There are a variety of Training Aids available on the market, with one of the most common and acceptable being
martingales. Both Standing and Running martingales are allowed in many jumping classes and are very common at
Hunter/Jumper shows, and this opens the door for abuseâ€¦after all if we are allowed to show in it, it must be OK!
Sadly, many people use Training Aids such as Martingales to cover for bad riding and bad horsemanship. The horse
suffers silently, and the riders complain that their horses are unwilling or unsound.
The intended purpose behind a Standing Martingale is purely one of safety; the strap that attatches from the girth to a
caveson noseband has the task of preventing the horse from flipping its head into the air and bonking its rider on the nose.
As an added benefit, the strap that runs around the horse's neck gives a beginner rider something to hang on to for added
When I started riding it was at a large lesson facility and all the lesson horses wore standing martingales. They were
adjusted so that the neck strap lay along the horse's shoulder, with the strap from girth to noseband adjusted so that the
horse could move its head freely, and would only affect the horse if its head came up an extraordinary amount.
In all my time riding there, I am not sure I ever saw a lesson horse come up against the martingale.
Once I got into showing things were different. Martingales were used to make the horse look better trained than it was, or
to enable a rider who shouldn't be, to compete. For horses that leaned on the standing martingale, little metal nubs were
inserted under the noseband so that leaning on the martingale was painful.
I was away from hunter showing for a while, but I returned to it this year, and again saw the Standing Martingale being
used to cover up bad riding and/or bad training. Now though, I am better able to see the pain, discomfort, and confusion in
the horse's eyes.
Let's look at the first horse (well pony).
As you can see, he is coming up against the standing martingale even though his
head is still within a safe range; you cannot tell me the rider is at risk of getting
bonked in the head by this horse.
What is of great concern, is that this horse spent most of its time at the show
bracing against the martingale. This means that instead of the horse having a soft
and relaxed head carriage, and therefore a soft and relaxed back, he is constantly
pulling his head up into the martingale.
Think of the strain this must be putting on the horse's neck and back! This type of
tension will also cause the horse to loose some of the fluidity in its motion and the
gait will be come choppy and unnatural. The horse's poll will be stiff, and the
horse will be unable to relax his head and jaw.
It is hard to tell in the photo, but if you were able to watch the horse go, you would also be able to see that the horse is
moving with a hollow back; the hind legs are slightly ahead of the front legs in the trot rhythm, so the trot is no longer a true
four beat gait.
I am going to guess that this horse has a habit of holding its head up higher than ideal, and that its young rider is unable to
encourage the horse to carry itself in a round frame, so the trainer decided that it was ok to put this horse in what must feel
like a straight jacket in order for the child to show.
So yippy, the kid gets to show, but at what cost? This horse cannot protect itself from its young rider's uneducated hands,
it cannot use its head and neck for balance, and it is straining its back muscles in ways that will cause it to be
uncomfortable at best.
Now let's look at the second horse.
Note again that this horse is again in contact with the standing martingale, and yet again the
horse is far from being at risk of bonking its rider in the head. Next note that the horse is also in
contact with its rider's hands and that the bit is pulled back midair.
So this poor horse is being asked to jump, and over the jump the rider is pulling the horse's
head up, while at the same time the martingale is forcing the horse's head down. Is it any
wonder that the horse is jumping with a hollow back? If I could show you a tape of this horse's
round you would see that the rider was unable to get the horse to the jumps on any sort or
rhythm (likely because the horse was so full of resistance in his back), so the horse was getting
short and long distances, with the rider being left behind on many of them, and the horse was
yanked on in the air as a result, and with no way to protect itself by raising its head.
In watching this horse, I thought the horse may have a dental problem, or was legitimately worried about being yanked in
the mouth due to a rider with rough hands or poor balanceâ€¦the horse looked concerned about the contact with the bit,
and likely rightly so, but with the tight standing martingale he was unable to protect himself from the pain of the bit.
I wish both the above riders would take their standing martingales and lengthen them a LOT, and then go back to basics
and work on why their horse wants to hold its head up. A dental exam would be a good place to start. Training wise, these
riders both need to learn how to have following/soft hands before I would allow them to jump. Regardless, horse ridden
regularly in tight standing martingales will have stiffness and soreness issues, and may lead to chronic lameness if allowed to
Let's go back to using the standing martingale as a safety device and NOT a training device!
Being Compassionate About Tack Choices: Common Martingales - Sept
|IMPORTANT NOTE: if you do use a standing martingale, please make sure that it is done up to a plain or padded Caveson
noseband, and not a figure-eight noseband like I saw on one poor horse! If he comes up into the martingale, the pressure will
be transferred across his nose to under his jaw! This means that the martingale will end up pulling up on his jaw, as well as
down on his nose. What on earth is the poor horse to think? How does this rider expect his horse to react?
Running Martingales are like Draw Reins more socially acceptable sibling.
They are extremely popular in show jumping, and a standard training aid used by many trainers when starting young horses.
Interestingly, when I ask people who use them, what the purpose of the running martingale is, they fail to be able to give me
a good explanation as to why they use it, or what it does, other than a perhaps vague "it lowers my horse's head".
As far as I can figure, the idea behind the running martingale is to "œcorrect" the horse for raising its head above the ideal
by putting downward pressure on the reins, and therefore the bit. When the horse's head comes up, the running martingale
rings hold the reins at a sharp downward angle rather than maintaining the straight line to the rider's hands. The theory is
that this will prompt the horse to drop its head.
