The stallions at the yard I grew up on all wore stallion chains as a matter of course. One of them used to put it in his mouth and chew it as he went along!
Some of the stronger geldings had them too, and I remember using one for both Matt and Otis as youngsters to help establish ground manners in the early days. Very quickly, the chains were put into the cupboard.
The chains were threaded through the head collar, under the chin, so that when the horse got strong you tug the lead so the chain runs tight, making a satisfying whoosh noise, and tightens against the horse’s chin to put the brakes on. Usually the sound of the chain running across the headcollar will stop a horse in their tracks. Obviously, you don’t tie a horse up by the chain as they could severely damage themselves if they pulled back. Likewise, when leading, the chain shouldn’t be pulled tight constantly; it’s an emergency brake, so you should be leading with quite a loose rope.
Some people prefer to put the chain over the horse’s nose, as putting it under their chin can encourage rearing. I’ve never seen this, but I have seen horses jerking their heads up in reaction to the chain being pulled. However, I feel the top of the nose, with the delicate turbine bones, are more sensitive and easily damaged than the curb area, so I think I would personally always use a chain under the jaw. If the horse was a rearer then perhaps a normal rope over the nose to provide pressure would be a better alternative?
People tend to prefer stallion chains to bridles as they aren’t pulling on the horse’s mouth, so aren’t damaging their ridden work. Others think they are cruel. I think they have the potential, just like anything, to be harmful in the wrong hands, but when used sensibly and with care they will ensure you as a rider or handler are safe and your horse respects their human and behaves.
One of my clients a few weeks ago told me that she was having problems with her cheeky horse when bringing him in. He’d do a swift swing of his head before marching rapidly back to his field mate, with his owner hanging on desperately. Even the bridle didn’t help because he wouldn’t let her put it in in the field.
When I saw, I thought the problem was because he used his neck against his handler, and they didn’t have enough leverage when holding on to the reins to counterbalance the misendeaviur. I suggested trying a chain.
The first time, I helped. As soon as the horse swung his head, his owner pulled the chain hard, to shock him and to stop him in his tracks. It worked! So she gave him a pat and loosened it off before continuing. He tried again, but this time the sound of the chain running across his headcollar was enough to stop him!
So the stallion chain is useful to help establish ground rules safely. But then the next step is to make sure you aren’t relying on it. Begin by having a normal lead rope as well as the chain, and only grab the chain if necessary. Then of course you can just keep the chain for shows, or environments that might cause the behaviour to rear it’s ugly head.
Since using the chain, my client has become a lot more confident on the ground with her horse, who has mellowed, and you can see the improved relationship coming out in their ridden work.