By Beth Ellen Hunziker
The Arabian horse is widely recognized as the most beautiful equine breed in the world. Its dished face, large, dark expressive eyes; small, curved ears; gracefully arched neck, powerful body and flowing tail held high like a flag are just a few of the characteristics that distinguish the Arabian from other breeds.
Everyday people from all walks of life fall in love with the unique beauty and character of the Arabian horse. Often the horse becomes a very important part of people’s lives - even becoming a part of their family. There are many ways for owners to enjoy your Arabian horses; Halter and Breeding classes are some of the most exciting and rewarding.
What is a Halter competition and why is it important?
Just like at a dog show, such as Westminster, judges evaluate horses for their conformation and breed characteristics. Horses with the best conformation will be able to show at the highest level of competition, and the awards they win can be very prestigious.
I asked four Arabian horse experts with different perspectives to help explain the purpose and importance of Halter and Breeding competitions.
Jeff Sloan is an Arabian horse owner and breeder from Michigan with over 35 years of experience. He says, “The purpose of Halter and Breeding competition is two-fold. The primary reason of course is to recognize and award the most exemplary horses in our breed. However, a second yet equally important purpose is to allow breeders and enthusiasts – new and experienced – to keep abreast of the standard of excellence to which we all aspire as breeders, owners, and competitors.
David Boggs, a professional trainer, breeding station manager and marketing expert for more than 30 years, offers his point of view about Halter and Breeding competitions, “The purpose of Halter competition is to determine which horses are the best and closest to the “ideal” of the Arabian breed. The judges select the horses that have the highest level of quality in type (the physical characteristics that distinguish an Arabian horse from another breed) and conformation (the physical structure of the horse). These are the horses we will use to continue and improve the breed.”
Ted Carson, another lifelong Arabian horseman is also an international judge. He shared his thoughts about the purpose and importance of Halter competition. “I believe Halter competition is important because it is the foundation for every other aspect of the breed. The judges evaluate the horses and determine which are the best representatives of the breed. Ideally, these will be the best horses to use for breeding. We can also look to see what stallions and mares produced the winners with the best qualities and try to replicate that formula for success.
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of judging a Halter or Breeding class is to evaluate the horse as it moves. The animal’s movement is the result of its conformation; good conformation produces good movement. Also, a horse’s movement shows their spirit and character, which I believe tells you everything about its future and whether or not it could be successful in performance competition.”
The Arabian horse business is global. It is common at shows across America to hear many different languages being spoken, which makes the experience even more exciting. You never know whom you will meet or what friendships might develop. For another perspective, I asked Bart Van Buggenhout, Manager of Al Jassimya Farm, to express his thoughts from an international point of view. Bart is from Belgium, a country where Arabian horsemanship is at an incredible level. “Arabian Halter is a show case of the breed and a competition in which the horse gets judged on its breeding potential, explained Bart. "At Aljassimya Farm we work to show case the Arabian breed to as many people as possible by supporting shows and events around the world we believe the public can and will enjoy."
David Boggs talks about some reason his clients participate in Halter competition, "Most Arabian owners have a deep pride and appreciation of ownership with their horses. One can imagine how the owner of the Kentucky Derby winner or the owner of the Westminster Best of Show feels – you get that same intangible, sense of pride and joy when you own an Arabian horse. Clients also find the deep bond they develop with their animal extremely fulfilling. Arabian horses are people horses – they want to be near you – they connect with humans like no other breed does.”
David Boggs continues, “In addition to the show ring, there is the breeding aspect of owning an Arabian horse. My clients enjoy this tremendously. They enjoy studying and making the selections of just the right the mare and stallion and then, the anticipation for foaling season. It’s something like Christmas! The newborn foals are so beautiful. It is an incredible experience of joy that we share together, which makes it so rewarding and fulfilling.”
As an owner and breeder, Jeff Sloan has a completely different perspective. Jeff also facilitates and manages several very successful partnerships in horses. He shares some of the benefits they experience, “We show the horses in our program in halter competitions first of all because we love the thrill of competing, and being with friends and colleagues at the show who share our common passion for the Arabian horse. We also enjoy the many great venues at which the shows are held – from Las Vegas to Scottsdale to Paris to Dubai. Secondly, we show our horses in halter competition because showing successfully is an opportunity to validate a horse’s quality and accelerate its value.
Jeff Sloan also shared, “Show ring competition is always thrilling because each show offers a new and different experience. Yet, I find the emotional connection, the bond we develop with the horses to be the most rewarding of all. For me, this bond is more fulfilling than any ribbon, trophy or award we win. I believe the Arabian horse fills a place in our hearts like nothing else.”
