Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lip chains

Lip and nose chains are often used as a means of control. Of over 1,000lbs of pure muscle. Yea, cuz that's going to happen.

How are they used?
Nose chains are often wrapped around the nose: a chain can go through the bottom or the side ring of the halter, go over the nose, through the other appropriate ring(s) along the nose of the halter, and snap back onto itself at the bottom or side, where the lead also snaps. It can also go through a side ring, over the nose to the opposite side and through that ring, then up the horse’s cheek to the ring closest his ear. The lead then snaps onto the side ring (at the nose) where the chain comes out. A lip chain usually goes through a side ring, over the horse’s gums (tight, or else they get it loose), through the opposite side ring, and up to the side ring, where it snaps. Yes, this does cause marks on the horse’s gums and while it might maintain “focus” in some horses, it can drive others downright crazy.

So, necessary?
In my opinion, no. There is the rare case I would use a nose chain on a horse, as a temporary measure, to keep myself safe in the mean time (while I developed the horse to the point where he was safe without it). My opinion is that chains are turned to much too readily by people with lack of savvy, or knowledge. On yearlings that won’t stand still because they’re still young and impatient, because they don’t understand the request, or because they’re nervous and are not being handled correctly. On stallions because their handler didn’t bother to earn their respect (and I’m not referring to the people who put a chain on a stallion as they lead him to the breeding pen, as a signal – I’m referring to those who are actually using that chain, yanking on it). On racehorses because they’re “acting up”. The “unwritten” protocol in our barn at the track was to put a nose chain on any horse acting up, that we wanted more control over. If the horse continued to act up (either in hand, on the walker, or in the paddock), a lip chain replaced the nose chain. These are the cases I speak of when I say I have used a nose chain on a horse – horses where I put the chain on for “show”, as a show of control to make others in this horse’s presence comfortable (in this case, I wouldn’t use it, but it would just be there) – like in the paddock or on a particularly difficult horse. The other scenario where I would use a chain was on very difficult horses where I felt my safety could be jeopardized otherwise. For example, we claimed a 7yo gelding after one race whom I did regularly put a nose chain on. The first time entering his stall, he tried to both bite and kick me. At the same time. Leading him down the shedrow felt like an accident waiting to happen; I was always nervous he would bolt past me and kick me on his way past. The chain was the only thing that kept him at my shoulder as opposed to running past me with a good swift kick as he passed. On the track though, your ability to “re-train” a horse is rather limited and restricted. You can’t just take them out and work them in a roundpen, or even an open space. There isn’t the room, and where there is, it just isn’t safe. You cannot just take a valuable racehorse out of his stall during the day and go work on his ground manners (even if you did have the time); if he was injured or escaped, you’re in a tight spot. This means that in some cases, a chain is often – sadly, the safest bet for a person to use on some racehorses. In most cases though, racetrack workers are just as liable to overuse chains as the general public (perhaps moreso in some cases). There was many a horse that passed through my care on whom I removed a chain – either lip or nose. If they normally wore a lip chain, I usually demoted them to a nose chain immediately. Once I worked on earning their trust and respect, had taught them what I wanted and expected, and had taught them to focus on my body language and what it meant, I usually was able to remove the nose chain as well. As a sidenote: I do believe that if some of these racehorses were "trained" properly in the first place and if that training were maintained, that they wouldn't have to have a nose or lip chain used on them in the interest of safety.

Lip chains v/s nose chains
Most consider lip chains to be the next level up in control from nose chains. The only time I ever used lip chains was in the paddock, on one particular mare who would throw a (potentially dangerous) fit otherwise. The lip chain kept her focused. However for the most part, if I felt like I needed something to back me up with a difficult horse, I preferred a nose chain. You can snap a nose chain to get a horse’s attention, to snap them out of a certain frame of mind (sometimes) – you can’t snap a lip chain with much effect, however, because it is already tight across the horse’s gums. Also, a horse can lean up against a lip chain and pull. In my experiences, I actually therefore found nose chains to provide more “control” than lip chains. In the grand scheme of things though, this is a 1,000+lb animal. No chain is going to stop him. So if you’re relying on a chain to control your horse, think again. It’s a short-term measure that will eventually falter. Also, if you consider yourself and your horse the rare case where a lip or nose chain is necessary (temporarily or permanently), think again – you’re probably not.

I consider the racetrack (and a few other rare scenarios I can’t think of right now) the rare exception, because those are situations where maybe the horse is presenting a danger to the handler and the situation does not allow for re-training. However I think, if you’re having to use a chain, you should be considering why, and how it affects the horse. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it doesn’t hurt the horse, or that it (the chain) is the only way. Whenever possible, it should be a temporary measure – personally, I would never use a chain (nose or lip) on a horse we owned/trained barring very rare exceptions. We have the opportunity to place the horse in a situation where a chain would not be necessary, where we could communicate with the horse in a fashion much better for the horse. My opinion is that if you are having to use a chain on your horse, you need to consider why. And fix it.