The Power Of A Martingale

Hate ‘em!

Let’s just get the supportive argument of ‘if it’s adjusted correctly then they are a great tool in the toolbox’ argument.

  1. I don’t care about the people who use them sparingly.
  2. I don’t care about the people who use them correctly (and sparingly).

There!  We’ve now eliminated the ‘exceptions to the rule’ 5% and we can move onto the truth of 95% of the martingale use around the globe.

The intended purpose of this little piece of leather was to prevent the rider from getting smacked in the face by the horse’s poll or upper neck.   For that situation to occur, the horse has to either have really lost its balance, the horse has to have some severe behavior issue in the moment, or the horse has to have a ewe neck, be muscled horribly, and ridden on 6” of rein.

A secondary outcome of sporting a martingale, that I believe is what people really use them for, is to prevent the horse from being able to evade the boisterous rider hand.  You could also just call it poor training and poor riding; your choice.


This is one way to adjust stride and get in the right number for the line, problem is it’s not a long term fix.   I’m sure this team is working on the half halt from the seat as a rebalancing tool (and rotating that leg from the hip socket so the heel (spur) doesn’t inadvertently pinch the horse), then they’ll be ditching the martingale – I’m sure.

Barrel Racer

There’s no doubt this horse is being pulled around the barrel by his face.  He’s come into the barrel with too much speed (too much on his forehand) and got in too deep.  The rider now cranks on his face to try and reduce the circuit around the backside of the barrel.  The horse has no choice but to hollow and cross his jaw and gape in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his tongue.  Thank goodness for that martingale!


There’s just nothing better than setting a horse up to get the right distance to the next fence by hauling on his face.  Bravo!

Polo 1

Polo 2

Keep your eye on the ball Princes!  Those martingales and draw reins will make sure the horses can’t evade your hand even if they are all over their forehands, hollow, and trying to stay on their feet.  Prince William gets a few extra bonus points for his horse’s milder protest (when the picture was taken he’d just released the hand brake).

I came across this little article about bitting polo ponies and couldn’t help but chortle.  I loved the talk of ‘leverage for stopping at speed’ and ‘it’s not the bit, it’s the rider’s hands’, so it’s okay to throw the kitchen sink on as long as you have soft hands when you pull on the horse’s mouth.    I’m hoping that one day they’ll realize the way to stop a horse is to shift weight to the horse’s haunch.  Kind of like this:

Yeah, yeah, that’s going to chew up the polo field.  The fact remains, as long as a horse is on its forehand, it’s not going to want to stop or be easy to stop.  Its balance and weight is forward and down like that snowball rolling down a hill.  Putting something with more bite in its mouth doesn’t help the horse readjust its balance and weight back onto its haunches, no matter how educated the rider’s hands.  It’s more likely to teach the horse how to evade contact, brace through its jaw, poll, throat, neck, shoulder, back and loin.  And it’s more likely to make the horse hard-mouthed.  The proper way to slow a horse down quickly is to engage the haunch.  Funny thing about doing that – there’d be no chance of the rider getting smacked in the face by the back of the horse’s head, therefore no martingale would be required.

Zanhar was kind enough to send me a couple of pictures of her horse several months ago.  (And for those of you that have also sent me pictures et al a while back – I still have them, I haven’t forgotten, eventually I’ll cover a topic and I’ll utilize them.  Thank you for sending.)

18 year old Thoroughbred hunter worked in a martingale:


2 years later as a 20 year old after having stopped using the martingale:


What was once an inverted, shortened bull neck is now a long, arching, correctly muscled neck.  Certainly that didn’t just happen by taking off the martingale, other work was involved, but it does show:

  1. The horse didn’t need the martingale in the first place
  2. The martingale didn’t help the horse move correctly
  3. The martingale gave the horse something to lean on and brace against

The horse never lies and neither does its body.  Horses that regularly wear martingales, side reins, draw reins, or any of the other number of ‘put your head here’ apparatus can be picked out of a lineup by a blind man.  Even if none of those artificial aids are used and only the rider’s hands are employed to place the horse’s head ‘here’, one can still identify that horse’s poor training and riding by the incorrect muscle patterns it will wear.

