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Showmanship Polish: Hand Position and Control

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By Andrea Simons with Alana Harrison
Photos by Cappy Jackson

First, read the introduction to this lesson. Then read on...

The Starting Line
To make a positive impression to the judge before beginning a showmanship pattern, assess your body position for correctness, and verify that your horse is straight, balanced and paying attention to you.

In this photo, the handler and her horse are demonstrating the correct positions prior to stepping off. You should be standing upright with good posture, looking straight ahead. Hold the lead just below the chain with your fingers closed, yet soft and flexible. If you hang on the lead shank chain, you'll inadvertently apply pressure to your horse's head, which will easily push him too far to the right or left, ruining his straight alignment. If you hold the lead too far down from the chain, you'll sacrifice control over your horse's head. While a longer-held lead conveys a higher degree of difficulty and confidence in your horse's responsiveness (and is more impressive to the judge), it makes it more difficult to correct a mistake. I'd rather see correctness with a shorter lead than mistakes with a longer one.

For best control of your horse's maneuvers, stand at his throatlatch, and as you walk forward, stay in the zone between his eye and mid-neck. The distance you maintain between you and your horse should be close enough (to your horse) to keep control, but not so close that it compromises your safety or effectiveness. Examine the "correct" photos at the end of this slideshow, then determine what will work for you and your horse. (If you have difficulty assessing the distance yourself, seek the advice of a professional showmanship trainer.)

Your elbow should be at your waist, at a 90-degree angle, and it should be agile, soft and functional, so you can quickly correct a mistake if need be.

I do not want to see or hear an obvious go-forward cue. Instead, make your cues subtle, smooth and silent. As you walk forward, I want to see a pleasant expression on your face and that of your horse. To earn a good score, your horse's body must be straight and balanced, and he needs to carry his head and neck at or slightly above his topline. Anything lower detracts from your presentation.

Now that you know what you should be doing, let's examine the hand-position mistakes you may be tempted to make.

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