How do I use a stud chain?
Very carefully. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of using chains, but I have also been around enough horses that want to act like a zany kite and then dance on your head. I’m also a huge fan of having some insurance, so if you have a questionable horse in terms of head dancing, better safe than sorry and use the chain. The most important thing is to make sure you have a legit and reliable horsemaster to show you how to use one. And there are lots of different ways, just as there are lots of different saddles, and lots of different descriptions for "scratches". This is the way I was taught.
There are a few ways to use a chain, all of which do not include being used as punishment or yanking. If you find yourself punishing your horse with a chain, or really just punishing in general, you have a gap in your training program as a horse handler.
Before I get into the different ways to configure a chain around the halter, a few notes about chain use in general. Fair warning - I’m going to use ALL CAPS to emphasize a things about chains that are super duper important. I’m not yelling, I’m conveying importance. And also you can watch the video below.
The basics of the stud chain, revealed:
- DO NOT let the chain fall below the level of the noseband.
- DO wrap the chain around the the noseband or go shopping for another length if the chain loops and hangs down his nose.
- DO NOT use the chain as a punishment. EVER.
- DO remember that you can kill more flies with honey. Loosely translated, be nice and work on positive reinforcement. If you need to correct your horse, physically move his body where you need it and use your best soothing voice to reward, maybe a pat also. In high stress situations where there is lots of your horse dancing on your head, move him to an area or situation where you can help him chill out, then reward.
- DO NOT keep an even pressure on the chain to keep your horse from blowing past you. The tug of war between horse and human always ends badly for the human.
- DO use the stud chain as a tense and release, just as you would the reins. A little check, then a big release. That’s the reward for your horse. Like a half halt, but from the ground.
- DO NOT let the chain pull his halter over to the side and come close to his eye.
- DO make sure that his halter fits well (more on that here) and therefore if you accidentally forget the above “rule” about tug of wars, you are not going to smear the chain over his eye. Eyes don’t grow back.
- DO NOT use the chain as a halter extension and loop the chain back onto itself to make a loop. Oh, the stories about grazing horses and getting a hoof stuck in the chain loop …
- DO use the chain as a long halter extension without a loop.
Oh please NO!
- DO NOT turn your horse out with a chain on his halter or cross tie him to the chain or use it unsupervised in any way, shape, or form. Horses are just too silly and fond of being tangled in things.
- DO spend the millisecond to undo the chain when you are not actually using it.
- DO NOT use the chain in place of good training and horsemanship. These are exactly the same situations in which you can work with your horse to be able to deal with the world. I love using a clicker for this (more on that here.) Every time you feel the need to bust out the chain, know that this is a situation where your horse might need more work. And yes, there are some things that are just going to be part of a particular horse’s life. I call it the “one exception”. Every horse has that ONE THING that will always eat/scare/anger/tickle him.
- DO use the stud chain when it’s a possibility that you and/or your horse could hurt you, himself, or someone else. There’s no reason to be “that person” with “that &^$#& horse”.
- DO NOT carry the chain in your pocket thinking you can quickly put it on if you need it. If you need it, is should already be on.
- DO have the chain on the halter if you think you might need it. As you are not holding a constant pressure on your horse’s face, you will have the chain right there if you need it.
So - some techniques for fitting a stud chain.
Starting at the left side of your horse, feed the chain into the halter ring by his cheek. It can go up and over the noseband, and attach to the other side of the halter by the cheek. Do be sure to point the snap opening out so that you have easy access to it.
You can also feed the chain through the cheek parts, then up the cheek piece to connect to the upper ring on the right side of the halter, going under the jaw. I'm not a fan of this, just find a shorter chain to use.
You can also use the chain UNDER the jaw, not going over the nose at all. This is the technique for halter horses. You still need to run the chain through the halter on the right side and up the cheek, securing the snap of the chain up high.
A functional alternative to the stud chain is the rope halter, which works in a similar manner as putting pressure on the sensitive areas of your horse’s nose.
But mostly - it’s how you USE it. Be gentle, release, and don’t use the chain as a punishment.