Shank Style

Here’s some professional advice on lead shank use and look.

Whether you’re in the show ring or the breeding shed, there is a rhyme and reason to the way a lead shank, or “stud” shank, is used. The Journal asked AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kathy Smallwood for her advice on this invaluable, yet often misused, piece of tack.

Too Much

“The hardest thing to teach someone is a good hold on a shank,” Kathy says. “I see people either yanking on the chain too much or holding onto the horse with a constant hold,” she says. “After a while, the horse gets dull to the chain. And if you pick, pick, pick, you’re just going to end up picking a fight, and that’s with any animal, not just a horse.

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“A lot of people will put a constant hold on a horse’s head and never let the horse have its face,” she continues. “When you have a constant hold, it’s irritating to the horse, and it will fight you. “You’ve got to give them that release (from the pressure). Then, when you do ask them for something, there’s something there. If you’re constantly applying pressure, they’re going to get dull. “I try to teach my customers not to close their fist when they’re holding a lead shank. Just let it lie in your hand and put your fingers where you need to secure it.

Proper Fitting

The shank should run through the left ring of the noseband, then under the chin (or over the nose), through the right ring of the noseband and continue up and clip to the upper right ring. “I like to have the clip facing to the outside, not the inside,” Kathy says. “That way it won’t accidentally come undone. It’s also easier to get to if you have to quickly release it for some reason.” When you’re fastening a shank, stay on the left side of the horse as you connect the chain. Don’t stand in front where you can get struck or move around to the right side where you are not positioned to use the shank’s correct leverage.

Lip Chain

In a lip chain, the chain runs under the upper lip, against the gum line. “When I use a lip chain, it just sits there,” Kathy says. “I hardly hold onto it at all. I have the chain coming through my fingers so that just the thumb and forefinger hold the shank and that’s it. It’s just lying through your fingers with no pressure on it.”

Some horsemen say the reason a lip chain works is due to a pressure point located on the gums, where the gum line meets the center of the upper lip. They claim rubbing that spot can soothe a horse.

In The Breeding Shed

Danny Salsman of Salsman Quarter Horses in Pilot Point, Texas, stands several stallions to the public and often collects outside stallions. He is respected for his ability in starting young stallions in the breeding shed. Here’s what he had to say about using a “stud” shank in the breeding shed. “With most stallions, I put the chain in the mouth when we’re breeding. When you put it in the mouth, you have to be really easy with it. I don’t jerk on studs in the breeding barn. You want to give them a free run in there, unless they get too rank and are dangerous. “I get along well with putting the chain in the mouth because not that many Quarter Horse people do that, they use a lip chain or put it under the chin or over the nose, and the horse doesn’t get ‘dead’ to the chain in the mouth. “If I have a young stud that’s a little too rambunctious in the breeding shed, then I use a lip chain on him. You’d be surprised what that does. “If they’re rambunctious and you jerk on them, they quit, because their trainers have gotten after them for showing an interest in mares.

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“But if you put a lip chain on them, that little bit of pressure makes them think. It slows them down, and they work well. “We’ve got a lot of different signals to let the stallion know it’s time to breed. One is to put the chain in the mouth when we’re heading to the breeding shed, vs. using it over the nose if they’re going to exercise. “Using a shank is just something you’ve got to get a feel for, and stallions are different. But if you put a chain in their mouth and jerk them around, and they’re light in the mouth, they’ll just turn around and look at you and won’t work.”

New Rules

The AQHA Executive Committee recently approved changes to three showing-related rules, including two that relate to lip chains. Click here for more info.