Zanhar made a significant change in how her horse was trained and ridden, and her horse shows the spectacular results of those improvements.  Great job!

*Side note:  I’m heading off for a week’s vacation.


51 thoughts on “The Power Of A Martingale

  1. Ah but you’ve failed to appreciate martingales are the latest ‘must have’ fashion accessory. That and a gob strap nose band so that naughty horse can’t open it’s mouth and evade while you haul it round by the face.

  2. I posted on another thread about martingales being a fashion accessory for hunters. And how it’s stupid, but wasn’t the hill I was prepared to stand and die on. I used to use a martingale when I showed hunters, just to stay on trend, adjusted so loose that it never did anything but hang there. Two show seasons ago, I gave it up altogether. I don’t believe that going without the martingale has had any effect on my placings. With the rare exception, I feel like my results remain what I’d expect for the kind of ride I had. No downside that I have experienced from letting go of this trend. I would encourage anyone else who shows hunters in a martingale your horse doesn’t need, that’s purely there for fashion, to just leave it off. The more of us who do it, the more others will follow, and maybe we can bury this idea that hunters are “supposed” to go in a martingale.

    • I find it weird that you are allowed to use martingales in a show class at all. But, to clarify, are you talking here specifically about standing martingales? The most lethal combo I have yet to see was OK’d by our Pony Club because it used a “nice mild ” jointed snaffle bit- drop noseband (always far too low on the nose- obviously) jointed snaffle and running martingale (always adjusted too short) Now- imagine that little lot in the ham fisted hands of Mummy’s little darling who can do no wrong and has a right to win at any price. And all given the seal of approval. What is wrong with a nice mullen pelham- apart from the fact that Mummy’s little precious would have to master two reins when she (always was a she) has yet to master staying on the horse properly.

      • Yes, I am specifically speaking of standing martingales, and the rules for hunters are weird and (in my opinion) inconsistent. Standing martingales are permitted, but running is not. Plain nosebands only, but just about anything goes in terms of bits. The standing martingale is not only permitted, but has somehow become considered essential. Extremely common to see a standing martingale on a well-schooled hunter who clearly doesn’t need it, going around steady and calm with the martingale hanging slack the entire time. In fact that is how someone articulated it to me – that the martingale is there to show the judge how the horse doesn’t really need a martingale, because the judge can see that the martingale never engages during the ride. Like I said, I think that’s a bit dumb. I’ve chosen to show the judge how my horse doesn’t need a martingale by NOT USING A MARTINGALE. But, this isn’t something that I tend to argue with folks about in real life, because I don’t think an unneccessary, properly-adjusted, standing martingale does any harm.

        • “I don’t think an unneccessary, properly-adjusted, standing martingale does any harm.”

          This I disagree with. IMO, it does matter because so many people ‘learn’ by copying others whom they admire, who are winning, who are ‘professionals’, etc… They copy the likes of Anky and her Rolkur application, they copy the likes of George Morris and his automatic crest release (which he’s gone on record as saying he admits it was a mistake) and they copy trends like crank nosebands, draw reins while jumping and martingale use.

          And while a martingale properly adjusted doesn’t directly harm that specific horse in the moment, it harms other horses owned by people who don’t understand how proper adjustment is reached. Perhaps even more importantly it harms Horsemanship going forward for generations to come, which in turn harms the horse.

          Just as we’ve lost the real purpose and application for cavessons on bridles and have seen them morph into crank nosebands tightened by mechanical means, and just as we’ve lost the purpose and application of longeing cavessons such that many haven’t seen one let alone used one, we’re about to lose the real purpose and intent of the martingale as our true Horsemen pass and the fewer remaining are ignored by the majority.

