Thursday, February 21, 2013

Choosing a versatile performance horse

The most important part of any performance entry is the horse. The tack, the props and the doll are all secondary. If the horse isn't right, the entry just won't work.

With that in mind, today's post is all about selecting a versatile performance horse that can easily be shown in a  wide variety of classes.   

One of the first things to consider when choosing an all around performance horse is gait. Standing, walking, trotting and cantering models are generally the best choices for a novice shower. Models in more dynamic poses, such as jumping, galloping, cutting, spinning and sliding, can be surprisingly versatile but require a shower with advanced skills to realize their full potential. Bad behavior poses, such as rearing, bucking and cross cantering, have extremely limited performance potential. They might do well in certain circumstances, but generally speaking, these models are best left at home.
I think it's easiest to show cantering models,
particularly in the English division with its emphasis on Over Fences classes.
Another important consideration is headset. Obviously, this varies from breed to breed and discipline to discipline. However, a model its head on or slightly ahead of the vertical is always going to be more versatile than a horse with its head way up or way down.
The grey paloose's head position makes her a better performance prospect than her Appaloosa sister
Surprisingly, the quantity and quality of model's hair also has an effect on its performance potential. Big, dramatic hair often interferes with tack fit. Additionally, windblown manes and flagged tails tend to detract from the neat, workmanlike look favored in most performance disciplines.  Although this is not a deal breaker, it's much easier to show a horse with a flatter, more conservative 'do.
Where there's a will, there's a way.  Big haired models can excel in performance but  often require custom made tack and lots of sticky wax.  It's much easier to start with something that is tack friendly.
Sir Sproing! is a Breyer Wintersong customized by Melanie Miller and owned and shown by Erin Corbett.
My last piece of advice is to choose a horse you really like. Performance showing is fun, but it's hard work and can be very frustrating at times. I find the entire experience a lot more enjoyable when I'm partnered with a model that makes my heart happy, win or lose. 
I have a soft spot for mules, ponies and all things Purdy.  Also, I love showing models with one ear forward and one ear back.   I consider this the ideal performance expression--interested in the obstacle, yet listening to the rider.  Models like these make me happy.
Please note--these very general guidelines intended to help novice showers choose a versatile performance model. They're not hard and fast rules, and they don't apply in every situation. Exceptions abound, and some of the hobby's most interesting (and infamous!) performance horses do not meet any of my "easy performance horse" criteria. That said, it's hard to go wrong with a well liked horse in a normal show ring gait that's on the bit and features low profile hair.

Thoughts, questions, differing opinions?  Please post them in the comments section!


  1. This really makes me want to give performance a go, thanks for the tips on selecting which model to choose.

    Could I put Zippo Pine Bar in a english class or is his gait more western only?

    Oh and I laughed my head off at the mighty Beowulf!

  2. You are my favorite person right now, You have no idea how much this means thank you ever so much :D

  3. Thanks, i love this article. Keep up the articles about showing, i LOVE them!!

  4. Awesome. Thanks for this type of tip. I haven't tried showing yet, but want to once I get enough tack, props and dolls made. These tips for newbies are much appreciated.

  5. I love this article it gives me and idea of what to look for,how about any ideas on choosing for halter shows I would really appreciate the input from you, I also am trying to put together some tack and dolls, thanks for helping us newbies :)

  6. I think your post on choosing a versatile performance horse is much more informative than mine. A very nice read as usual.

  7. Surprisingly, Sir Sproing! was created specifically for performance! I know, I know, Erin and I are certifiable.

  8. Anne--I have to admit, I did steal the name for this post from you. However, I don't agree that my take was any more informative. I focused on general selection guidelines whereas you provided lots of specific examples for both walking and trotting horses. Both approaches are valuable, which is why I linked your posts.

    Mel--Sir Sproing! is a perfect example of a really good performance horse for someone with mad performance skillz. You and Erin both fall into that category. Most beginners do not!

    Everyone else so far--Honestly, I was worried people would find this post too general to be useful. Glad to see that's not the case.

  9. Good post! Choosing a performance horse is one of the hardest things for newcomers to the performance ring!

    I will say the easiest horse to show in performance is cantering, followed by walking, then standing. Trotting, to me, is the most difficult due to its limited use in the working western division.

    I've won a TON of performance champs with standing horses, but you really have to work for it! Things you can do with a standing horse: dressage halt, holding the calf in Tie-Down Roping, bit inspection in Reining, halt in WP and EP, etc.

  10. Oh god, choosing models for performance . . . I love and loathe doing this, since I never have the money for the horses I want, but at least I get to ogle the gorgeous ponies.

  11. What a different way of looking at choosing a horse! I usually pick my favourite horses :)

  12. Reflectingstars StablesFebruary 22, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    I wish there was a place near me that I could show performance. I would love to try it, and I have a few models that would work great, to your standards.

  13. This is a really helpful post. Thanks!

  14. As usual, your posts are very informative. Who knows if I will ever show (performance) but at least your post has given me a basic idea of what to look for in a horse!

