Halter Breaking Step by Step

Halter breaking an Irish Moiled calf

It is this time of year when we start to think of the show season ahead. If you are new to showing Irish Moileds and would like to show, but unsure about which animal to halter break and what you need to do, then don’t hesitate to contact your local Irish Moiled director or even an Irish Moiled breeder who has been showing Irish Moileds, they will only be too glad to help, give advice and guidance. Watch online tutorials on show preparation, ask plenty of questions from experienced showers of cattle, even get a professional clipper/cattle dresser out and observe and learn from them.  Once you are armed with the information and tools the only way to learn is by trial and error and none of us get it perfect initially or if ever!!

 Don’t forget to register your Irish Moiled calf with the Irish Moiled Cattle Society if it has not been already done.

This is a general step-by-step guide, and everyone will have a different way or technique that works for them.  Putting in the work now will pay off later in the show-ring.


Step 1: Selecting/picking your calf

This can be done out in a field, plenty of time should be spent studying each calf, never choose in a hurry, look at each calf multiple times, some animals have off days. Good conformation with stature is ideal, well balanced (correct), good locomotion, good breed character and a quiet temperament are all important. Although not always possible, it is best if the halter breaking process is complete by the time the calf is ready for weaning as younger animals are easier handled.

Step 2: Tie up in a cattle chute/race

It can be quite unpredictable how any animal will react to being tied up for the first time. The tying up process in a cattle chute/race should be done several times as required. (The actual number of times will depend on the individual animal). Tying up should be around 1 hour each time. Tie the animal up not too tightly, at a comfortable height but not too loosely so that the rope is too slack as the animal could get tangled up in the lead rope. Use a quick release knot so you can release quickly in an emergency. Make sure the ground area is dry, non-slippery and with no sharp objects close by. Use this time to get the animal used to you and start building up a trust between you. Talk calmly and scratch with your hand, working your way up to the neck region, they will start to relax and enjoy being groomed. 

Step 3; Tie up out of the cattle chute/race

Tying up outside the cattle chute/race should happen several times as required, around 1 or 2 hours each time. Keep using this time for bonding with the animal by either brushing them especially around the head and neck area as it gets them accustomed to you being up at their head. Get them used to the show stick by scratching under their bellies and down their legs

Step 4: Small walks

Once your animal is accustomed to being tied on a halter and is quiet to work around the next step is to start lead training.  Walk them in an enclosed area which has good grip for walking on and have someone to help you. They tend to walk better if there is someone following them up from behind.  Always lead from the left-hand side.  Never wrap the rope around your hand. Be patient and calm and give a little tug (a quick pull and sudden release) if the animal digs their feet in, if the animal keeps persisting to be stubborn, keep repeating the tug action until the animal starts to walk again.  Having help especially if the animal is stubborn or trying to get away is beneficial as an animal will quickly learn bad habits which will be hard to correct.  When your animal is walking well you can then start to concentrate on getting them to walk holding their head up at an appropriate height to show them off at their best. Never shout or hit your animal, being patient and calm is the only way.  Only tap them on the nose if they are pushing you around.  The more work and time put in at this stage will go a long way to having a well-trained animal in the show ring.

Step 5: Tie up for longer periods

The next step is preparing the animal for what it is going to be like being tied up for several hours when attending a show.  It is best to tie up on a straw bed for around 6 hours.  Leave enough room that you can walk up alongside them to brush them, start working around them by keeping their bed clean and to offer some meal and water when tied up.  It can take a while for some animals to start eating and drinking while tied up.

Step 6: Tie up with snaffle

Most shows state in their rules and regulations that when animals are being exhibited, they must wear a snaffle when being shown.  It can take an animal some time to get used to wearing a snaffle. To put the snaffle in, put animal into a chute/race and tie the head up, then quickly put the snaffle into the nose and let them get used to the feel of it. It will take several times of the snaffle being in and the animal left tied up for up to 20 mins before starting to walk anywhere with-it in.