          • For individuals the option to not use a martingale is always there. (I certainly don’t use them). But for a trainer I am just cynical enough to believe it might go like this:
            Boopsie goes into the ring in a HUnter class on a horse NOT wearing a standing and gets her face broken when horsie tosses its head. (The actual cause does not enter into it)
            Insurance people become involved and ask if there is an ‘industry standard’ method that would have prevented the injury.
            “Why yes,” comes the reply, “The standard is to put a standing martingale on the horse; look: EVERYONE else is using one”
            Then you (the trainer/coach) are in the position of explaining why that was not adhered to in this case. AND you are on the hook for allowing the injury to occur when it could have been prevented by the application of a ‘standard’ piece of equipment.
            I don’t think that is too far fetched.

        • Mercedes, that’s a fair point. And I also had never thought of one of the points made below, that now a martingale doesn’t stand out as a red flag that someone is trying to ride a problem, because they’ve become so common. It still strikes me as dumb overall in the show hunter context, because when you look at how hunters are judged and the kind of ride that is supposed to win, any horse that actually needed a standing martingale for its intended purpose, stands no chance of being competitive anyway. But generally speaking I believe in picking my battles and I think there are bigger priorities for outrage than standing martingales, so I just stick with making myself an example of someone who shows without one without the world ending.

  3. I only used a martingale in Barrel Racing because the horse I bought got immediately hot when in the ring. She’d throw her head up and all over the place. It took a good year of consistent riding in the ring and NOT running barrels before she eventually gave up on the head tossing. But if that martingale hadn’t been there, I fear my nose may not be centered on my face anymore.

  4. I’m impressed by the condition of the horse at 20. If it’s not to nosy, what feeding program do you have this guy on?

    • Not nosy at all – I AM very pleased with his condition, which you can see better in the picture I posted to Coaliebug below. The amount he eats still shocks me (I’m used to Arabs that are real air ferns.) He gets free feed second cut hay (orchard grass mix) with one flake per day of third cut alfalfa. His concentrates are split into two feeds and total: one pound (dry weight) soaked beet pulp, two cups rice bran, 6 pounds high performance extruded (14% protein, 4% fat) and 2 pounds high fat extruded (20%). I supplement with pre-biotic, pro-biotic, selenium (the soil in my area has virtually no selenium and therefore the hay and grass have none) and Renewal. When he’s on grass I cut the hay ‘way back but cutting back his grain is a no-go. He loses weight. Thoroughbreds….

      • Yes, he seems a bit thoroughbred – y to me, and I know how hard it is to keep condition up on some of these horses. I also have a senior horse, and it has been a real education on feeding him. I have to make do with store bought hay (they will only tell what area it comes from) so I have to do research on the quality of my hay as best I can and often get nowhere. (Also inspect and often clean all of it.) I also have him on 6 pounds of senior feed, of which I see so many pro and con discussions of the brand I use, but he seems to do just fine with it. Did you put him on the pre, pro-biotic for a specific reason? Did you notice any improvement with using it?

        • Yes and yes. From the time I got him he was a picky eater, wouldn’t even finish his grain until noon and wasted half of his hay walking through it. He colicked twice and I had to walk him out of gut discomfort a couple of times a month. He was chronically slightly underweight. My coach suggested I get him scoped for ulcers but that’s pretty expensive and if it turned out he had them, the medication is also pretty expensive – I wanted to try something else first. I put him on the probiotic and it did wonders – the addition of the alfalfa came later. There have no stomach problems for the last five years, he has a good appetite and – an unexpected bonus – according to my farrier, his feet have improved 100%. No more abscesses or lost shoes. I started the pre-biotic a couple of months ago when someone gave me a tub of it – haven’t seen any additional changes so I may not continue it when I run out – we’ll see. This is’t my senior horse BTW – that guy is 37, sound and ride-able on a different kind of special diet (toothless and insulin resistant). You should see my feed bill – Oy Vey!

  5. Kudos on the improvements. If I could make one request, it would be to see said horse in an “after” shot similar to the first one to make an even better comparison…

    • Hopefully I did this right – [IMG][/IMG] and you can access it. This was taken on the same day as the second pic with a similar pose to the first one although from a different angle.