Ted Carson gave several reasons why his clients enjoy Halter competition; “Many people like to have their horse show in Halter because they can enjoy the beauty of their horse and the excitement of competition without having to know how to ride. Owners can sit back and enjoy the experience – or if they are willing and able – they can also participate by getting into the show ring and competing with other owners. It is completely up to them. Owners have many options and opportunities to participate on whatever level works for them. Best of all, my clients get to enjoy beautiful horses, meet new people, develop special friendships, experience new places and really have a lot of fun.”
Everyone has their own personal goals and reasons to show their horse in Halter. For Bart Van Buggenhout, his goals reflect those of Aljassimya Farm’s owner, "At Aljassimya Farm, we are dedicated to breeding the Arabian horse for the future. Breeding your own show champions is the ultimate goal and not an easy task. However, every breeder knows a top show horse is not always a top breeding horse. For example, a mare that has never been show, but is a lovely individual, can be a producer of fantastic foals. However, you always want to begin any breeding decision with a pretty mare of good quality mare. If she has a show record that is a definite plus.”
Spectator or participant – you decide…
At shows throughout the United States, and at most international shows, there are two categories for competition: adult amateurs and professionals. Most shows in America also offer amateur classes for youth aged 18 and under.
In Amateur classes, you or another amateur presents your horse to the judge. Professional handlers present the horses in “Open” classes. The term, “Open” means the class is open to both professional and amateur handlers. If you want to enjoy a hands-on experience, show your own horse. If for any reason you do not feel comfortable showing your horse, you can hire a professional to present it for you and then cheer on your team!
It is difficult to say which classes are the most exciting. The exhilaration of accomplishment and the look of sheer joy on the face of a triumphant amateur handler are almost impossible to describe. Then, the drama and high level of competition in the Open classes with top horses presented by highly skilled professional trainers and handlers are also incredibly exciting.
Showing Arabian horses is also a great opportunity for single people who want to interact with others and who like to compete, but not necessarily in a team sport. When you show your Arabian horse, your horse is your teammate; you work together to achieve a goal. And, although you and your horse are competing against others in the class, chances are you will meet many people who share your love for the horse. The Arabian horse community is diverse, colorful, interesting, energetic and passionate. Owning an Arabian instantly makes you a part of this exciting community and all of the activities it offers.
Further more, showing Arabian horses in Halter and Breeding classes can be an exciting cultural adventure for owners. At almost every time of year, there are Arabian horse shows held in countries around the world and if you love Arabian horses, you will surely be welcomed to attend and participate. There are even tours available to take you to Arabian horse shows, breeding farms and international events. These tours allow you to experience the beauty and excitement of the horses, as well as the people, food, music, art and other interests in far away, exotic lands. From Argentina and Brazil, to South Africa and Australia, from Dubai and Qatar, to all of Europe and home again, the Arabian horse brings people of different cultures together to celebrate their love of the horse.
Where to go if you want to show.
There is a variety of shows offering Halter and Breeding classes, beginning with local Fun Shows, moving up to Class “A” Shows, to Regional Shows and the highest level of competition in America, the United States Arabian National Championship. There are also clubs and associations that host shows strictly for Halter and Breeding competition such as the Arabian Breeders World Cup and the Arabian Breeders National Finals.
If you want to participate at a show, the association hosting the event may require that you become a member for a small annual fee. Other costs will depend on what you want to do, the level of hands-on experience you want to have, where you want to go and with whom you want to share your time. You can show your horses near home and get to know other owners in your area or you can travel the world. The question is, “What is the right fit for you?”
Among the top shows in America with Halter and Breeding classes for adult amateurs and professionals are the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in Scottsdale, AZ, the U.S. National Arabian Horse Championships in Tulsa, OK and the Arabian Breeders World Cup in Las Vegas, NV. The top shows for youth owners are the Scottsdale Show and the U.S. National Youth Arabian Horse Championships held in Albuquerque, NM. The Youth Nationals is a separate show devoted to children competitors 18 years and younger and it offers both Halter and Performance classes.
The top international shows with Halter and Breeding classes are The All Nations Cup in Aachen, Germany and the Salon du Cheval World Championships in Paris, France, which is under the patronage of HM Mohammed VI, King of Morocco. People from around the world attend these events, which are also open to the public. There is rarely an open seat and it’s standing room only at these exciting shows. If you plan to attend these or other international events, be sure to schedule an extra day so you can enjoy some of the cultural attractions in your destination city.
More about Halter and Breeding Competition.
There are breed organizations around the world. In the United States, our organization is the Arabian Horse Association, also called AHA, which is located in Denver, CO. AHA sponsors and manages Arabian horse shows throughout the country. All of these shows include Halter and Breeding classes for youth, amateurs, and professionals. In Halter or Breeding classes, Judges evaluate horses with standardized systems. However, certain aspects of the system may vary slightly from show to show and from country to country. An expert judge needs to be familiar with the rules and regulations of all the systems.
