Which Martingale Should I Use?
There are two basic types of martingales, the standing martingale and the running martingale. Depending on your discipline and your purpose, both have their place in your training repertoire.
Standing martingales are common in the hunter ring. They are legal for use over fences, but are not acceptable on the flat.
A standing martingale consists of a strap that leads from the noseband to the girth, held in place by a second strap that wraps around the neck. It is a passive aid, meaning that the rider has no active influence on its action.
If a horse lifts its head, or flips it into the air, the standing martingale will become tight, preventing the action. In the western world, a similar device is called a tie-down.
While the martingale prevents the horse from lifting its head too high, it does not tie the horse’s head down. This would in fact interfere with the horse while jumping, which would be foolish.
The theory is that the martingale prevents the horse from leaning on the rider’s hands while working. This may be true, but it is probably more because the horse winds up leaning on the martingale than because it stops the horse from leaning in the first place.
In the hunter ring, wearing a standing martingale is more of a fashion statement than a necessity. Most hunters who wear standing martingales would do fine without. Unfortunately, many riders have made a habit of using them, and many horses have developed bad habits because of them.
Running martingales are not legal in the hunter ring, but are common in the jumper ring. Instead of connecting to the noseband, a running martingale splits into two straps that end in rings. The reins are run through the rings so that the martingale can pull against each rein when the rein is tightened.
Running martingales are active aids. This is because the rider’s use of the reins activates the martingale. They should always be used with blocks on the reins to keep the rings from running up to the horse’s mouth where they could interfere with the bit.
Running martingales are great for helping to control strong horses. By directing the pull of the rein downwards, they add leverage to the rider’s aid, and force the horse to drop his head. Most horses who run away tend to stick their heads and necks straight out. By forcing the horse to drop his chin, you break his run so that he must slow down and begin to listen.
In the jumper ring many horses grow excited and tend to forget to pay attention to their riders. The running martingale allows the rider that extra little bit of leverage to regain their attention and keep the horse on course.
Racehorse riders often use a modified running martingale with a bib attached between the two parts of the martingale. The bib keeps the ring of the martingale even with each other, and allows the rider to apply even pressure on both reins.