  6. Rather disappointed to see the comments along the lines “that he looks great especially for a 20 year old”.

    Makes me truly despair at what is seen and considered as “normal”.

    • Especially if you’re like me and think of 20 as fairly young, more middle-aged not elderly xD “Good for 20? 20’s not even old, what are you talking about.” 25-30, now THAT’S old. I can’t even imagine how people can just let their oldies waste away – regardless of whether they’re 20 or 40. Our barn has trouble keeping the 30+ year-olds from getting too freaking fat! Our 28 year old gets so energetic and excited when she finally gets an experienced rider on her back instead of the beginning youngsters, we have to keep telling her to cool her jets XD To me, fat (read healthy weight, not actually obese), sassy, and full of energy is what is normal for old-timers.

    • it is true that this horse looks great for a horse of just about any age, correct muscling, good condition, brilliant coat. Many younger and older horses don’t have correct muscling. Go do a random pull up of horse images posted by every day people and see the muscling and condition of the horses.

      To put things in perspective though, at around age 20, popular charts put a horse’s age at near 60, a time when gravity and declining organ systems make a difference to maintaining health, muscle, etc. in humans and horses. But in the next five to seven years, changes in horses because their teeth continue to grow out of their sockets and fall out in ways human teeth don’t, require special intervention to avoid significant loss of condition as the horse can no longer maintain condition. Infirmities of age, cancers, cushings disease, etc. become more prevalent. For every horse still in great health and working at age 25 many are no longer doing well enough to be in work, the age equivalent moves closer to 80 by age 27. We remember the exceptions more easily. Modern feed matters a lot, in its affordabililty and availability. Our horses need fitness, but they also don’t suffer the breakdowns of the true not so good old days when they worked long hours under sometimes dangerous conditions. Studies done on New York city working horse population showed that back at the turn of the prior century a typical dray/carriage horse would last four years.

      Each horse should be looked at as an individual, and based on prior usage, injuries, etc., the aging should be respected for what it is. There should be no shaming that someone has retired 20 or 25 year old horse instead of keeping them in full work, especially if they are suffering from age related issues. There is no need to retire a healthy horse either just because of the calendar, if it is fit, enjoying the work and proper changes to diet, vet care and workload are factored in.

  7. There is still a difference between what we (on this forum) and other segments of the horse owning population do to take care of our seniors. Look at what zanhar is feeding her horse. I’m sure she is also keeping his teeth up. These are advances in care since I was a kid. In the 60’s, 20 was an old horse.

    What I was commenting on was the condition of a thoroughbred. Both photos show a horse in really good condition. Not my breed of choice, but I do admire them, and they can be hard to keep in top condition like this.

    I am always interested in what these older horses are fed, because I have a deep and personal interest in keeping my old guy happy and rideable for as long as possible. Yes, a new and younger horse is always great, but there is no better trail ride than an old and trusted friend, with no drama, only the enjoyment of nature, and last spring I may have given my horse some kind of biotic (not sure) with a bad outcome. You read so much of what you should be giving the horse, what is to be believed?

    • Yes, there is difference between “us” and other segments of the horse owning population taking care of senior horses. I am well aware that horses can continue to look great well into their 20s and older and have seen some wonderful examples. I currently board at a place that has a fantastic 20 year old Arab stud. He looks fantastic and teaches lessons to beginners! Unfortunately though this is not always the norm in the general horse population…so to the people who do it right, a big thumbs up!

    • The most important thing IS taking an interest. Don’t shrug off problems as ‘he’s just getting old’ – which I certainly heard a lot of when my old horse reached his 30s. Ask around, do your research and listen to your horse – all of which you are doing. If he’s in good health and has a normal amount of energy, i f his muscling is even and correct and bodily functions normal, you are probably doing fine. If you see changes you can’t explain – follow up. Pre-biotics and pro-biotics are very different in both make-up and action so you need to check out the ingredients if your horse reacts badly – he could be allergic or intolerant to something in the mix. And I totally agree about the solid oldies – on the thoroughbred I get an exhilarating ride – on the 37 year old Arab I get a chance to relax and smell the roses!

