Types of Martingales

Tie Down

Sometimes referred to as a “Standing Martingale”, but usually referred to as a Tie-Down by Western Riders, this is a single, fixed-length strap that goes from the D-ring on the cinch up between the horse’s front legs and attaches to the nose band. (The nose band is a separate piece of equipment from the bridle – not attached to the bridle in any way, and frequently sold alone.)

The tie-down is adjusted so that the horse can hold his head in a normal, comfortable position at all gaits and only comes into play when he raises his head above the bit or throws his head up and backward dangerously.

If it is too tight, it restricts head movement too much and can cause soreness and stress injuries as well as prevent a horse from keeping his balance in an emergency situation. If too loose, it is just another piece of useless equipment.

I frequently see them in roping and barrel competition. A tie-down can keep a horse from coming up and hitting a rider in the face or head during high-speed events.

As a teenager, I had a horse cause me to see stars when she came up as she started her take-off on the straight-away home stretch of a barrel pattern. In a miscalculation of timing, she came up as I leaned down. She hit me in the face with her head and knocked both of my contact lenses out of my eyes (very expensive in those days. My mother was not pleased).

A tie-down would probably have prevented that misfortune. However, its fit must be very finely tuned. Properly fitted, it can help your horse balance during tight turns and fast changes of direction. If too tight, it can inhibit your barrel horse’s balance in tight turns and prevent solid take-off in the straight-away.

Ask a professional for advice on its fit, and introduce it to your horse in a good training situation. If he is unfamiliar with it and panics when he realizes his head is restricted, it can be a dangerous situation.

Running Martingale

A Running Martingale (sometimes called a Training Fork or Training Yoke), is a piece of tack that is secured to the saddle cinch between the horse’s front legs and comes up either side of his neck. It culminates in rings through which the reins are threaded.

Any pull by the rider backward necessarily also adds downward pressure to the mouth, which brings the horse’s head down (to escape the bar pressure) concurrent with the backward pressure.

It is used to keep a horse in balance (that is with his head down) and to keep his front end from flying up and back (such as when he rears). The intended purpose is to keep him from becoming light in the forehand.

It is a distinct advantage when training a horse who rears over backward, but the key word is “training”. Needing a running martingale perpetually for such a horse is a mistake. It cannot by itself totally prevent the rearing behavior and cannot be counted on for that use.

It is frequently mis-used and can be quite harsh, deadening a rider’s hands, which are no longer feeling the direct pressure to the horse’s mouth, but rather an indirect pressure through the rings.

Mis-used as a way to keep a horse collected (often a false collection that disappears without the harsh mouth pressure keeping the head vertical) and also frequently seen in the jumping arena.

If done up too short, it prevents the horse from being able to use his head for balance and causes considerable discomfort to the mouth as the horse’s natural gait can knock against the restraint repeatedly.

If too long, it does nothing useful.

A running Martingale should ALWAYS BE USED WITH A SNAFFLE BIT.

Horse training can be dangerous. Not all methods work on all horses. Instruction presented here is not meant to be prescriptive in nature, and Horse-Pros.com takes no responsibility for the welfare of any animal or person using our methods.

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