Straighten Up your Showmanship Lines

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Showmanship at Halter is most often the most popular class of the day at most horse shows – it is also one of the hardest classes to compete in! The winners of these coveted classes spend hours practicing and honing their craft to create the perfect pattern.

The key to success in Showmanship at Halter is simple – PRACTICE!

I always recommend working with a knowledgeable instructor that can help guide you along the way, it is always a benefit to have a set of professional eyes on you as you work toward earning that first ribbon in a Showmanship class.

However for many of us, it is not in our budget to work directly with a trainer every week – and the best way to move forward is to work on specific exercises to improve your skills.

typical mistake
A Common Issue is the Exhibitor ends up in the Judges line of vision – remember this class is about showing your horse to the Judge, not yourself!

It is easy to set up a pattern and complete a specific exercise versus aimlessly completing random maneuvers. You achieve the ideal results when you are actively running a series of movements, and when you do these exercises you can get both visible and measurable improvement that you can see yourself!

Today the focus of our exercise was improving our line to the Judge, remember we will ideally be showing our horse to our Judge – not ourselves.

Remember the true development of Showmanship at Halter is the act of correctly showing your horse’s conformation, movement, and performance to the Judge. It is the main FUNDAMENTAL of this class to make sure to get the horse to the Judge “Straight and True” so that we can show the Judge our horse’s quality of movement, soundness, and ease of maneuverability.

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The Perfect Line – Our Horse works toward the Judge with a straight spine and neck.

The perfect line is created by traveling forward and directly into the Judges line of sight, think about it almost as if the horse’s spine is creating the line right to the Judges clipboard!

Orienting ourselves with a different point of center is the hardest part of learning to create a straight line to our Judge. Today we will work an exercise developed to build your confidence in creating that direct line to the Judge!

Now, before we begin discussing the exercise, you might notice that we are talking about “Straight Lines” – but our exercise is on a “Circle.”

What’s up with that??

Circles are the beginning of straight lines! Let me explain a bit more!

I find many peoples horses will create a “Shape” with their body as the handler leads them, often bowing away from the exhibitor. This is the opposite of our desired result, we want the horse moving forward on that imaginary straight line shooting out of the tip of the nose and the dock of the tail – remember we want the horse working on that line that goes right through the horses spine!

Without going into too much detail for today, working on a circle will create a connection between you and your horse allowing them to stay close and work forward during the exercise. As we build on this exercise you will find your horse traveling much straighter and truer through any shape and line!

Fear not, we will discuss circles and all the benefits of them another day!

Cone Setup
Set your cones up to complete this shape.


Let’s prep our work space for our pattern by placing three cones in a line. We need to keep enough room to complete a well-rounded circle during the workout. Don’t place your cones too close to a fence, make sure you have ample room to maneuver in your space.

You will be using the two outside cones as imaginary Judges – the object of this exercise is to learn to find your horse’s center. I encourage my students to think of their leading hand as the horses center line – working toward the Judge with the leading hand versus yourself. This will get you in line with the Judge correctly. You can practice this in both the walk and trot for maximum benefits.

Each horse and exhibitor team is different, just like each horse is trained differently. That is the beauty of this exercise, you will use the methods you and your horse are comfortable with – this is a great discovery exercise to develop that straightness to the Judge.


Figure out what method works best for you and your horse, you want to feel with your body and start making mental notes about what part of you or your horse should be working towards that Judge. I mentioned above that I encourage my students to work towards the Judge with the leading hand because when the leading hand is in the correct position right near your horses face it is very easy to control the horses body by focusing on driving that hand and horse right into the judges center. Some exhibitors might benefit more from thinking about pushing the horses chin into the Judge, or instead of that thinking about your position headed to the Judge – it is all about interpreting spacing, and what works best for you might not work best for your friend. Play with it and experiment!

The demonstration video is Lacey working with Dubs – they are a beginning showmanship team, and they learned a lot from this exercise!

Keep working the exercise for around 20 repetitions – you will want to do what I call a self-check to see if you have gained anything from the exercise. To do a self-check, just step out of your circle and create a straight line to one of your cones from another area in the arena. You will want to see yourself having a better idea of what to work towards that imaginary Judge, and your horse should travel more willingly and straighter!

Not only is this exercise a great help for learning to work straight, it has the added bonus of working the setup as well. Repeating the stop and set up will also greatly improve that aspect of your pattern performance as well!

Enjoy working this exercise at home, or use it to warm up at shows – remember the key to success is PRACTICE!

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