  8. “Look at what zanhar is feeding her horse. I’m sure she is also keeping his teeth up. These are advances in care since I was a kid. In the 60′s, 20 was an old horse. What I was commenting on was the condition of a thoroughbred. Both photos show a horse in really good condition. Not my breed of choice, but I do admire them, and they can be hard to keep in top condition like this.”
    Not true at all. Equine dentistry is something that has been a recognised practiced profession since the mid 18th century.

    In world war 1 the British Army took equine dentists to the front and there’s documented accounts with photos of them using gags and rasps to remove hooks and rough edges and undertaking the likes of teeth removal to help with bitting and digestion etc.

    I’ve a first edition of the book “Horse Dentition” by Sydney Galvayne and signed by the author in 1885. I also have an earlier book on equine dentition written in 1818. Even way back in that book there’s emphasis on the importance of dental maintenance in horses and particularly in older horses.

    Interestingly there’s also detailed explanation of how to make a young horse look older and an old horse more youthful by doing specific things to the teeth. Those explanations include how to undertake tooth removal and rasping etc as you would for general good maintenance but also in order to defraud the general horse buyer.

    I’m ancient and I know that we had equine dentists coming to my grandfathers and father’s horses going way back long before the 1960’s. I’ve photos of parents horses having dental work done and back in the 1910’s and 20’s onwards I well know they had them done before then.

    Furthermore when it comes to thoroughbreds and maintaining condition: They are a breed I’ve had long associations with and they’re no more difficult than any horse to keep fit and in optimum condition. They are of course the sublime equine athlete and built for speed and so should never have an abundance of “fat”. They also have a tendency to be active and live more on their wits.

    I know if I go outside and shout at a field of horses that all the t/b’s will look up at least and the warmbloods, lipizzaners and the like will look up with a face full of grass hanging out of their mouths and the welsh D’s and other native breed ponies won’t even lift their heads from snorting food!

    But t/b’s are in many ways easier to keep than those breeds with a disposition to be less active, fat and laminitic. You can get a t/b fit to do high level performance work on good quality grazing alone and for sustained endurance or in poorer weather very little supplementary grain will ensure it’s getting the nutritional requirements it needs to stay in hard good condition.

    However as an animal becomes old it does become more challenging. Aside from obvious problems of things like dental wear and tear it ought to be understood that when any animal ages (Horses, dogs, cats and humans) there is often a loss of condition and weight as such as kidney function is reduced and protein is then more difficult to absorb.

    Then naturally as part of the aging process there’s a regulation of food intake leading to something called “physiologic anorexia of aging.”

    It’s therefore a natural process of aging that there is likely to be weight loss and of course there will be a loss of muscle tone as the animal does less. Furthermore with age, bones tend to shrink in size and density.

    Of course that does not excuse some of the pitiful cases often seen when the owner is obviously just making an excuse for not effectively managing a horse but owners are kidding themselves if they think an elderly animal is going to maintain the same condition and muscle tone as once was the case.

    Just wait until you age… you’ll discover that typically your muscles, liver, kidney, and other organs lose some of their cells and there’s a weight gain until about the age of 65 and then as the body and it’s organs age it’s not uncommon at all to lose weight – and even height.

    The thing is horses tend to live a lot longer nowadays. And with better worming and veterinary treatment they are able to be maintained well for longer. But there’s things that will happen naturally as part of the aging process no matter how well the horse is managed and cared for.

    It’s the reason why there’s such a market for well-fortified feeds made especially for seniors. They contain energy sources that are more easily fermented in the hindgut. Older horses also do better on multiple small meals a day and with each meal should contain no more than four pounds of concentrate.

    Horse feed for “seniors” has been manufactured since the 1920’s and before that there are well documented accounts going way back to the early 19th century with advice for owners re maintaining condition on older horses.

