The Sunday Jog-Up: Tips from a Groom


Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up?  Do you ever wonder how they get that way?  (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!)  Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse.  Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!

Previous entries:  Organizational Skills 

Know Your Rules

Safety First  

Odds & Ends

                          What About Tack? Part I , Part II

                          Shining, Shimmering, Splendid

                          A Close Shave

                          Get those white legs white!



Shank You Very Much

Last week, a commenter asked about a good way to hang up a chain shank, so I thought that would be a suitable topic to discuss today.

First: what is a chain shank, aka stud chain?  It’s a simple strap of leather, about seven feet long, with a smooth-link chain at one end.  It is used in several different configurations to give the handler more control over a difficult horse.  For most purposes, I like a 30″ chain, as fits larger heads comfortably (and face it– the larger heads are usually the ones that need some “help”).

How to use a chain shank?  Like any tool, shanks can be abused.  The metal rests across sensitive areas of the horse’s face, and it doesn’t take much force to do damage.  Use as little pressure as necessary, in a “tug/release” fashion– never just a constant dragging pull.  NEVER tie a horse in a chain shank!  And if you don’t need it, do not use it.  I have seen several accidents where the chain is run through the chin ring and snapped back to itself, leaving a dangerous loop; the horse, grazing with his head down, puts a foot through the chain loop and it is a scary situation.  Use a plain lead rope, or put that chain around the nose– just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Yes, I know you can twist the chain around its length and “eliminate” the dangerous loop…but the swivel on the chain eyelet can easily untwist the chain and expose the open loop.  Simply clipping the snap directly to the chin ring leaves 30″ of chain to swing around, and forces your bare hand to hold onto it (ouch).  Wrap it around the nose, or leave it in the tack box.

So, how do you put the chain on?  There are several possibilities: over the nose, under the chin, through the mouth, or over the gums.  Under the chin is primarily stock horse at halter style, and serves little functional purpose…it tends to raise the horse’s head, usually not what you want when leading a difficult animal.  Through the mouth is standard for most (TB) breeding stallions; it gives some control and something to chew on (besides your arm).  A lip chain is very severe, generally only used in “do or die” type situations where human and horse safety is in jeopardy.  It can be as effective as a twitch for some horses.  Others may react violently, so be very careful!

Under the lip: notice how the chain is run through the upper ring, and snapped back to itself.  This takes up extra slack in the chain, keeping a constant gentle pressure on the gums and preventing the chain from slipping over the teeth.  This allows the handler to hold the leather part of the shank lightly, instead of having one hand on the extra chain in a death-grip to keep the chain from slipping down.  It is a very effective method of restraint.  NOTE: only use this technique if you know the horse is accustomed to a lip chain.  Rarely, a lip chain can cause a horse to fight or panic, and you will WANT that chain to slip down off the gum, to calm the horse.    

Over the nose is the most common, useful method for a bully, dragger, or full-of-beans horse.  A good snap of the chain, with proper timing, can correct most antics.  Typically, the chain is run through the near-side ring on the nose of the halter, through the off-side nose ring, and snapped to the off-side cheek ring.  However, in this fashion, it is very easy to twist the halter into the horse’s eye.  Instead, I prefer around the jowl (if the chain is long enough) or completely encircling the nose (if the chain is shorter).  Neither of these configurations will twist the halter into the eye.  Around the jowl begins on the near-side nose, to the off-side nose, under the chin, and clipped to the upper near-side cheek ring.  Around-the-nose begins and ends under the chin, and may also be clipped back to the chain itself, preventing “choke-chain tightening” if you so desire.  Any way you wrap it around the nose, make sure it is twisted around the noseband once, to prevent the chain from slipping down the bridge of the nose, or tightening excessively.  I prefer to take up as much chain as possible on the halter; if you’ve ever been hit in the face by the swinging eyelet on a long slack chain, you know it hurts!  If the chain is pulled fully through the halter, there is no slack to worry about.

As mentioned in the Odds & Ends, I always have a chain shank in my trailer.  You never know when a horse may need it; a super-fit three-day horse can sometimes feel a little high on himself, especially in the vet box.  Perhaps your normally-placid horse at home grows three hands at his first horseshow and drags you everywhere.  Or maybe you HAVE to load a horse in the trailer immediately in an emergency– maybe a lip chain could help if he is extremely belligerent (in such a situation I would always have a second lead rope snapped to the halter chin).

So, on to the reader’s question.  With plain braided cotton or nylon lead ropes (I prefer cotton, less burning the hands when a horse goes moby dick), it is common to twist them up into a neat, condensed spiral to hang on the bridle rack.  But, what about leather chain shanks?  You may simply hang them with the end looped through the chain eye.  Or, to keep them off the ground, I prefer to coil it as taught my by grooming sensei:

Step 1: insert leather end of shank through the chain eyelet, with the leather “inside-out” (rough side up).

Step 2: pull the shank all the way through the eyelet until a circle about 4″ in diameter is left.

Step 3: Start at the leather end, and coil the shank very tightly RIGHT SIDE UP (smooth side out).

Step 4:  Continue coiling the shank tightly until the roll is about the same size, slightly smaller than the leftover loop.  Notice the linear figure-8 shape, with the open loop rough-side out, and the coiled loop smooth-side out.

Step 5:  While holding on to the coiled roll, flip the open loop “right-side-out” (vertically) and wrap it over your coil.  Obviously this takes two hands, but I had to hold the camera with my left hand.  Fiddle with the size of the loop so that it fits snugly around the coil.  It holds itself together!  Once you get the hang of this technique, it takes about 30 seconds.  Of course while you’re learning, you may fumble around a bit. 


Snap the chain back to itself, and it’s ready to hang on a bridle hook.  Neat and tidy!  To undo it, pop out the center and pull the leather through the eyelet…very easy.  Sometimes with very dry, badly abused leather, I will coil the shank like this and then pour oil on it.  All rolled up, the leather absorbs the oil very well, and comes out a lot more supple.        

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