Can you ride a halter horse? The controversy explained.

What is a halter horse? Can you ride them? These are some of the questions that popped into my head as I came across this topic. As usual I followed these questions and did some research.

Yes, a halter class horse can be trained to be ridden in pretty much any event or even on a trail ride through the forest. In fact, many riders have cross-trained their halter horses on purpose to avoid stereotypes associated with the class of animals.

But this is not the only question I had as I learned about this class of horse. There is a ton to know so keep reading to find out more.

What is a halter horse?

A halter horse is a quarter horse that has been breed to bring out certain characteristics that would allow them to compete and win at a competition focused not on performance but on appearance.

Unlike other styles of horse related events, halter horse is performed with the rider off of the horse, leading the animal around the arena with the use of a leather halter.

Instead of being judged against the horse’s performance on an obstacle coarse or on their speed in a race, these horses are judged mostly on their appearance over their actions.

This breeding pattern has led to some controversy that we get into later in the article.

How are halter class horses judged?

The top competitions are put on by the American Quarter Horse Association, commonly known as the AQHA. According to the AQHA, the most important factor in judging halter horses is balance.

Characteristics such as shininess of their coat, down to bone and muscle structure are given various weights. These are then judged for correctness. Correctness, in this case, does not necessarily mean “what horse has the biggest muscle” it’s more about what horse has the most correct or expected amount of muscle.


Tracking a horse is apart of the show where you are asked to walk or trot your horse around the arena. During this phase, judges will be looking at the way the animal moves so it’s important to keep it straight and at the same speed all the way through.

Line Up

This part is where you will take your horse into a pen for the judges to look over face to face. Perhaps it’s face to snout? Anyway, one of the most important things here, according to AQHA writer Buddy Laney is as follows

The biggest thing is to have your horse broke and don’t do your training in the class.”

– Buddy Laney AQHA

This tip from Mr. Laney is pretty straightforward. Practice makes perfect. I had a band teacher in high school that loved to take this saying a step further, he used to say “Perfect practice, makes perfect performance” His point was to practice as if it were the competition, take your practice seriously.

What is the big controversy?

This particular class of horse show has led to some controversy over the breed of horse. Many who compete or breed halter horses have a horse that is specifically for these shows.

In fact, they allegedly got to the point through breeding and genetic modifications that these horses were considered by many to no longer be quarter horses at all.

After continuing research into this controversy I found that many were calling for the AQHA to require halter horses to perform in other events as a way to “shame” some of the breeders into diverging not quite as much away from the traditional quarter horse.

One of the most desired characteristics for your halter horse is straight legs. This has been a bit of a hot topic amongst the industry. Apparently, many of the halter horses were bred in such a way to bring out this trait. Over many generations of breeding we have gotten to the point where halter horses have what you would call “chicken legs” if they were human.

Massive shoulder muscles, thick necks and tiny little legs. The smaller legs appear to be straighter than they actually are. This breeding must work for winning contests but it has caused many to question the animals use outside of shows.

Can you train a halter horse for other purposes?

Despite some of the genetic issues you actually can train a halter horse to do a wide variety of tasks. Halter horses at their core are just your standard American quarter horse, which was actually known for the ability to be multi-purpose.

Quarter horses are used across the United States for racing, ranching and hes even halter shows. Some of the halter horses bred specifically for showing will likely be a bit more stubborn than your standard horse; however, many have successfully turned them into workable horses.

This being said there are some traits bred into these horses that will make them a bit rough under the saddle. For example, one desired trait is very straight legs and very steep shoulders. This breeding will lead to your horse having a short, rough stride.

The video below shows some good examples of what a straight legged halter horse might look like., pay attention to how they are built and how they stand.

How do you train a halter horse?

How can you train a halter horse to be… a halter horse? This one is a bit easier than the latter simply due to the fact that they are actually bred for this specific reason.

Training a halter horse to show can be a long and drawn out process. But at it’s core it involves spending time with the animal. Lots and lots of groundwork. My understanding is that is the key.

The limited research I could find on this topic described tons of tips that I don’t feel I should regurgitate here as I have never actually shown a halter horse. Here is an awesome article for tips to keep in mind when showing your horse.

At its root this show does not seem like it is technically difficult, your not running barrels or anything fancy you need to have excellent ground control so that you can position your horse the best possible way for the judge to see the animal. Outside of that it all comes down to how well your horse conforms to the expectations of the judge.

One thing that I was able to get out of almost every article I read on this subject. Make sure that your halter is put on correctly. Apparently this is a bit of a big deal that many who show halter horses mess up on quite a bit.


Hey! My name is Jeremy. So far I haven't convinced the wife to hop on and write anything so I'm pretty much the only face you'll see. I've been a horse owner now for about 10 years, I bought my first horse while in college for a measly hundred bucks to impress this crazy horse lady that I wanted to date. Turns out we got married, adopted some kids, and kept on with our horse lifestyle.

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