    Regrettably with the tendency to d-i-y livery a lot of folks only visit their horse once (twice at the most) a day. That means that caring for an elderly horse which does indeed have VERY different requirements becomes more difficult…. or to be more accurate… impossible! Couple that lack of time and attention to general good management and care with ignorance and stupidity and just a scant disregard for the horse’s needs and the result is too many sad and sorry looking horses looking positively geriatric from as little as 15 and beyond.

    And again I well remember my father hunting on a 20+ year old that was in magnificent condition and that was way back in the 1950’s.

    • Sydney Galvayne, galvayne’s groove. Hey, that makes sense! I did grow up in a horsey area, but the fact is I was poor, dirt poor, and did not ever hear of senior feed, or have a vet do any more that run a rasp over a horse’s teeth (in the 60’s). I too have some ancient veterinary books, in storage, I will try to find them and look to see what they have to say.

      As far as thoroughbreds go, I live where there is no pasture for the backyard owner like me.

    • I have no argument with any of this, Hh but I will say that what can be done and what is available to the horse owner in a specific area is often a long stretch. I don’t live in a backwater by any means, although certainly not in the center of the horse world. When I had my first horse, in the sixties, a horse WAS considered old at 20. The feeds available were basically local hay, imported alfalfa (and as we are on an Island that’s fairly expensive still) and whole or crushed oats. Horse-tex was out there somewhere but no-one I knew used it – it was in the big show barns I suppose. The vet did do teeth – hooks and points once a year – but nowhere near as in depth exams and alignment as now is done. Wormer was delivered by tubing as I remember, also once a year.
      Then, as now, it was a rare horse owner who had enough pasture to have the horses out on it year round – I have under two acres myself. This less than ideal situation means having the time and ability to get out there and ride almost every day to keep condition, especially in the winter when there is no turnout beyond a paddock. It also means we have to find ways of keeping weight on without that kind of turnout while working the horses pretty hard – thus the complicated feeding regimen that tries to address all their needs – and many people can’t, or don’t know enough to do it. That’s why tbs get a rep of being difficult to keep. We now have available massage, chiropractic, ultrasound and a myriad of other services to offer our horses also which contributes to their overall health..
      There will always be a difference between the best there is and the best we can do – it doesn’t mean you can’t keep horses – it means there are compromises you have to make. TR20 is obviously looking for those within the bounds of her/his situation – and that is all anyone can do.

  9. My mare wears a training fork on occasion. Reason? Because she is green and impatient and has a very long stride. So when we go on group trail rides when people are walking very slowly, she grows increasingly more impatient and starts flinging her very long neck all over the place. If I didn’t have the training fork on her, I’d have had some nice black eyes. Do we wear it all the time?? No. Most times, I forget to bring it. However, if I am thinking about it and know the upcoming ride will be slow, I try to bring it. It is one of those rubbery ones and rather long so it’s really not doing a whole hell of a lot but she’s a smart horse–it serves as a reminder and it’s saved my face. Will we use it forever? Not likely, unless she never stops this. Since it was our first year of doing these things, I would imagine next will be better. Practice makes perfect, hopefully.

  10. It’s interesting when a whole discipline develops a fashion of using a piece of equipment that was originally designed to address a specific problem, even on the horses that don’t display the problem at all. Martingales for hunters who don’t toss their heads, very tight crank nosebands plus flashes on dressage horses that don’t cross their jaws or get their tongues over the bit. What this effectively does is level the playing field. The riders who are creating problems with their hands, or can’t solve their training problems, and therefore have to use extra equipment, don’t stand out as much from the ones who are riding well. The presence of the equipment is not a dead giveaway that there is a problem because everyone is using the equipment, whether they need it or not.

    • Paint Mare – thanks for this post. Back a couple of posts ago when we had that debate with the PETA-type, I posted an example of a good hunter derby ride and she commented that the horse must have some kind of behaviour issue because it was wearing a standing martingale. I said that the martingale didn’t mean anything as the horse was surely only wearing it for appearance (it was clearly a very well-trained horse). I never followed that through to its logical conclusion: if all hunters are wearing martingales, then we can’t tell which horses “need” them and which ones don’t. So when people use a martingale that their horse doesn’t need (and I was absolutely guilty of this myself, until two years ago), they contribute to the normalization of this equipment and basically help out any of their competitors who are using it to mask a training problem. Hmmm, I think I am moving away from what I said above, that I didn’t care too much about this issue because a properly adjusted standing martingale doesn’t do any harm.

