what does a martingale do

What Does A Martingale Do?

Making sure you have the correct clothing and equipment when riding a horse is essential to comfort and safety.

It is equally important to ensure your horse has the correct tools and equipment – whether you’re competing in equestrian sports, training, or starting out as a beginner.

Riding tack (the equipment used to handle, ride, and care for a horse) includes a range of important elements, such as:

  • Saddle
  • Stirrups
  • Cinch
  • Bridle
  • Reins

This is just a small example of the tack and equipment you’ll need when riding. Another important piece of equipment is the martingale.

This article will cover everything you need to know about martingales so you have a full understanding of their purpose and benefits.

What is a Martingale and What Purpose Does it Serve?

Martingales are an essential piece of equestrian equipment designed to provide control over the horse’s head carriage. They serve as an additional means of control alongside the bit.

A martingale consists of a set of straps or strap that attaches to the reins, pass beneath the horse’s chest, and connect to the girth.

A martingale’s main purpose is to prevent a horse from excessively raising its head. This will help to protect the rider from potential injury caused by contact with the back of the horse’s head or its upper neck.

By using a martingale, both the horse and the rider are safeguarded from harm. Additionally, martingales can aid in preventing the formation of undesirable head carriage habits or rectifying existing ones.

Traditionally, martingales are crafted from leather. They are also made from durable synthetic materials.

The decision to ride with a martingale is largely a matter of personal preference for riders. However, they are commonly employed during activities such as hacking, hunting, and jumping.

Understanding the distinctions between martingales, including their mechanisms, advantages, and appropriate usage, is valuable knowledge. This knowledge enables riders to identify situations where a martingale might be necessary.

Its primary application is in training horses to maintain the correct head position. However, it is crucial to note that improper usage of martingales can inflict pain and cause damage to a horse’s spine, mouth, back, and neck.

Martingales are commonly employed during the training phase or when dealing with horses that pull on the reins or tend to toss their heads. This helps riders gain additional control in certain situations.

Moreover, martingales find widespread use in specific equestrian disciplines which require horses to maintain precise head positions.

In summary, incorporating a martingale into horse training or using it as a means of achieving enhanced control can be useful.

However, it is of utmost importance to use martingales correctly and solely as training aids. This is because improper usage is uncomfortable for the horse and can cause pain.

Consulting a knowledgeable instructor or trainer before implementing a martingale is highly recommended to ensure proper use and adjustment of the equipment.

It is also worth noting that the regulations surrounding martingale use vary across different equestrian disciplines. Some disciplines prohibit their usage entirely. Others permit them only for training purposes, disallowing them to judged performances.

Certain organisations allow specific martingale designs for competition. Therefore, it is crucial to familiarise yourself with the rules and guidelines governing martingale usage.

Martingale Types

Now you know what a martingale does, let’s take a look at the different types of martingale and their purpose.

The overall purpose remains fairly similar for different martingale types. However, slight differences allow for different applications.

The most common martingale types include:

1. Running martingale

A running martingale is an optional piece of equipment that is used for control and communication.

What does a running martingale do?

Running martingales are used to apply additional pressure to the horse’s mouth bars when it raises its head too high. This pressure encourages the horse to keep its head lower as this releases the pressure.

How does a running martingale work

A running martingale consists of a bit and bridle to achieve control, as well as an adjustable neck strap and loop that controls its length and action.

A second neck strap splits into a Y-shape. There are two solid martingale rings at the top of the Y on both sides. This allows the reins to be passed through.

The running martingale’s job is to stabilise the reins when the horse raises its head. It does this by applying downward pressure in the horse’s mouth.

When are running martingales used?

Running martingales are typically used for cross-country riding, jumping, or training young or inexperienced horses.

The benefits of using a running martingale

Running martingales offer the horse greater freedom than alternatives. This is because they provide riders with the ability to release pressure when they are happy with the result.

The reins can also be loosened easily to give the horse full head and neck mobility.

Safety considerations when using a running martingale

Running martingales are widely considered to be one of the safest martingale options. This is because riders have more control over the restriction of the horse’s head’s movement.

Riders must remember to place reign stops between martingale rings and the bit to stop the rings from sliding towards the horse’s mouth or lips.

The correct measurements are also essential to ensure good performance.


2. German martingale

German martingales offer a similar option to the running martingale. The main difference is that the fork straps attach to your reins after running through the rings.

They work in a similar fashion to running martingales but offer greater leverage.

German Martingale

When are German martingales used?

German martingales are most commonly used as training aids. They are not permitted in competition and are best suited for teaching horses.

They make it easier to teach horses to maintain the appropriate movement of their heads while relaxing with the feel of the bit and flexing at the poll.

The benefits of using a German martingale

German martingales provide riders with better control of the horse’s head and neck movement than running or standing martingales.

Safety considerations when using German martingales

This is considered to be a safe martingale option when used with a snaffle bit. You should never use Pelham bits with German martingales.

3. Standing martingale

A standing martingale uses neck straps that attach to the girth. They then run between the legs and neck strap to the rear of the nose band.

What does a standing martingale do?

The English-style standing martingale is designed to limit the horse from throwing or tossing its head.

How does a standing martingale work?

It does this by attaching the noseband to the breastplate. If the horse’s neck or head is raised too high, pressure is applied to the noseband.

When are standing martingales used?

A standing martingale is best used on horses that raise their heads beyond the point of control.

It should be used on horses if the running martingale is ineffective. It will prevent the rider from being hit in the face by the horse constantly throwing their head.

The benefits of using a standing martingale

The standing martingale encourages the horse to keep its head lower. It ensures greater control and minimises the risk of the rider being hit.

Safety considerations when using a standing martingale

Standing martingales can restrict the movement of your horse so they must be fitted correctly using a Cavesson noseband.

Tight-standing martingales will feel uncomfortable and restrictive to the horse.

4. Irish martingale

Irish martingales are designed as safety equipment that prevents the reigns from going over the horse’s head in the event of a fall.

Irisj Martingale

How does an Irish martingale work?

Irish martingales use a short strap that has rings at each end. The reigns can then be run the call on either side and then buckled.

When are Irish martingales used?

An Irish martingale, or semi-martingale, is typically used in European horse racing. It is used to minimise the risk of entanglement in the event that the rider falls.

The benefits of using an Irish martingale

The benefits of an Irish martingale are purely from a safety standpoint as they don’t limit the horse’s movement. Instead, they stay in place and don’t become tangled in falls.

Safety considerations when using an Irish martingale

Because this is a safety feature to remove the risk of tangles, it doesn’t provide the rider with additional control. It is compulsory for horse racing in some countries.


What is a bib martingale?

A bib martingale uses a solid piece of material – a kind of bib – between the straps to stop horses from grabbing them in their mouths. Its function lies between that of an Irish martingale and a running martingale. This provides safety and control when riding.

Do all riders require a martingale for their horse?

It is not essential that riders use a martingale but they will benefit from hacking and jumping when they want greater control of their horses.

Will a martingale stop my horse from rearing?

Martingales are designed to control a horse’s head height. So, by limiting the movement of the horse’s head, they minimise the risk of horses rearing or throwing their heads.

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