Step 7: Walk with snaffle

Walking the animal with a snaffle should be done several times, for about 20 minutes each day. Firstly, stay in an enclosed area, then an open area before adventuring into different areas on the farm with different sounds and things going on.  Once the animal has got used to walking freely and gracefully with the snaffle in, start to train them to walk holding their head at an appropriate height to show them off to their very best so that it becomes second nature to them.  Start training them to stand correctly, it is good to train them to back up, you can apply pressure on their shoulder with your fingers at the same time as pulling the lead rope in a backward direction to back the animal up.  Some animals will even respond to a gentle tap on the forehead and/ or a voice command.


Step 8; Wash

To get their coats into show condition they will require to be washed several times. If you don’t use a dryer, try to make use of a warm day to get them washed.  Tie them up securely using a slip knot. Using a hose with nozzle at gentle spray, begin washing at the hooves (if your animal is a kicker a few extra times of just washing their legs helps to stop the animal from kicking) move up their legs, back, shoulder and neck.  When wetting the head try to avoid direct spray into the ears as this causes the ears to drop. Next fill a bucket of warm soapy water (use a product suitable for cattle) then with a sponge wash the whole body in circular movements.  For stubborn dirt you can use a bristled brush.  Again, be careful working on legs if they are kickers.  You can either dip the tail into the bucket of warm soapy water and wash or just hose and add soapy water and give a good scrub.  Thoroughly rinse the soap off starting at the head and working down the body.  Scrap excess water off. Brush the coat upwards to fluff the coat up and brush back down. If you are letting your animal dry naturally, brush the coat in different directions, finishing off by brushing in the direction of the growth of the hair. Never put the animal back to the pen dripping wet, scrap as much access water off as you can.

Step 9; Wash and blow-dry

The next step is getting your animal used to the noise of the clippers and blow dryer. Make sure the animal is securely tied up.  Switch dryer on and off for a few minutes when standing beside them, reassure your animal by continuously talking calmly, touching and scratching the animal with your hand before introducing the blow dryer.  You can add products to enhance the coat, if using a spray to fluff the coat up, start by working on a small area at a time, and blow it into the coat using the dryer in circular movements.  Shaving foam is another product which is used to get volume into the coat.  It is sprayed on and then blow dried into the coat.  Some people prefer to use show soap to get the desired effect, this is applied after the coat is dried.  It all depends on the animal’s type of hair and what the weather conditions are, but it is important to remember no matter what product that is used, you must always wash all the products out of the animal’s coat before letting them out into the house or field.  Blow drying an animal can be time consuming, but it is time well spent to get volume into the hair coat.  The animals enjoy getting blow dried after initial shock and sensation.

Step 9 a. Washing
Step 9b. Washing equipment
Step 9c. Blower
Step 9d. Blow dried animal

Step 10; Clipping

Get the animal used to the noise of the clippers before you start to clip. There are professionals who will come out and clip your animal if you don’t feel confident to do this part.   It is usually done around six weeks before the show season so that there is a natural growth to cover in any clip marks. If you are going to clip yourself find out as much information from others who have experience of clipping, it is not as simple as it looks and there are different techniques, blades and products to be used on the different areas, a suggestion is to try it out maybe on an animal that you are not going to show or at least practice on the non-show side of the animal first. (The show side is the side your Judge will see) The animal will need to be washed first and then well dried before clipping begins. Usually the head is clipped, the top line and the underpart of the neck and body.

Step 11; Trailer run

This is a very important tip.  Take your animal out for a trailer run. Just a drive around the block or for a fifteen-minute journey and then take the animal off the trailer, it can be a frightening experience for the animal with all the noise and movement.  There have been many incidents where well haltered trained animals have been taken to a show without having ever been on a trailer and are totally stressed out by the time it arrives and not able to be shown as they are too raised.