    • While Friesians do generally have a higher neck attachment, I don’t think that implies that they should tend to need a standing martingale…

    • The standing martingale is meant to protect the rider from an up-flung head – and that is why I originally started with it BTW (and unfortunately, I let it become a habit). It was intended for use when a horse made a dirty stop or pronged the landing and it’s not allowed in hunter flat classes. It wasn’t meant to be a tie-down – if a horse has a high headset, as in Morgans and Friesians, then that is their head-set and forcing it down will cause just the muscling pathology you see in my horse. You must bring the withers up and the neck reaching forward by the way you ride and it is trickier to do that with a high headset – they tend to want to either curl up or drop on the forehand – but it can be done.

      • “The standing martingale is meant to protect the rider from an up-flung head” – yup. Which is why so many Hunter trainers adopted it as a standard piece of equipment: it is an ‘insurance policy’ against Boopsie getting smacked in the face if/when she catches the horse in the mouth over fences.

  11. In my world the martingale is purely to assist in the control of the head and neck for jumping and to enable the horse to see the fence and be well balanced in the approach stride.

    I tend to use running martingales for that reason and that reason only.

    It does also serve the purpose of ensuring the horse doesn’t get his head above the usual angle of control and smack you in the face and which can be particularly advantageous if you’re doing the likes of hunting on high and steep hill land and jumping solids and when a smack in the face becomes a real probability.

    I don’t personally understand why there’s all these people farting about with them doing flat work or piddling little jumps. I do well remember though when I first went over to the USA decades ago and saw standing martingales commonly used. Even at that time though they weren’t permitted for show-jumping competitions governed by international rules.

    My father who used to train steeplechasers used to use Irish and Market Harborough martingales from time to time and they were also useful if a young or very strong horse were prone to flinging it’s head around. But I well remember him saying more than 50 years ago that they were NEVER to be used by anything other than a VERY experienced rider and they were most ordinarily a substitute for good training and when time was of the essence.

  12. Most comments here discuss the pressure of the martingale, what it causes the horse to do or not do and riders’ reasons for why they choose to use them, albeit sparingly, to correct a problem. IMO the only martingale that will prevent anything is standing. A running martingale adjusted loosely in a jumping class to make contact only when the horse gets extremely above the bit, completely loses its ability to function. By the time the horse feels contact from the slight downward pull, the head is already above where it should be and the horse is more than able to raise its head higher without effect by the rider. Watch Margie on Royce….the martingale does zero to prevent him from bopping his head as high as he chooses. He just outmuscles her. I’ve seen many bit/martingale combo’s on that horse and nothing seems to stop his head flinging – which to me indicates a habit that should have been corrected on early in his career by his trainers overseas. Fortunately, the moose can jump the moon even with his nose in the ozone and he has a rider who can jump around it.
    The most important thing about any tool (rein, martingale, bit….) is to teach the horse to release to pressure. They learn from the release, not the pull. A martingale adjusted low being used by a rider with good hands and an exemplary release will have no lasting effect to the horse. While a rider who rides without one who releases pressure whenever the horse fights the bit, will have a horse with lasting issues. All the equipment in the world is useless if used inappropriately. I have and will continue to use a German Martingale on horses that I feel need it. Temporarily. And when the horse provides the proper response to the aid, the martingale is put away and riding continues without. Think about when to release, not when to pull.

    • a rider with an exemplary release won’t need a martingale to train the horse. People with less than exemplary releases think they need a mechanical device to make the horse drop its head. On some horses it works, on others, as you pointed out, the horse muscles through, either against a running or standing martingale. One doesn’t get bascule if the horse is coming against a standing martingale, neck will be upside down inhibiting the rest of the spine, engagement of the loins, etc.

