The 'Be Nice' is a commercially made halter which can be a very effective training device in the right hands as when a horse resists or pulls away pressure is automatically applied over the horse's poll, nose and behind the horse's jaw where there is a ganglion of nerves and any pressure causes a strong, ticklish feeling from which the horse immediately wants to gain release. As soon as the horse moves in the required direction though, the pressure can be instantly released. The earliest recorded approximation to this design was probably what is known as 'The War Bridle' in some parts of the world and what Monty Roberts refers to as the 'comealong'. This was used as a form of simple bridle by the American Indians and was also used by them as a form of training aid when breaking horses to ride. It was found to be the most effective method of loading mules into train carriages from which one can deduce it must be an extremely effective piece of equipment! A similar type of equipment is described in the book 'The Classic Encyclopaedia of the Horse' by Dennis Magner (1887).
There are various configurations one can use that all work on similar principles to the Be Nice i.e. the nerves around the poll, cheeks and chin but some, for instance, the comealong can be dangerously severe and can cause dramatic reactions, such as rearing over backwards and are definitely not recommended for untrained hands. Stallion chains are used by some people to exert extra control and whilst acceptable in the right hands, they can cause soreness and bruising to the skin which one would like to avoid if at all possible. Milder versions include the 'controller halter' which is leather and again works behind the chin, many farming people will recognise this as just being a version of their calf halters. Then in an emergency one can use ropes or lunge lines in a variety of configurations around a headcollar to give more control and save one being dragged from county to county.
The Be Nice can be used in instances when it is vital to have extra control of the horse whether coming forward, backing up or standing still, for instance, loading into the horsebox, crossing a narrow water ditch, loading into the starting stalls and getting to horses to stand still for the farrier. The Be Nice can be a very useful aid for horses with vices such as kicking and biting, not only in a remedial fashion but any horse that can learn some system of discipline will be much less likely to misbehave in other ways. It is also a most useful aid in teaching a horse to lead correctly. Like with any other piece of equipment though one has to learn the correct technique for using it and it is open to misuse by the ignorant but only in the same way that a bridle could be, at least when giving your horse these lessons you are not harming the delicate tissues of his mouth.
Your training with the Be Nice now follows the basic behavioural principles of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Do not confuse negative reinforcement with punishment. Punishment is something that happens to a horse after he is considered to have done something 'bad'. Negative reinforcement is a form of reward whereby you remove an unpleasant stimulus as the horse gives the correct response. A saying that describes this quite well is 'Make it comfortable for him when he does right and uncomfortable when he does wrong'. When I say 'unpleasant', please don't get the idea I mean pain of any kind (the worst teacher as it just causes fear and resentment in the majority of cases) but even the riding aids are a form of negative reinforcement i.e. you apply your leg to the horse and as he responds by quickening or moving away you take the pressure off. Only by being 100% consistent can you get your horse to understand you. One of the biggest indicators of the bad horseman is NOT rewarding the correct actions by immediate release of pressure in this way but they just keep 'hammering', asking for more and more with no reward of any sort for the horse, after a while the horse has got to start thinking as any of us would "Hold on. What's in this for me?".
Once the Be Nice is fitted, the first lesson is for him to learn to lead correctly. To explain this further I must tell you that our idea of leading correctly is not the most common English way where he leads you as you walk by his shoulder but we have the horse's head at our shoulder where we can see in both directions and we are able to respond to the horse and he with us far more effectively. When teaching a horse to lead do not hold the horse tightly in some sort of effort to prevent him making a mistake, no one can learn if they never make a mistake, for this first leading lesson have the Be Nice attached to a lunge line or a rope of at least 15 feet, you can allow him as much as 4 feet of slack in the rope but he has to realise that if he 'rudely' ignores you and walks away from you, he is going to 'cause himself' strong pressure on the ganglion of nerves around his head. When you are at say, about 90 degrees to his shoulder and he is still walking on with no regard for you, as he walks to the end of the rope you will use the weight of your body to exert the pressure on him and bring him around to face you. You do not make any sounds when you give this pressure as you don't want the horse to connect the unpleasant feeling with you. As he comes towards you, you can say 'Good Boy' and rub his head kindly. You may see him licking and chewing as he stands with you, a slightly submissive action telling you "I'm only a little foal, you know, I don't mean any harm". Remember horses dominate each other by controlling their body movements, if you allow your horse to barge you out of the way and push you around it is expressing to him quite clearly that he is in charge! Usually, the horse only walks away from you about 3 or 4 times like this before he learns that you are the safety zone and that having his head close to you is where it is most comfortable. If a horse has already been 'joined-up' in a round pen as described in Monty Roberts book 'The Man Who Listens to Horses' his mindset will already be that you are his safety zone, but if for any reason you were unable to join-up with a horse in the open you can achieve virtually the same results from working in this manner described.
In teaching the horse to lead when using the Be Nice, you must set boundaries in your own mind as to what is acceptable and what is not. The horse should stop at the instant you stop. Lead the horse on a rein with about two foot of slack in it. If you stop and the horse continues, let him walk into the end of the slack and then give a hard tug so he is pulled up short and comes back to you. You must be very disciplined to carry out this procedure: being quite clear on the boundaries so they quickly become clear to the horse. If you are unsure and dither about it because you're a ditherer by nature or you want to be 'kind' so correct at one stage one time and not the next, it only makes it more confusing for the horse.
To teach the horse to back up, stand directly in front of him and, as you take a step toward him, give a series of very short tugs or shake the headcollar to get him to take one step backwards. Release the pressure and give him a head rub as soon as he's taken the smallest step back. Keep these lessons short but soon he will instantly realise what the pressure means. Quite soon he will learn that as you take a step towards him in this very direct manner, he should take a step backwards and, as you take a step back away from him he should take a step forward. This procedure is also very useful for schooling horses to place their feet correctly for show classes.
Don't forget never tie up or turn out in a Be-Nice and always use it correctly.