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Martingales | The Complete Beginner's Guide to Martingales - the ashva

Martingales | The Complete Beginner's Guide to Martingales - the ashva

What are Martingales?

Martingales - the ashva

A martingale is any equipment used to control head carriage in horses. Martingales can be found in various equestrian sports, including driving and riding. It is a type of horse equipment consisting of a strap, usually made of leather or nylon, affixed to the horse's headgear.

The martingale ensures that the bit stays in contact with the mouth by constricting if pressure on the reins is eased. The standing and running martingales are used to control the horse's head height and prevent the horse from throwing its head so high that the rider is struck in the face by the horse's poll or upper neck. The martingale applies pressure to a horse's head as it rises above a certain height, making it more difficult or impossible to lift it higher.

A martingale is primarily used for control. It will not make a horse go faster, but it will slow them down if they increase speed. It will also be employed to keep the head up when desired, such as dressage. It's worth noting that many people misuse martingales, and it can cause problems, especially with horses who are sensitive to their mouths. Martingales are a type of horse tack most often seen in the equestrian world. They are most often used to prevent a horse from raising its head and throwing its head in the air. 

There are two major types of a martingale: The single-jointed or loose-jointed Martingale and the double-jointed or tight Martingale. The single-jointed Martingale uses one strap around the horse’s chest to attach to a noseband with two or three straps. The double-jointed Martingale uses a strap around the horse's chest, one strap going up over its neck and another waistband going down under its neck.


The Standing Martingale

Standing Martingale - the ashva

A single strap is fastened to the perimeter, goes between the horse's front legs, and is fixed to the back of the noseband in the standing martingale, also known as a "tiedown" or "head check.” It also features a neck strap to keep it from catching on to other items. Instead of a neck strap, a version is attached to a breastplate. When set adequately for English riding, the martingale strap should be able to reach the horse's throat latch. A tie down is a version of the standing martingale that is virtually only seen in western riding disciplines.

A tie down is adjusted much more quickly than a standing martingale, and it's designed to keep the horse's head from flying up when it's requested to halt or turn suddenly in a speed event. According to users, it also offers the horse something to hold against for balance. It comprises an adjustable strap with one end attached to the horse's breastplate and the harness’s noseband. The noseband can be made of leather, but it can be made of lariat rope or even plastic-covered cable, making the western tie down harsher than an English-style standing martingale.

When the horse raises its head above the desired point with both pieces of equipment, the slack is taken out of the strap, and pressure is applied to the horse's snout. The standing martingale is acceptable in the United States for show hunter and hunts seat equitation riders over fences, in the United Kingdom for show jumping competitions, and fox hunting, polo crosse, horse ball, and polo. It's also seen on some military and police horses, partly for fashion and tradition, but also in the event of an emergency that requires the rider to react
quickly. It is not permitted in flat classes.

Safety and Risks

Because it cannot be loosened in an emergency, the standing martingale is more restricted than the running martingale. Because its range of motion is limited, a horse that trips in a standing martingale may fall more easily. If a horse falls while wearing an inappropriately fitted standing martingale, it will be unable to stretch its neck entirely and have difficulty getting back up more challenging.

The martingale strap is never fastened to a drop noseband due to the risk of harm to the nose cartilage. It should also not be attached to any form of "figure 8" or "grackle" noseband due to the risk of both nose and jaw damage.

When used in conjunction with other pieces of equipment, any martingale can cause pain to the horse. When used in conjunction with a gag bit, a standing martingale can trap the horse's head, forcing it to raise and lower its head while providing no relief in either direction. This combination can be seen in polo, some rodeo events, and even the lower jumping levels on occasion.

Overuse or misuse can cause the muscles on the bottom of the neck to overdevelop, resulting in an unfavourable "upside-down" neck that makes it more difficult for the horse to work correctly under the saddle. It can also cause the horse's back muscles to tense up and force him to move awkwardly, especially over fences. This can place too much strain on the horse's spine, diminish the limb anatomy's shock-absorbing capacity, and eventually lead to lameness. Accidents are also a possibility: if a horse is sufficiently "caught" by a combination of a too-short martingale and a too-harsh bit, the horse may attempt to rear and fall, potentially harming both the animal and the rider.

The Running Martingale and German Martingale

Running and German martingale

The running martingale is made up of a strap attached to the perimeter and runs between the horse's front legs before splitting in two. The reins pass through a bit of metal ring at the end of each strap. A neck strap or breastplate keeps it in the proper posture.

The running martingale is adjusted such that each of the "forks" has about an inch of slack when the horse's head is kept in a specific position. The reins should make a straight line from the rider's hand to the bit ring when the horse's head is at the proper height, and the running martingale is not in use.

When the horse's head is held in the normal posture, the running martingale is adjusted so that each "fork" has about an inch of slack. When the horse's head is at the correct height, and the running martingale is not in effect, the reins should make a straight line from the rider's hand to the bit ring.

The running martingale consists of a girth-attached strap that runs between the horse's front legs before breaking in half. At the end of each of these straps, the reins pass through a bit of metal ring. It is kept in normal posture by a neck strap or breastplate.

The running martingale is the only type of martingale used in eventing and horse racing because of this safety factor. Some show jumpers like the running martingale because it gives them more mobility. Outside of the competition arena, running martingales are used on young horses being schooled in Saddle seats, Western Riding, and a variety of other disciplines.

A split fork that comes up from the chest travels through the rings of the bit and attaches to calls on the reins of the bridle between the bit, and the rider's hand makes up the German martingale, also known as a Market Harborough. It works the same way as a running martingale but with more leverage. It is mainly used as a training aid.

Safety and Risks

Rein stops, which are rubber or leather stops put onto the rein between the bit and the martingale's ring, are commonly used with a running martingale. At Pony Club and British Eventing events, rein pauses are required. They're a crucial safety feature that prevents the martingale from sliding too far forward and catching on the bit ring or the buckles or studs that secure the reins to the bit. According to sanctioning organisations, if the harnesses are buckled to the bit, a running martingale must be used in conjunction with rein stops.

The inability to elevate the horse's head in the event of bucking is the main disadvantage of using a running martingale. If the reins are adjusted excessively short, lateral use may be hampered. The stress imposed on the horse's mouth by the running martingale can be harsh if mishandled, which is why the standing martingale is preferred in some circles. Use on the reins of a curb bit is an example of improper use, as is adjusting the equipment too short, causing the horse's head to drop below the correct position.

The Irish Martingale

Irish martingale - the ashva

In the sense of a device that affects the rider's control over the horse, the Irish martingale is not a true martingale. As a result, it's sometimes referred to as a semi-martingale. It's a straightforward short strap with a ring on each end. Before being buckled, the reins run through a call on each side. The goal of the Irish martingale is not to control the horse's head but to keep the reins from going over the horse's head and causing entanglement if the rider falls. It's primarily utilized in European horse racing.

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