How To Use A Stud Chain Safely And ProperlyBy Jeffrey Rolo
Note: This is the second article in a two-article series regarding the use of a shanked stud chain. If you haven't already read When (And Why) To Use A Stud Chain, I strongly recommend doing so first since both articles are necessary to really get an understanding about how to use a stud chain properly. So with that said, let's continue…
Could a shank cause a horse injury? Sure… sometimes. Shanks inside the mouth (similar to a war bridle) or over the lips can create injury or draw blood quite easily if the horse panics, pulls away too sharply, or if the handler commits an error (which is why I abhor them). It's not nearly as easy to cause an injury when using a shank under the chin or over the nose.
Some horse owners panic at the thought of an over-the-nose shank because they've heard nightmare stories about how owners have broken their horse's noses with such a shank. It would be VERY difficult to create this type of injury, to the point of requiring malicious intent to inflict harm and abnormally rough yanking. Granted I don't hang around with an ugly crowd, but I've personally never witnessed anyone injure their horse with an over the nose shank, regardless of their proficiency level in using stud chains.
Don't get me wrong – they can cause discomfort, so must be treated with caution no matter where you apply them. But as far as serious injury goes, some horsemen overestimate just how difficult it would be to harm a horse using an exterior shank.
Now that we've covered when, why and where to use a chain shank, let's move on and discuss how to use a stud chain.
First and foremost, understand that a shanked stud chain should be used as minimally as possible. Unless your horse is resisting, you should NOT tug the chain or apply direct pressure to the shank, otherwise you defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. Training works on a pressure basis; when a horse misbehaves, he is penalized with various forms of "pressure," but when the horse respects a request, pressure is eliminated as a reward.
If you're constantly being heavy-handed with a shank, ask yourself: where is the reward for doing anything right? Beyond the abuse factor of constantly "punishing" a horse when he doesn't even deserve it, it's also unproductive! When a horse doesn't connect a reward with a particular action or behavior, then in the end he'll be confused and less likely to cooperate. Consistency is necessary, and unnecessary pressure only mucks up the works.
Even with naughty horses, 90+% of the time there is NO direct pressure on the shank when I use one. The moment a horse settles down and/or respects my request, the shank is immediately loosened. So rule number one is don't overuse the shank; it should be viewed as a deterrent rather than a necessity or primary training tool.
When you DO need to use the shank, start by applying light pressure and steadily tighten the shank as necessary until your horse yields. Don't tug sharply on a shank, and don't go from zero to sixty in a second.
One mistake that too many horsemen commit is yanking the shank rather than steadily pulling it back – the difference between the two is submission (our goal) versus blunt force (which we want to avoid). Let's draw an unrelated comparison that will help illustrate the difference.
When using a stud chain, you want to behave like a wrestler. Wrestlers are not intentionally trying to harm their opponent. They attempt to dominate the opponent by achieving the upper hand through proper body positioning and pressure application. Once they submit their opponent, the point is scored and they release the pressure.
Although completely unrelated to horsemanship, the general concept remains the same when it comes to a stud chain: you will use proper form to submit a naughty horse without trying to inflict injury. You apply just enough pressure for your opponent to yield, and then you immediately release.
Yanking on the stud chain sharply is akin to a kidney punch – it hurts like hell and it's an illegal move that defies the whole purpose of a shank. Your goal is to submit a horse when he's being naughty, not injure the horse or inflict unnecessary shock and pain.
In summary, use the least pressure necessary and remove all pressure the moment your horse starts behaving. You want to form a bond of mutual trust, rather than continually veiled aggression. Always tighten a shank lightly at first as a reminder of its existence – normally that will be enough to convince the horse to behave. If it doesn't steadily tighten the shank until your horse submits, but again, remember that the goal is not to hurt your horse, so don't be heavy-handed. And no yanking or snapping a stud chain!
I'm a firm believer in natural horsemanship, and although some may respectfully disagree with me, I don't believe the use of a stud chain is inherently wrong. What determines whether a stud chain is helpful or abusive is how the handler uses a stud chain; it can be extremely gentle or downright nasty. Hopefully now you know how to use it in a gentle manner, but if you're still wary about the whole concept of a shanked stud chain, consider a rope halter as a gentler alternative that allows more room for error.