  15. I really enjoyed this post! I would add that for new showers it's important to correctly identify the gait their model is performing, and in the case of the canter, which lead it is on. I've seen new showers use the Zippo WPH as a walking model, and get the leads mixed up in dressage, etc on cantering models.

  16. I have a quiestion for you about a ideal halter horse. I wanna buy a new peter stone Arabian stallion at the stone county fair but I was wondering what customization is best for halter classes? The pinned ear Arab? Swished tail? Open mouth? Wind blown? Wind swept? Which would you prefer for a halter class? I just can't decide! Lol! Any help is apeciated!

  17. As a non-rider, how do you tell which lead a gait is on? I always have problems with this.

  18. I really need to give performance a go - your posts are just so useful! :)

  19. Thank you for this article, I agree in that you should show what you love and love what you show. My favourite show horse, a portrait of my late mare as proven herself again and again a winner. A CM'd Matriarch, her standing pose is a challenge but we always have fun no matter what the placing. I have now expanded my perfomance showers to a horse who is trotting and a mule who is cantering. It will be fun to show moving animals for a change.

  20. Great post, and the details about headset and hair is really helpful. I love Sir Sproing, he's fantastic and showing a jumping horse is definitely a fun challenge!

  21. More blah blah from me...

    To Covert Studios--Zippo Pine Bar makes an excellent Western Pleasure horse. He can also be competitive in Western Trail, Western Riding, Western Bareback and Western Games. Probably some other classes, too, but that list gives a pretty clear picture of where he fits in the performance spectrum.

    With the right tack and documentation, he would be acceptable in English. However, I wouldn't expect a parade of NAN cards. Honestly, there are much nicer English horses out. It always depends on whatever else is on the table, of course! If you found the right show (and the right judge!) it might do fine.

    To Ashley Glade--I am SO not an authority on OF Halter showing. In fact, one of the reasons I don't like showing in that division is because it seems like a crapshoot to me. That's probably a reflection on my own ignorance, but I was DONE after a plain regular run Susecion beat my Shalimar at two consecutive shows. DONE!

    Anyway, with that in mind, my advice would be to buy the one you like best. That way you can still be happy with him when he's beaten by a Susecion!

    To Christie Partee and Brindlelady--I like showing standing horses, too. I actually think in some ways they're easier to show across multiple divisions, because they're less obviously Western/English/Other. However, there are some judges out there who prefer moving horses, so you have to be aware of that when you choose a stander.

    As far as the English division goes, I think it's easier to show a trotter than a walker, especially if you're competing at a show with several Over Fences classes. Totally see how it would work the other way in the Western division!

  22. Loved the article!

    I think the bit about the horse's ears was the most interesting for me. Never really thought about it before!

  23. I have to really like the model I'm using for performance....If I don't, I tend to not do as well as I would if I really liked it. Love walking/trotting models for performance, and like Jennifer, the ear thing gets me too. They either need to be pricked forward so that they look interested or one back so they look like they are paying attention. I'm going to go out of my box at LSL and show a model that I haven't shown before and have no idea if I'll like her or not. Well...2 actually, one in OF and one in AR/CM. I've been showing performance for years, but these 2 will be a new experience for me.
    Thanks for all your posts Jennifer! Love reading them!

  24. Windwalker, this site had a good explanation and photos:

  25. That makes sence! Thanks! You should visit my blog sometime!

  26. Thanks for this post! It makes performance seem less intimidating.

    Especially like Beowulf. :)

    Emily Dunnan

  27. I think this is where i really get discouraged in performance.
    personally its like if yo don't have a horse that isn't versatile enough you wont have a chance to win or be at the top.
    I'm sure a lot of one hit wonders have come about.

    I think I'm more scared of becoming bored and boring the judge with the repeat of the same old horse doing the same different things and that doesn't excite the judge.

    correct me if I'm wrong!

    I do have a specific horse I'm working on Just for performance.

    I do think this is helpful post and being a new performance shower it was quite obvious id need a horse, not only versatile but one I'm happy with either way.

    lets not forget I'm all about uniqueness that sets me apart from competition! which is why i chose side saddle only in my tack collection and not because of any other reason then my knowledge.


  28. Thank you for this post! It helped a lot.


  29. I've been a OF performance shower for ever! I really want to take it to the next level with Resins tho, but i also really dont want to scratch up any resins? Any tips?

  30. Beowulf's been busy this wheel-I am so glad he's still making people laugh!

  31. While they're not as impressive as Polka and Beowulf (I can't wait to see what the pair of them end up doing at NAN in June!) I've actually won western performance championships with horses that were not only standing...but also wearing only a halter and shown with a handler. One was an ISH and he went in Other Western, Games, and Trail (still haven't figured out how to get a standing, in-hand horse in pleasure) and won all three to take the overall champ. The other is a weanling that I routinely show in-hand at shows and was NAN Champ in Trail this past summer.

    Just about anything is possible if you dig around the 'net long enough and go to enough horse shows.

  32. love your blog ,enjoy everything you write, my favourite posts being tack making and the exploits of your saddle rat girls, they are fab! zoe

  33. I love the pictures you took great job!!:)