Horse-Showing Details

Find success in your next halter class with a properly fitting lead shank.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

There are definite do’s and don’ts in how you fit your halter lead shank, and not having a lead shank rigged correctly is one of AQHA Professional Horseman Jason Smith’s pet peeves.

The trainer from Whitesboro, Texas, points out that a professional presentation shows good horsemanship more than style, and that’s especially true with your shank.

As an AQHA and World Conformation Horse Association judge, Jason often gives clinics where shank fit is a common topic. Here is some of his advice.


“Your chain shouldn’t be too long or too short,” Jason says. You want just enough chain left after you rig it, so you can hold the leather and still be close enough to your horse to control him.”

Around 4 inches is typical. If you’re holding leather, you have a better, safer grip.

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Leaving yourself a shorter chain is much better for a horse that is more sensitive, Jason says. “It doesn’t have ‘snap’ to it, and it limits how hard you can pull on it.”

If your chain is too long, you can get slack in your chain that can cause a painful snap to your horse, Jason says.

“The absolute worst place to hold a horse is with your hand on the chain, not on the leather,” Jason says. “I see a lot of novice handlers do that at weekend shows. It’s a good way to get your fingers or, especially with the ladies, fingernails caught in the chain if the horse jerks his head or pulls back.”

He adds: "If your shank is too long, you are more likely to find yourself holding the shank to control your horse."


The most common way to use a chain shank is to run it through the near side nose ring, under the horse’s chin, through the off-side nose ring and up, clipped to the off-side cheek ring.

“You can run the chain through the bottom of the halter (under the chin),” Jason says, “but you don’t necessarily have to. You often see that with performance halter horses or in showmanship because those halters typically have an adjustable noseband, and it’s more comfortable for the horse.”

“The biggest pet peeve that I have is seeing the snap on the off-side facing the horse’s cheek,” Jason says. “Every professional I’ve ever been around attaches the chain with the snap out.” It’s more comfortable for the horse that way, and it’s easier for the handler to undo.

“Some horses are just tough under their chins - especially if a handler has pulled on them all the time,” Jason says. “I’d rather put the chain over the horse’s nose in that case to get a little more attention from him, without a lot of pulling.” When you use the chain this way, you can also run the chain under the halter noseband.

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Running the chain all the way around the horse’s nose is also an option.

“It works well with a horse that’s not as responsive or is stronger with his head,” Jason says. “Or if the horse tends to lean heavy into the handler, or if an exhibitor is weak-armed.”

To fit the chain properly, you’ll need a shank with a longer chain, and you want to make sure it lays flat.

“I only use this if I know for sure I need more control, because I think it takes away from a horse’s head,” he says. “It’s just not as flattering a look.”

“The only reason to have a stopper on your chain is if you intend to use a lip chain,” Jason says. “Don’t have it on there at all if you aren’t.”

Check for complete guidelines on using a lip chain and other halter-showing rules.