California Riding Magazine • October, 2008

Ask Charles Wilhelm:
It’s Just a Quick Fix
You can’t train using pain and fear.

Reader: I’ve heard that you are really opposed to using stud chains. Why is that? We use them all the time.

Charles: If we really love and care for our horses as much as we say or think we do, why would we ever want to inflict pain? Stud chains are used on the nose, below the chin or across the gums. All of these areas are very delicate and sensitive.

I know that when a horse is out of control, we can get frustrated and become a victim of our emotions. The result may be that we take it out on the horse. But remember, it is never, ever the horses’ fault. It is our responsibility to train the horse in a humane manner.

You may argue that you have seen difficult horses behave with a stud chain, but the stud chain is only a temporary solution to a behavioral problem. You usually see them on stallions but they are also used on mares and geldings. Horses that have stud chains used on them on a regular basis become dull and used to the pressure and pain they inflict; they learn to just tolerate it. Take off the stud chain and the horse will once again be out of control.

It has been proven in raising children that inflicting pain does not produce a learned behavior. The use of pain does not carry forward into the future positively. Fear and pain can, however, cause the reverse effect and create fear issues and negative behaviors that do carry over.
A learned behavior happens when a correction is made and positive reinforcement is used that enables the brain to connect the action with the correct response. Then the behavior becomes a conditioned response and can be carried over into the future as what to do or what not to do.

Although a stud chain gives you instant gratification, in that you achieve control of your horse, it is my experience that within a short while the horse gets used to it. Eventually all you get is a horse with a high head thrown in the air, a horse that is still pulling and dragging you around. Every horse I know of that relies on a stud chain to control its behavior is still actually out of control.

Working with problem horses for the past 17 years has shown me that stud chains do not work. There is no positive learned behavior. The horse has to have a reason to make a change. If you work through the mind and by controlling the parts (head, shoulder, hips), you have a learned behavior. Inflicting pain does not motivate a horse to make a change. Pain only intimidates the horse and he will become used to the pain and just endure it.

Why inflict pain when we can train any horse, even stallions, to respond to cues and behave like gentlemen? They are happier, calmer and better partners. The difference is the stud chain is a quick fix. If you want to have a responsive horse, one you can truly enjoy, invest in good training from the very beginning. In the end, it will be worth every second of your time.

God Bless,

Charles Wilhelm
Remember It’s Never, Ever the Horses’ Fault