Tool or Crutch

An age old question is which devices to use to achieve maximum results in our horses. Devices are very useful in giving us the advantage over horses in many ways. The main use for devices is to help us get a proper head set on our horses. Whether it is tie-downs or martingales devices can shorten the learning curve for many horses especially young horses. The big question is which devices are Tools to be used and when do they become a crutch? Spurs, tie-downs, draw reins and martingales are all in this category.

Spurs and Their Uses

The first question to be answered is where is your horsemanship level of expertise and where is your experience using these devices. If you have never put a tie down on a horse before, might not be the best idea to just throw it on and hope for the best. Spurs can be a useful tool, but on the heels of an inexperienced rider they can be a wreck waiting to happen. Always think about your level of expertise before using a tool of any kind. If you are a beginner horseman a couple good things to start out with are tools with more forgiveness. With spurs it can be the shank being short and the rowel being relatively dull. This will help to make sure your horse doesn’t jump out from underneath you when accidentally spurred. As your level increases you can always try sharper and longer spurs moving forward.

Tie downs

As far as tie-downs go, they are just like any other tool, they have a specific purpose. Starting out, the harder a tie down feels to your touch, the harder if will feel on their nose. I recommend starting with a softer leather one and moving up from there. It is also a good idea to make sure to start loose and then tighten rather than the opposite as horses who have not had a tie down on before can panic and even flip over backwards. The proper adjustment is when the horses eye is no lower than the saddle horn and no higher than your horses chin even with the saddle horn.


Another device I love is Martingales especially running martingales. Martingales helps to naturally ask a horse to collect at the pole. For horses that want to run their noses out and throw their heads into the air it can be very effective. As with any device one should be cautious when starting out but martingales are pretty hard to get in a bind with as they are passive pressure rather than direct pressure. They also don’t have any long term side effects if used often. I will often use martingales on training horses before a put a tie down on them for the first time as it serves as a great bridging device. It is also a great tool for older horses as well, on days they aren’t getting roped on.

Your Desired Outcome

The next question that needs to be answered is what outcome are you looking to achieve with said device. If you are always constantly trying new devices without doing some thinking on how you want the horse to react, you could just be deadening your horse for future work. What I try to avoid is going to harsher and harsher measures to maintain the same result. If this is happening, your device is crossing over to a crutch that you might not be able to escape. Just remember, if it comes out of your tack room for a specific purpose, to achieve a specific result, then it is a Tool. If it has to stay out of your tack room just to maintain, then it becomes a crutch.
In the roping world a perfect example of this is the tie down. It is used on almost every roping horse during competition and for good reason. It is hard to swing your rope with your horse’s head in your way. Also when the adrenaline getting to running, some horses with tend to naturally run with their head higher in the air. The tie down is a great tool, but if it has to be used even when walking around or roping the dummy at a trot, it can become a crutch for the horse to pull against. Try taking it off from time to time and see if you can still get your horse to keep his head down. Sometimes it can be invaluable to even warm your horse up with out a tie down and ask them to lope around collected. As with any device, just don’t let it become a crutch.

Spurs and Their Uses

Another major device is spurs. I personally ride spurs most of the time, just in case I need them
while training. I am very conscious of where my legs are and rarely ever actually make contact with my spurs. If you feel you want more reaction from your horse, might try a small set of spurs but you must be ever conscious of where your legs are throughout the run. If you notice your horse getting way too strong, you know you have over done it. Spurs are very helpful in getting a sharper feel on a horse and also teaching them to move their feet better. They are one of the best tools we can use but used wrong also have some negative side effects. If over used they will cause a horse become dead sided and numb, or if used incorrectly on a touchy horse can cause them to go way too fast or jump in the wrong direction.

All of the devices we use on our horses have a certain purpose and if we use that purpose to our advantage, we can create great results. Just like any tool, they are only as good as the person operating them. Start with small steps and you will see great, gradual results. Have Fun and God Bless.


AJ Fuchs is a roping horse trainer, and PRCA roper who lives in Stephenville, Texas with his wife and two kids.  AJ has been professionally training horses for over 10 years, he specializes in Team Roping horses and overall horsemanship.  Look him up on FB at AJ Performances Horses or website at


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