Using Martingales For Horses
English running martingales for horses are pieces of tack which attach at the girth and then run between the horse’s front legs. They then branch into two parts, each with a ring at the end. The reins run through these rings. The running martingale applies a lever effect. This means that the pressure from the bit is slightly downward instead of directly backwards. The martingale prevents the horse from throwing its head so high as to hit the rider.
Martingales for horses are now thought to be useful for correcting human error as well as correcting the behaviour of the horse. The running martingale can mitigate the effect of mistakes in rider’s use of their hands. There have been no scientific tests but careful observations have been made by equestrian experts. These suggest that martingales cause tension on the reins to be more consistent. It can be better for horses to experience slightly greater but consistent tension than lighter tension punctuated by strong pulling.
Fitting a Martingale
For a martingale to be effective and comfortable for the horse it must be
fitted correctly. If the martingale is too short it will pull the horse’s head down and into an unnatural position. Running martingales should usually be short term measures which are used until horse and rider are accomplished enough to work without them. They should not be used with horses that tend to buck or charge off because the rider will not have the leverage with the reins to gain control.
A standing martingale features a fixed line which runs from the girth between the horse’s front legs and then attaches to the noseband. It also features a neck strap to prevent it getting caught up on other objects. With standing martingales pressure is applied only to the poll. As with a running martingale, this type of martingale is used to prevent the horse’s head from rising too high.
Horses will need time to adapt to the use of a standing martingale. It will not be effective in improving a horse’s general headset but will prevent the horse from throwing its head up. Thus the martingale can be an important safety measure when jumping.
The standing martingale is more restrictive that the running martingale and cannot be loosened in the event of an emergency. It restricts the horse’s movement and so they can fall more easily when set off balance by a trip. They may also find it more difficult to stand up after a fall as they cannot fully extend their necks.
A standing martingale must be attached to a cavesson noseband or the upper strap of a flash noseband. It should not be attached to a grackle noseband as this can result in injuries to the nose and jaw.
The misuse or overuse of a martingale can result in a horse tensing its back muscles and moving in an unnatural manner. This can place too much stress on a horse’s spine and will reduce the shock absorbing ability of its legs.