Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to Attach a Lead Shank to the Bit

A leather lead shank can be a very useful tool to have at shows. Not only is it an attractive option for leading potentially unruly horses, but it can be used with either a halter or a bridle.

When leading a horse to or from the show ring, using a lead chain instead of leading by the reins means that if the horse somehow gets loose, there won't be a loop of reins hanging down that could get caught in a leg. A lead shank is also generally longer than a rein which makes it easier for a groom to move around the horse as needed.

There are lead shanks designed specifically to be used with a bit, often called a jumper lead shank or a Newmarket shank. These offer a split-chain design, with a clip on each of two short lengths of chain for each of the bit rings. When multiple lead shanks are not a priority, however, a standard lead chain can easily be used with either a halter or a bridle.

Neither of these
is ideal

The most common mistake when using a standard chain is attaching it to only one side of the bit. With this set-up, pulling on the lead will result in the horse turning in a circle towards the handler rather than slowing down or stopping, as all of the pressure is pulling the left side of the bit to the outside. It may work for some situations in which the lead needs to be removed quickly, such as when leading a difficult horse through the in-gate, but it is not ideal for general use.

Doubling the chain over will allow the handler to safely maintain a shorter feel on the lead if the chain is too long, but the same circling problem will continue to occur.

The most correct way to use a standard chain shank with a bit is what is shown in the photo above. The chain is passed up through one of the bit rings, run under the chin, back out through the other bit ring, and then it's clipped back onto itself at the base of the chain. With this set-up, pulling on the lead will exert pressure on both sides of the mouth, keeping the horse from turning into the handler instead of stopping. Turning ability still exists, and most horses will follow the direction that their handler takes anyway without requiring direction from the lead shank.

This method of attachment is especially important to use for any type of bit that might slide through the mouth if too much pressure is exerted on one side, such as a loose ring or a bit with particularly small cheek pieces.

With the reins flipped safely over the neck and out of the way, attaching the lead chain in this triangle configuration ensures consistent and predictable control, which is very important when navigating busy paths and hitching rings.


  1. I agree this is the best method but my only concern would be if the horse managed to get it's foot in the loop of the chain. Unlikely, I know, but someone put that thought in my head a couple years ago (I had the chain doubled so it was shorter attached to a halter).

    1. I feel the same way when using a looped chain on a halter, but when you're leading with a bridle the horse is far less likely to get their feet near the chain since they aren't grazing or being left tied on their own.

      In my opinion, it's worth the tiny risk because you can be kinder to the horse's mouth by using more subtle signals and by not pulling the bit through to one side, and the horses tend to stay with you better with this set-up.

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