Think though, about what this means to the horse's mouth; the pressure of the bit is now being focused on the sensitive bars
of the horse's mouth, and depending on the type of bit, also on the roof of the horse's mouth ouch!
For the rider, the action of the running martingale breaks the straight line from the rider's hand to the bit, and the feel the
rider has is no longer the horse's mouth, but rather of the metal rings on the martingale. This can have the effect of
deadening the rider's hands and allowing the rider to brace upwards against the pull of the horse.
As I mentioned, running martingales are very popular in jumping, as shown in the picture below. If you look at the picture
though, you should be able to see that the horse has come up quite high against the running martingale, and his face is
contorted in pain. If the running martingale was in fact doing its job, then the horse's head would not have come up that
high; the horse would have felt the pressure and brought its head back down.
If you watch top level show jumping on TV you will see the same contradiction. Quite often a horse will remain braced up
against the running martingale until it has to drop its head for the jump! It isn't the running martingale that is dropping the
horse's head, it is the fact that the horse has to lower its head to clear the obstacle. For the rider though, it is easier to be
stronger against the pull of the horse when you can brace against the rings of the martingale.
His running martingale is so short that in order to avoid having the bit sit on his bars, he has tucked his chin to his
chest,literally! Even with that tight a tuck, the rider is still pulling on this poor horse. The rider has also failed to put stoppers
on the reins, so the running martingale rings risk catching on the reins where they attach to the bit. Not only can this poor
horse likely not see where he is going, his neck and back must be extremely strained by this unnatural posture.
For a trainer that offers a "well trained" horse in 30-60 days I can see the allure of a running martingale. To most clients, the
horse will appear to be soft, light, and on the bit when ridden in one. It won't be until the horse is worked regularly, or
training progresses, that the habits the horse has learned by being asked/forced to contract away from the pain of the bit will
become an issue. The rider will wonder why their horse won't come forward and/or use its back properly, or why the horse
seems to have unsoundness problems in its back and joints.
If anyone can give me a good reason to use a running martingale, please send me an email! I would love to understand why
they are so popular when all I see is that they cause the bit to be unnecessarily severe, and break the feel from the rider's
hand to the bit. And by good reason, I mean a reason that is good for the horse!
On a similar line to running martingales are Training Martingales, also called Training Yokes. These are very popular with
the Arab world.
They work on a similar principle to the running martingale, but the rings are attached together across the horse's neck.
The one purpose I can think of this having would be to add some weight to the reins when the horse raises its head. When
its head drops the strap running across the neck would bear the weight of the reins. Sadly though, that is not the training
martingales purpose...no, this is also considered to be a "head setting device". If any term should make a compassionate
horse person cringe, it is that. A piece of equipment should NOT be entrusted to show the horse how to carry itself.
Just like the running martingale, this piece of equipment works by increasing the pain that the bit causes in the horse's mouth.
It is worse in that it breaks the line from the bit to the rider's hand even more severely, to the point that the rider tends to
maintain an even upward pull against the training martingale rather than actually feel the horse's mouth.
Tack should be designed to make the horse's job more comfortable, and to give the horse clear direction. A tool designed
to cut corners and inflict pain doesn't get a hook in my tack room!
Let's look at some horses in a training martingale.
Note that this horse is carrying his head in a position that most would
consider "normal" for an Arabian. To an untrained eye it may look like
the martingale is doing a wonderful job of putting the horse on the bit and
creating submission, which is why it is so popular with people who don't
know better or are eager for a quick fix.
First note how, even though the horse has an arched neck and nose
approaching vertical, (a horse in a forward trot should be slightly ahead
of the vertical) the martingale is still putting downward force on the
reins/bit and breaking the line from bit to rider's hand. This rider is not
feeling the horse mouth, but rather the dead rings of the martingale. It
would be difficult for the rider to learn to have a compassionate and
giving hand, when the connection with the horse's mouth is broken in this
You can also see that the horse may be roundish with its head, but its back is definitely looking hollow, and its hind legs are
trailing behind rather than stepping under. Is it any wonder that this horse looks so unhappy?Even with a loose reins, there is
downward pressure caused by the weight of the martingale which transfers to the bit and is causing the mouthpiece to tilt up
into the horse's palate (although mildly with a loose rein).
Often the training martingale is used with a mostly loose rein. When the rider feels the horse is "out of position", a sharp
upwards tug is given to poke the horse in the horse's mouth to convince it to drop down. By lifting up, the rider is able to
use their leverage to add strength to their pull. This of course teaches the horse to fear the bit and causes the horse to hold
its head and neck with tension to avoid the inevitable jab in the mouth. It SHOULD make you sad to think your horse
carries itself in fear of the pain it knows you are able to inflict. This tension will lead to training and soundness issues down
the road as well.
One should NEVER jump with a Training Martingale! They are not meant for jumping! As the rings sit along the horse's
shoulder, when the rider gives a release the line from bit to hand is broken severely.
When considering adding a martingale to your horse's list of tack, please think about why you are using it, and what it may
be doing to your riding and your horse's comfort and well being. If someone else tells you to use a piece of equipment on
your horse, ask WHY, and consider their answer and decide for yourself if that piece of equipment is in the long term best
interest of you, your horse and your partnership with your horse.