Martingales. Horse tack

Martingales : What are they and what is their purpose ?

A martingale is a piece of tack that is used to control a horses head carriage . When the horse raises its head to a certain height the martingale will effect pressure on the horse’s head to restrict the head movement or make it impossible to raise the head beyond a certain point. A horse that flips its head up, can hit a rider in the face, and control of the horse can be difficult when it throws it’s head up or sideways. The martingale is used to help in these situations.

There are 2 main different types of martingales which are the running martingale and the standing martingale. The bib martingale is similar to a running martingale in it’s actions. The Irish martingale makes no difference in the height of a horse’s head carriage, but is classified as martingale nonetheless.

Standing martingale
Standing martingale, attached to a cavesson noseband

Standing martingale. This is a piece of tack that is attached to the girth, runs between the horses front legs and attaches to the noseband of the bridle. It is a fixed restrictive device with little room for movement. When the horse’s head gets to a certain height the martingale puts restrictive pressure on the nose and head of the horse preventing any further raising of the head. Because damage can occur to the cartilage on the horses head this martingale must be fitted only to a cavesson noseband or cavesson part of a flash noseband. The attachment is never to the drop part of the flash noseband, and never on a grackle or crossed type noseband. Correct fitting of this martingale is important as it is highly restrictive in its action. With the horse standing at rest, the martingale should reach from between the front legs and girth attachment to the horses throatlatch. This martingale also has a neckstrap to prevent pieces of tack getting in the way of the movement of the horse. A martingale rubber should be used with this martingale, to prevent any slack dropping below chest level and creating a safety issue. There are various controls in its usage in different disciplines within the equestrian sport and it is important to ascertain if it is  allowed in whichever discipline you may be competing or taking part in.

Running martingale. Note the rein stoppers and martingale rubber
Running martingale

The running martingale : This is a piece of tack that attaches at the girth, runs between the horses front legs, through a neck strap and then splits into two pieces that have rings on the end. The reins are passed though the end rings. Two important pieces of additional equipment that are needed with the use of this martingale are the rein stoppers, and a martingale rubber at the neck strap and martingale junction. Both are needed for safety purposes. The rings on the end of the martingale rein attachments can move and get caught on bit rings, buckles or billets. The rein stoppers prevent these rings from moving down the rein and reaching that area on the rein where they can get caught. The martingale rubber prevents the actual martingale from sliding down though the neck strap part and creating a loop near the horse’s chest area where a leg can potentially get caught. Running martingales are fairly common and the neck strap is an added bonus for a rider to hold on to, to prevent the rider balancing on the reins in a tricky situation.

The fitting of a martingale is very important. Too loose and it has no effective use and in fact creates a potential safety risk. Too tight and the horse will feel too restricted and the restrictive pressure is directly on the mouth of the horse through the rein attachment and this can cause undue discomfort for a horse. Ideally the piece below the neckstrap should fit snugly against the horse’s body and the split pieces should reach the horses’s throatlatch when the horse is standing at rest.

Bib martingale
Irish martingale

The Irish martingale is a common piece of tack seen in the racing industry. There is no attachment to the girth.  It is merely a strap with rings on it, on either end. The reins pass through the rings. It prevents the reins from moving apart beyond the distance of the strap between the reins, and it also helps if the reins happen to go over the horses head as it keeps the separate pieces as more of a unit and less loops for getting horses caught up in it with their legs.

The bib martingale is very similar to a running martingale, however there is a fixed piece of material or leather between the split rein attachments, The action is the same as a running martingale with the addition of  a restriction on the distance the reins can be moved apart because of the bib between the rein attachments. Young horses, particularly colts , like to chew things and a bib martingale can be a suitable piece of equipment to use to prevent things getting stuck in their mouths while they are being ridden,  where a regular running martingale can be the source of problems if this behaviour is evident .

Martingales are very useful pieces of tack if used in the correct manner, and fitted correctly. The neck strap attachment on martingales is an added rider aid when things go awry. There are however restrictions on their use in certain disciplines, so always check the rules for whatever discipline you are taking part in and check if martingales are an allowed piece of tack. In dressage they are never used and are not allowed in competition, but in show jumping they are acceptable and a very common piece of equipment.  Standing martingales are very common in polo and polocrosse.

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