I sadly admit that I saw chains (also referred to as lead (with) shank, stud chain, etc.) used on horses at my own home. (However, I will clarify that they were used over the nose, never as a lip chain.)
I was young and didn’t really think much about it at the time. I don’t think I had ever used one, but I do remember seeing them used on a few occasions (although not regularly by any means). However, now that I am older, wiser, and have more horse training knowledge under my belt, I am 100% against the use of chains on horses. I have had a few conversations with my mother about it (who taught me a lot of my horse knowledge) and she now agrees with me on this.
What are chains used for?
I most often see chains used by people who cannot control their horses, or who claim to have “problem” horses. They use the chain as a pain-causing, behavior management tool. I have seen them used a lot, at a variety of barns, by a variety of people, and on a variety of horses. It seems to be very common.
I have seen horses bucking/rearing while being walked in hand, exhibiting aggression, people being pushed around, dragged, walked ahead of, and much more. Those are all behaviors that should be corrected immediately. And when I say “corrected” I mean corrected via training. Using a chain does not address the root of the behavior, and thus should not be used. A chain is a punishment for something the horse was never taught was unacceptable behavior. It is unfair.
Some people claim that chains are good tools to use for extra “control”, or to give your horse “cues”. I don’t believe that’s necessary at all, and I’ll likely do a future post on horse people and their ideas of “control” over a horse.
Why am I against them?
When you wrap a chain around your horse’s nose and yank on it (which is what I have seen many people do), you are causing pain on a very sensitive body part. The use of a chain is unkind and unnecessary. Chains are pain inducing tools which people use to punish and/or micromanage horses. I consider lip chains to be even more abhorrent.
The use of a chain does not address the cause of the undesirable behavior. It is a cheat method to control the horse, rather than addressing the training issue. So, not only is it unkind, it’s useless.
What can you do instead?
It’s impossible to give a single or simple answer to this because horses must be handled on a case-by-case basis. Every issue and its resolution will be slightly different. However, basic groundwork will likely go a long way for many, if not most, ground manner issues. It sets boundaries and teaches respect, things that many horses on whom chains are used, lack. Horses are intelligent animals. It will not take long for them to catch on. Basic ground manners are the easiest thing to teach a horse, yet so many people skip them and then punish the horse for it later with “training tools” like chains.
There are a few ground rules I live by with every horse I deal with:
1. A horse may not walk ahead of me;
2. A horse may not push me or lean into my personal space (unless I have invited them in);
3. A horse should walk calmly;
4. A horse may not buck or rear while I am walking him/her.
The above four rules are the bare minimum. If a horse I am walking is not abiding by these rules, it is corrected. For safety reasons, these behaviors cannot be allowed to continue. All of these rules should be taught to every horse at a very young age, but a horse of any age is very capable of learning them. It is inexcusable to not set these boundaries with your horse.
I have certainly dealt with horses who did not follow these rules. There are simple ways to correct these behaviors that do not require the use of such a pain device. Chain use is another one of those horse things that I will never be convinced is ok. There is simply no excuse or explanation that could be given to me which would make me say “oh, you’re right. This is a good reason to use a chain.”
I wish people with sway in the horse world would teach and normalize what is right and kind to the horse, rather than what is easy for the human. Patience, consistency and persistence over band-aid “solutions”.
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