In showmanship, the handler strives to present the horse to the best of their ability. With just a halter and lead rope, the exhibitor guides the horse through a series of movements set out in a pattern. A judge observes the horse based on his presentation, rather than his conformation. Therefore, it is essential that your horse has the perfect set-up.
Often, handlers have a difficult time setting their horse up. This is when the horse is asked to stand squarely, as you pivot around his body and the judge examines him from different angles. Unfortunately, many horses will fidget or move when you pivot.
To begin, make sure you have a correctly fitted chain. There should be four to six inches of extra chain from the halter to the leather of the lead. The snap should face outward. This will help to get and keep his attention on you. You’ll also want to spray his body with fly repellent to ensure he isn’t uncomfortable.
It’s important to establish a verbal ‘whoa’ cue. Once he is squared up, repeat the command to him and hold his head up. Now is not the time to allow him to look around or lower his head.
In the beginning, you’ll only want to ask your horse to stand quietly for half a minute or so. If he has behaved, pat him and walk off. He will equate standing quietly with a reward. If he has trouble standing, a quick yank on the lead rope and your verbal cue of ‘whoa’ should gain his attention. Now you can begin increasing the time to 45 seconds, than a minute, and finally a few minutes. This is a gradual process that takes times and dedication.
Keep the sessions short and positive. Don’t expect him to behave in the show ring if you haven’t practiced at home. More than anything though, enjoy yourself and show your horse how much fun showmanship can be.