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When (And Why) To Use A Stud Chain

By Jeffrey Rolo

In a related article we discussed the five most common ways to attach a chain shank to your horse's halter. If you're not experienced with using chain shanks, it might be handy to read that article first before continuing with this one.

I personally feel that under the right circumstances a stud chain can be very effective at providing you additional leverage while minimizing discomfort to a resistant horse. The problem is too many horse owners don't know how to use a stud chain properly. I've scowled internally and externally as I've witnessed amateurs (and even experienced horsemen) use stud chains when they weren't needed, use severe forms of a chain shank, sharply snap a shank, and yank on a stud chain as aggressively as they might tug on a lead line.

There is no excuse for such errors! When a clueless or mean-spirited handler abuses a chain shank, it becomes an abusive and very painful experience for the horse, and instead of improving the situation it may very well breed distrust within the horse, cause the horse to recoil and panic from the shock/pain, or cause a horse to become head shy.

So let's start with when they should be used. Stud chains are designed to get a defiant or inattentive horse's attention by inflicting just enough discomfort to make them focus on you and respect your requests. Although sometimes a handler may need to apply pressure to a shank in order to get a horse to stand down, ultimately the existence of the shank itself is the primary deterrent. Once a horse learns how a shank works, you need not (and should not) apply any pressure to the shank. To do so unnecessarily is counterproductive and arguably abusive.

Never consider a chain shank to be a corrective action in and of itself; it's not. Using a shanked stud chain on a naughty horse is like placing a bandage over a wound it might help temporarily, but ultimately it's not the bandage that actually heals the wound. If your horse cannot be controlled when you lead him, you need to establish your authority via daily groundwork and natural horsemanship exercises. The chain shank should only be used to lead your horse to the round pen where the lesson will take place; the stud chain is not the actual lesson.

Finally, don't become dependent on a stud chain. It's not a crutch, and it should never be used on a fairly well-behaved horse. I have witnessed some horse owners become so accustomed to using a shank that they automatically apply one all the time on even the best behaved horses. That's sloppy and lazy. A horse should lead well because he respects your authority, not because you're lazily ceding your authority to a chain shank.

Now that we've covered when to use a stud chain, let's cover how to use a stud chain. I recommend shanking a stud chain over the nose since it's the least uncomfortable and encourages a horse to drop his head. Under the chin can sometimes work, but when the shank is jolted or tugged on, it usually causes a horse to raise his head or possibly even rear. Over time, the horse can become head shy.

I would advise against wrapping a shank around the nose it's not the worst type of shank, but when used by heavy hands it can be very uncomfortable, so there's not a lot of room for error. Unless you're very proficient with horses and shanks, I would not place a shank inside the mouth or on the gums. Heck, even if you are experienced, I still would refrain from those shank methods.

The most common reason some horsemen are against shanking stud chains of any form is the potential to seriously injure a horse. Is this a legitimate concern, or is it exaggerated? We'll answer this important question, and also discuss exactly how to use a stud chain safely in the conclusion to this series.

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