      In retraining a ruined horse that is actively dangerous, I can see having someone, who isn’t at shows or competing with this actively dangerous and not yet retrained horse, using the standing martingale to save their face in the retraining process. But it isn’t a substitute for the retraining or hands good enough to do retraining. People need to stop talking about horses not doing this that or the other and start looking at their riding skills. Water skiing on the horse’s mouth is a problem, if you have to do it with a martingale, you still haven’t fixed the problem.

      • I’ve never used a standing martingale or tie-down on a horse but I would if it was for retraining purposes to stop a severe head tosser from whacking me. I would also be training the horse every step to give to pressure with a lot of basic pull/release – teaching a place to go where there is no pain, just an agreement. Retraining a bad mouth is a nightmare and not for the faint of heart. I feel for Margie on Royce as the horse is superbly talented but he makes her work for every fence.

        My cheater of choice is a homemade German martingale with its own set of reins (rope) that hangs on the neck until / if needed. It was used for 1 week in a lunging situation with a very gangly youngster to give the ‘idea’ of balance. It worked, it was removed and the horse started under saddle with a snaffle bit only – the horse was responsive and chose the new way of moving because it was comfortable, was responsive to the bit and a joy to ride. And then there was the summer that it hung on my gelding’s neck and was used when the ‘ghost at the end of the ring’ attacked. It attacked a LOT but could only be seen with equine eyes….eyes that almost came out of the head which was perched on an upside down neck. It was the martingale or a meltdown on my part. It worked, we got through a bad period, martingale is long gone.

        I do hope that as the blog heads up the body, there can be more discussion on neck development. I’m halfway there but have yet to master the perfect musculature. But I want it.

        • I agree with that, if the rider is in danger, and the only purpose of riding said dangerous horse is retraining, then it is useful. But to try to put a less accomplished rider, one who can’t properly retrain the horse, on said dangerous horse in the hopes that said less accomplished rider can muscle through to show, is verging on criminal negligence, gross disregard for the safety of the rider, but it happens to students in barns across America all the time.

          As for professionals, they aren’t suffering, they are making money from the horse’s discomfort, the horse is talented, but not happy at his job, but his opinon is ignored and force is used to keep him working to make money for them until he blows up entirely or they break his spirit.

          • Anyone still questioning what bad use of a martingale creates only has to watch a track pony to see the damage. Head up against the noseband due to a heavy bit, heavy hands, heavy rider (not pounds but position) and a miserable look on their faces. Not to mention the overall body tension and short, unbalanced stride.

  13. I hate using gadgets unnecessarily, but I also hate seeing the running martingale lumped in with the bad gadgets. Properly adjusted, there should be no downside. Unfortunately, people like to use very short runnings and that creates a problem. Zanhar’s horse is lovely, but I’d like to see a picture of him in a martingale to see how it was fitted, and also to see what KIND of martingale.

    My mare pretty much always goes in a running (not that she’s been ridden much in the past few years). She’s a hot, sensitive horse whose head-flinging would probably result in frequent concussions on my part. The only way to prevent it would be to not touch the reins or try to tell her what to do in any way, which obviously isn’t feasible.

    I don’t have a whole lot of use for standing martingales, although I do have one. I despise German martingales and draw reins. And I hate the name “German martingale” or “Theidemann reins”. Call it what it is–limited action draw reins.

    • I’ve sorted through my pics and can’t find a good one showing the fit of the standing martingale I used. It was adjusted so the slack could be lifted to the throat-latch when Dante was standing with a natural head position.

    • I realize it was Zanhar’s horse under discussion, but I have some online photos showing how I had mine adjusted, prior to my decision to discontinue its use. This is from the last show that I did using the standing, I decided at this show not to use it anymore. I think this is a reasonable example of a properly adjusted standing martingale that does not interferene with the horse unless there is extreme behaviour (which never happened – my mare’s resistence of choice is to put the head down not up, so the martingale was pointless)Sadly, I don’t think the majority of people adjust them this way – it took me several tack store hunting trips to find one that even adjusted as long as this one.

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