs. Many of them are professionals with years of experience showing Arabians (so if you are very serious about being competitive at halter, you may want to seek out an Arabian trainer for advice on halter training).

Check the Rules Again

The way the horses enter the ring and lineup seems to change from year to year. Check the rules or ask the ring steward if you are unsure of how to show your horse.

Generally, you will walk your horse into the arena (or trot in) one at a time. Everyone lines up, and then the ring steward asks each horse to come into the center of the arena one at a time. You will walk to and past the judge, turn around and walk back. Then turn around and trot past the judge and back. Finally you line up your horse for the individual inspection. Once the judge(s) are finished filling out the score card you will trot away with your horse. Then after all horses are judged, you may be asked to walk your horses on a loose lead with the whip down at your side.

When walking your horse, the judge is trying to see if the horse has an overstride, if he brushes his back feet against each other (a fault), toes in, wings or has some deviation from the standard. You should allow the horse to walk freely as this will increase his score on the quality of the walk. You cannot do much to correct conformational problems like toeing in – but ask your farrier if there is any corrective trimming that could help.

Tips on How To Walk Your Horse

To train a horse to walk on a loose lead, have a helper walk behind you and the horse with a whip to encourage the horse to go forward as needed. Keep yourself calm and look forward to where you are going, not at the horse. Do not rush, but do not lag either. Hold the lead rope about a foot from the horse’s halter and do not hold it tight – have some slack.

When walking as a group, if the horse in front of you is going too slow and you are about to walk into them you have a few options. 1) Stop your horse and give them some room ahead of you. This should get the attention of the ring steward and they will ask everyone to retain their spacing. 2) if the horse in front of you is really slow and is on the inside of the ring, you can try to use of more of the ring towards the railing and cover more distance. 3) Try not to slow your horse down and get a lower score on the walk!

Tips on Trotting Your Horse

The trotting portion of the halter class is VERY important. Here the judge wants to see animation, a long stride, scope of stride, strength and style. Your horse must be sufficiently muscled up and in shape. He must also know how to trot in hand without breaking into a canter.

In order to train the trot in hand I recommend that you purchase the video “Showing Your Sporthorse In Hand” available at tack dealers such as Dressage Extensions. This will get you off to a good start.

One of the major points of the video is to let your horse keep going even if he breaks into a trot at first. You don’t want to discourage him from “going”. Once he is going real well (and you have to be able to run REALLY fast!), you can begin to give him signals not to overrun you or to canter. Again, a helper running behind you can help the sluggish horse get the idea.

Don’t hold onto the leadline too tight. This will force the horse to lose confidence. Give him a free rein . . . and go!

Tips on Professional Training

As for professional training, there is a lot more that goes into training a horse to trot his best on a lead.

One way is to teach the horse verbal and whip cues that you want him to really get excited for the trot and show off. This takes a lot of practice and patience (as well as stamina).

To get started, select an area along the arena where you will ask for an animated trot. Lunge the horse on a circle so that he comes close to the side of the arena. As soon as he is going straight along the rail, give him the signal and have him trot a few extra strides straight along the arena – you will be running parallel to the fence with him. Your shoulders will be square and facing forwards (rather than turned into the horse as when you are lunging on a circle).

In effect you are “squeezing” him – collecting him by squeezing into his space and also urging him forward with your whip and verbal cues. He cannot go sideways because of the arena wall. You are also teaching him your body language (When I turn and go parallel with you, you are supposed to trot hard and straight ahead).

Most horses at this point will break into a canter or trot too fast, so circle him back around on the lunge. Then repeat. Pretty soon the horse will get the idea that when he is trotting along the arena wall and you let him go straight, he is to put all his energy into it. Be sure to use your signal smooch or cue at the same time. You may also have to use a jerk on the leadline to keep him from over-running. You can also place your whip in your left hand and hold it out in front to discourage the horse from going to fast.

Equipment

This brings us to equipment. Very important. The best tool will be your regular halter and a chain run over the nose (use as a stud chain). This will give you the best control and used properly the horse will not be afraid when you switch to an Arabian style show halter. You can also train using a Spanish serreton. Most Andalusians are not overly sensitive and have strong necks. You will need one or the other.

You will need a whip that is the length of a carriage whip. The regular riding whips or crops are not long enough. A lunge whip is too cumbersome.

The whip will be used either behind you to encourage more movement – or up infront to discourage the horse from over-running.

It is all a matter of shaping the natural behavior of the horse (to run away from the whip and handler) into an unnatural behavior (trot big beside me).

The horse is not always judged along a wall. So you will have to adjust your training and transfer the nice trot you have just gotten to a nice trot in the center of the ring. Again, nothing beats practice and more practice.

More Inside Tips

Some horses have been taught to reach their front legs out to the whip on cue – as in the Spanish walk or passage. By trotting your horse and teaching them to “target” on the whip, you can get higher action. Just be careful not to overdue it or it will seem too obvious.

Some horses have been trained with weights and bungee cords to trot with higher action. If your horse is coming to the show from the pasture, he will not be able to compete with such professionally-trained horses unless he has excessively high natural action.

Some horses have been whipped excessively. You will see them rear and lunge at their trainer (who they despise). Do not be jealous of them when they win the class. For you know that your horse is much happier.

How do I teach my horse to stand up? or square up?

The Arabian trainers have the edge when it comes to training a horse to square up and hold their neck out long and stretched.

For an Andalusian, you want them to stand square without being excessively stretched. The way your horse is conformed especially in the neck and withers and whether they are strung out behind or too short through the back will ultimately determine how you stand them up to look their best.

It is always advised when you are practicing, to get someone else to hold the horse so you can stand back and see how the horse looks. Then go back to holding him and try to memorize how close his front and back feet should be.

When teaching a horse to stand up, start by getting “the look” of the neck and expression first. Then worry about where the feet go. If you bother the horse too much about his feet, he will sour and won’t give you the “look”.

How do you get that pricked up ear look?

That pop-eyed expression that the horse is going to explode?

That “look at me” look that helps win the class?

Well, some of you may want to consider whether this is best for your horse or not. Halter training to produce this look can “ruin” a horse for a bit. It will make them afraid of you!

Here’s why.

I watched an Arabian trainer work her halter horses. She had a neck-sweat on the horse, a halter and shank, and a whip. She pulled the horse towards her, and then because she didn’t have his attention, she swatted him rapidly back and forth on either side of the neck with her whip. This made a loud noise and suddenly the horse was VERY interested in her, if not scared out of his wits, and was watching so he could be sure not to be swatted again when he wasn’t paying attention.

This is how you get the look.

Once the horse is raising his head and popping his eyes out each time the trainer raises the whip, the trainer changes course. Now he steps back just a tad, lowers the whip and out comes a treat. The horse, just having had his neck arched but his head too high, now lowers his head to see the treat and – wa la – you have the “look”.

Next you teach the horse to place his feet while maintaining the look. If you are at all shocked at the above methods and don’t want to employ them, by all means skip them and go straight to placing the feet.

Bring the horse forward and half-halt him (check him) in mid stride so that both back feet are planted. Then place the front feet. Raise your whip (horse comes alive) and then lower your hand as if ready to give a treat (horse arches his neck and looks his best).

Well, I hoped you enjoyed this inside look into halter training!
Good luck!

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