Martingales have been a staple of horse riding for ages – and for a good reason. When you’re in the saddle, it’s easy to tell that your horse’s head carriage plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and control. However, much like us, horses can be easily distracted or a little stubborn.
That’s where a martingale strap comes into play!
If you want to learn more about these helpful riding aids, then you’ve come to the right place. Our guide will explain what this piece of equipment is, and give you everything you need to know about the various types and their uses.
So, grab your riding helmet (and your horse), because we’re about to take a ride!
What Is A Martingale?
A martingale is a strap or set of straps that attach to your horse’s girth, run through its bit rings, or connect to the reins. There are also two main types of martingale straps which include the standing martingale and running martingale. However, there are a few others that may be notable depending on your chosen discipline.
This training aid is primarily used to keep your horse’s head from lifting too high and can help to better control its movement.
Generally, a martingale strap is used during training and in some disciplines of horse riding. During the early stages of training, inexperienced or young horses may raise their heads or toss them. They will usually do this in response to the pressure from the bit. You can think of it as a little bit of a temper tantrum.
The martingale strap will simply help you to gain better control over your horse’s head and get it used to the feeling and pressure of its tack.
In some cases, riders choose to use a martingale strap to give them better support. It can help you to feel more in control and a little safer when you’re riding, although this usually depends on your riding preference. Additionally, some horses naturally carry their head in a higher position. By using a martingale, you can encourage a better head carriage for specific equestrian disciplines.
The Different Kinds Of Martingales
There are several types of unique martingales that you can use for your horse. Your choice will mostly depend on your horse’s temperament, your preferences, and the discipline you’re training for. To help you get a better idea of what these types are and when you would use them, we’ve put together this simple list:
A running martingale is made to work alongside the bit. These straps usually have a long-looped harness strap that is connected to the horse’s girth.
There is also another strap that goes over your horse’s head and rests above its shoulders. This is much like its cousin, the standing martingale (more on that below). But what sets these straps apart is that the running martingale has two pronged straps that attach to the reins through metal rings. In Western riding, these straps are often called training forks.
When a horse raises its head too high, the running martingale exerts pressure on the mouth via the reins and bit. This signals the horse to lower its head. When it does, it alleviates the pressure and the horse will be more comfortable.
It’s important to remember that when you’re using a running martingale, you’ll also want to use rein stops. These are small rubber or leather stops and can be found almost anywhere that you can buy horseriding gear.
These handy accessories are usually placed between the running martingale and the bit, and prevent the rings from sliding down the bit, which can cause interference with your horse’s lips and mouth.
The standing martingale is designed to encourage your horse to keep its head carriage in a lower position. Unlike the running martingale, this strap works by placing pressure on your horse’s nose.
This type of martingale is most often used when a horse lifts its head too high and a bit is ineffective or unsuitable. It can also sometimes be used to control the horse from throwing its head back and hitting you in the face (ouch!).
A standing martingale consists of a neck strap that attaches to the girth and runs between the horse’s legs. The martingale strap typically passes through the neck strap and up to the back of the noseband. This gives you better control of your horse’s head movement and position, which is particularly useful in disciplines like polo or jumping.
When you’re using a standing martingale, you’ll want to make sure that it is fit correctly and in the correct position. Standing martingales should always be used with a Cavesson noseband, and shouldn’t be fastened to a drop or ‘figure 8’ noseband. Otherwise, you may unintentionally cause pain or injury to your horse’s nose or jaw.
The bib martingale, also known as a web martingale strap, combines the features of a running martingale and an Irish martingale (don’t worry, we will get to this type!). It’s most widely used in horse racing when you need to keep your horse’s head height low. However, it still gives you and your horse all of the safety benefits of an Irish martingale.
The bib martingale resembles an ordinary running martingale, but it also has a solid piece of leather that is sewn into the V-shaped area that is created by the rein attachments. This piece of leather acts similarly to a running martingale by placing downward pressure on the bars of the horse’s mouth when it raises its head or carries it too high.
The bib portion of these martingale straps also acts as a safety measure, because it prevents the reins from being thrown over the horse’s head and potentially getting tangled under the horse’s front legs if you’re thrown from the saddle.
As with any other piece of horse equipment, it’s essential to check for the proper fit and maintain these martingale straps and keep your horse comfortable and happy when you’re riding.
The Irish martingale is another type of strap that is mainly used in horse racing. These straps are designed for safety rather than to lower your horse’s upper neck and stop the reins from lifting up over the horse’s head if the rider were to fall.
Unlike the standing martingale or running martingale, this strap doesn’t restrict your horse’s head movement. Instead, it only works as a safety feature when you’re riding. In some cases, it may also be called a semi-martingale, because it doesn’t have the functionality of a traditional strap.
Irish martingales have a short strap with martingale rings on each end. The reins pass through a ring on each side before being buckled, and the martingale keeps the reins in place just below the horse’s neck.
The German martingale, most commonly known as the Market Harborough, is another strap that is similar to the running martingale. However, there are some slight differences in the design and functionality.
Like the running martingale, the Market Harborough has forked straps. But, while these attach to the reins with a traditional running martingale, they instead run through the rings of the bit and then attach to the reins with a German martingale.
However, compared to a running martingale, the Market Harborough gives you even better control of your horse’s head. This is because it applies pressure through the bit and directly into your horse’s mouth, which gives you a better feel and means better responses from your horse.
Although these straps may be helpful, they aren’t typically allowed in competitions. Instead, they’re used as training aids and in riding schools.
Can I use a martingale on any horse?
Martingales can be used on certain horses depending on their training, riding discipline, and individual needs. However, not all horses benefit from these straps. Before you start using a martingale, it may be best to consult with a professional trainer or rider who can help you to figure out what’s best for your horse.
How should a martingale be fitted on a horse?
Different martingales need to be fit differently. Of course, knowing how to correctly fit the two main types may be helpful for expanding your knowledge and taking better care of your horse. Here are the general guidelines for a standard standing martingale and a running martingale:
- Running martingale: The strap should be attached to the girth between your horse’s front legs and through the bit rings. Ideally, you should adjust the straps so that when your horse is in a relaxed position, there is a slight angle in the reins. The neck strap should be snug (but not overly tight) and a rein stop should be placed on the neck strap as well.
- Standing martingale: Like its counterpart, the standing martingale should be secured to the girth between your horse’s front legs. It typically runs through the strap on your horse’s neck and then attached to the noseband. The length of the strap should be adjusted so that when the horse’s head is in a normal position, it can lift the strap to the angle of its throat.