A popular system used by many shows is the “Point System”. Here, horses are awarded numerical points in several categories of conformation including Head, Neck and Shoulder, Body and Top line, Legs, Feet and Movement. The judges award the horse points in each of these categories and the points or scores are displayed for the spectators. With this system, the spectators can follow along to see which horse will ultimately win the class because it has earned the highest score.
Another judging system is the “Comparative System”. With this method, judges compare horses to the ideal standard of the breed and to the other horses in the class. Then they rank the horses in the class from first to eleventh place. Generally awards are given to the top ten competitors, with one extra in case of a disqualification. This evaluation method can produce results that are even more dramatic because no one knows who the winner will be until the rankings are compiled and the announcer calls out the winners. It can be extremely exciting, especially if the announcer begins with the tenth place horse and counts down to the Champion.
Arabian horse competitions are ranked. The beginning level is “Class A”. Breeders’ clubs often host and organize these shows for local owners. However, generally speaking, breeders from any part of the country can enter the show. A win at the “Class A” level qualifies a horse to show at a Regional show. These shows bring together horses from several states to compete. You can expect the quality of the horses at a Regional show to be very good because they must first win a ribbon at a “Class A” show. A horse that wins at a Regional show is then qualified to compete at the highest level in the country, which is the United States National Arabian Horse Championships. To win a title at this show: a Top Ten, Reserve Championship, or the highest title awarded, the U.S. National Champion, means your horse is one of the very best in the country. That is quite an accomplishment!
There are a number of breeders’ organizations that host shows exclusively for halter and breeding including the Arabian Breeders World Cup, held in Las Vegas, NV and the Arabian Breeders National Finals, held in Scottsdale, AZ. The Arabian Breeders World Cup is a very prestigious international event with horses coming from around the world to compete. However, any owner can participate. It does not matter if you have one horse or one hundred horses; everyone is welcome. Just remember, the quality of the horses at this show is among the highest in the world and to win there is a special achievement, so bring your best.
David Boggs also encourages new owners and potential owners to access and use technology to research and explore possibilities. But he is also very focused on the connection between horses and humans, which we experience when in their presence. “There is something magical that happens when people see the beauty, grace, power, nobility and gentleness of the Arabian horse for the first time. It captures their heart. At Midwest, we enjoy hosting many special events that are open to the public including charity fundraisers and school children’s introduction to the horse. Some presentations are simply because we love to share our Arabian horses with as many people as possible. My advice to a person inquiring into the wonderful world of Arabian horses is; use the internet, enjoy our trade journals, go visit the farms, take in the shows and feed carrots to as many four legged friends as you can. When you are ready to take that first step, seek out top professionals who can answer your questions, build a working relationship and guide you to the fulfillment of your dreams.”
Jeff Sloan offers some very good advice for people who want to start at the top. “I started out with one horse and I did all the work myself, from grooming and feeding to cleaning stalls – and I loved it all. However, that experience is not for everyone. Not everyone dreams of owning a farm – they want to be part of this exciting lifestyle – but they may not want to, or may not be able to, manage and care for a horse. This is one of the main reasons I began to create horse partnerships. People who start out by participating in a partnership get many of the benefits of owning a horse of their own with many important advantages. They are able to leverage their dollars so that they can participate in the best horses, take advantage of the partnership’s expert management, have the horse cared for and maintained, and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with the partnership/ownership model. Some people find the partnership model to be a great point of entry and then graduate to independent horse ownership one day while others stick with the partnership model for all of their horse ownership experiences.”
Jeff continued, “In order to make sure one makes the most of their Arabian horse experience, I suggest creating a plan with goals and expectations. Decide if you want your horse to be a hobby or a business. Think about the return you want from your investment. Will you measure exclusively by lifestyle enhancement and enrichment, or by financial return, or both? Then once you have set out clear expectations, you can work the plan to make sure every aspect of it focuses on realizing and maximizing the opportunity.”
Bart Van Buggenhout shares his advise for new owners, “Shows may be fun and exciting – especially the international shows, which are held in charming places around the world. However, I suggest that people go and visit farms first and talk to breeders. Try to learn as much as you can before you buy a horse – it is part of the journey and I believe it is the most enjoyable.”
In closing, my advice to new owners or potential owners is to use the Internet to learn all you can. Then visit a farm, attend a show or open house in your area or make plans to attend a larger event such as the Scottsdale Arabian Show or the Scottsdale Farm Tour and experience the beauty and excitement of the Arabian horse for yourself. Follow the advise of these experts and your dream of owning an Arabian horse will soon come true.