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The Five Ways To Apply A Chain Shank

By Jeffrey Rolo

Horsemen are often divided when it comes to using a chain shank on their horse. Some are skeptical of ever shanking a horse, while others feel chain shanks (aka stud chains) are just another tool in a horseman's arsenal. I won't dive too deeply into the "debate" within this article, but I will state that if you even consider applying a chain shank to your horse's halter it is absolutely essential that you know how to use a chain shank properly, lest you inadvertently cause injury to your equine partner or make the behavioral problems worse.

In a nutshell, a chain shank is designed to provide additional leverage to a handler by causing discomfort when pressure is applied to the shank. When used properly, the discomfort is minimal and fleeting – as soon as the horse corrects his behavior, the discomfort is eliminated. When used improperly, a chain shank can cause injury or instill deeper defiance and/or panic into a horse.

There are five primary ways in which to apply a stud chain, and I will outline them in order of severity starting with the lightest:

Over The Nose

This method is the least severe, and is designed to encourage a horse to lower his head and become more responsive when pressure is applied to the shank.

To apply an over the nose shank, run the chain through the lower left side ring of the halter, over the nose, through the right side ring, and attach it to the upper right cheek ring (near the ear/eye). To help lessen pressure on the nose, when going over the nose wrap the chain around the noseband once before threading it through the right ring.

If you want to reduce the halter "shifting" when the shank is used, first run the chain through the tie ring under the chin, then thread it through the left ring, over the nose, through the right ring, and attach it to the upper right cheek ring.

I personally favor the over the nose method.

Under The Chin

Run the chain through the left ring, under the chin through the tie ring, thread it through the right side ring, and connect it to the upper right cheek ring.

Although at face value this is as quick and simple as an over the nose shank (and applies about the same amount of pressure), most horses will react more poorly to under the chin shanks. When pressure is applied to the shank, it can cause a horse to lift his head, which can lead to rearing, increased difficulty in handling, and even head shyness.

I recommend resorting to an under the chin shank only if an over the nose shank proves ineffective. A few horses prefer under the chin shanks, and in cases where a horse intentionally drops his head and refuses to raise it an under the chin shank can help counter the behavior, so I'm not saying that there isn't room for them… but they are more "risky."

If you do use an under the chin shank, remember not to "snap" the shank. Instead, apply steady and gradual pressure so as to minimize the chances of a horse jolting his head upwards.

Around The Nose

With this method, the stud chain is threaded through the lower left ring, over the nose, through the right ring, wrapped under the chin, and reconnected on either the left ring or the chain itself.

Since the chain circles the entire mouth, pressure is applied to both the nose and the chin simultaneously when the shank is tugged. Unless a horse is particularly aggressive or defiant, this method is likely overkill. Additionally, since the shank runs under the jaw, you will experience the same disadvantages as the under the chin method (i.e., rearing, raising the head, etc.).

Through The Mouth

Sometimes referred to and/or compared with a war bridle, this type of shank goes through the left halter ring, through the mouth like a bit, through the right halter ring, and ends its journey at the upper right cheek ring.

This is a very severe form of shanking and can cause significant injury to a horse's mouth if used improperly. I don't use this method, and I would recommend you not either.

Over The Gum

Commonly referred to as a lip chain, this shank is applied the same way as the "war bridle" method above, except that instead of placing the chain in the mouth like a bit the chain is instead placed against the horse's upper gums underneath the lip.

This is the most severe form of shanking. It's extremely uncomfortable, very painful when yanked, and can cause serious bleeding or injury to the gums. Needless to say, I refuse to use lip chain shanks.

Defenders of the practice sometimes state that lip chains are necessary in isolated circumstances such as making a horse stand for a vet or farrier. I disagree. If an extreme option is necessary to calm a horse down instantly, I would rather consider using a horse twitch. Make no mistake, twitching a horse is also extremely uncomfortable initially and I am NOT a fan of the practice, but at least it doesn't have the chance of tearing up a horse's gums, and once the endorphins kick in the pain subsides with a twitch.

Now that we have learned how to apply a chain shank to a horse, let's take it a step further and learn how to use a stud chain properly. Proper application is only a small part of the routine; proper use is what determines whether your use of a chain shank is a benefit or a painful failure.

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