Martingale is a terminology that describes diverse designs of tack used on horses to control the rising of the head by it. You can find Martingales in a broad range of equestrian disciplines whether riding or driving. There are two most common types of martingale-the running martingale and the standing martingale.

These are used to control the head height of a horse. It also prevents the horse from elevating its head so high that it hits the face of the rider by the poll or upper neck of the horse. Martingale helps in checking the horse from being raised above desired height. It exerts pressure on the head of the horse and thus, it can not raise it higher.

The Running Martingale and the German Martingale

Running martingale works from the girth, between the forelegs, through a neck-strap onto the reins and bit, to the bars of the horse’s mouth. It should not be adjusted so that the effect of the martingale is constantly applied, but should be of such a length that it comes into effect just before the horse raises his head to an unacceptable height.

Running martingale is also known as ‘rings’. It is the only style of martingale permitted to be used for horse racing and eventing competitions. It provides extra freedom to the show jumpers. Use running martingales with rein stops. They prevent the martingale from sliding too far forward. They also help in getting caught on the bit or on the studs or buckles that join reins and bit.

The German martingale is also known by the name of Market Harborough. It acts the same as running martingale does but with more influence. Mostly it is used as a training aid.

The Standing Martingale

The standing martingale works from the girth, between the forelegs, and through a neck strap to attach to the Cavesson noseband. It must not be fitted to a noseband that goes below the bit. As with the running martingale, it should be adjusted so that it only comes into effect just before the horse raises his head to an unacceptable height. It must not be constantly in effect.

The Irish Martingale

The Irish martingale is not exact. It does not justify being a device that affects the control of the rider over the horse. Thus, it is occasionally known as a semi-martingale. It is an easy, short strap with a ring on both ends. The reins are run through a ring on either side before they are buckled. The purpose of an Irish martingale is not to control the head of the horse but to check the reins from coming over the head of the horse and risking an embarrassing situation where a rider may fall. It is mainly used in horse racing in European countries.

Safety Measures and Misuse

  • The running martingale is not as restrictive as the standing martingale. The reason is that the latter can not be loosened in case of an emergency. Thus, standing martingale is used at horse shows for jumping over relatively low fences. A horse can fall more easily in a standing martingale as its range of movement is restricted.
  • Care should be taken while crossing a river as if the horse could not completely extend its neck; it will have a tough time getting up and can drown.
  • Never attach the martingale strap to the drop noseband as there is a risk of nose and jaw injuries. You should never attach it to the lower flash strap.
  • The horse may suffer from extreme pain if a standing martingale is used with other equipment.

Excessive use or misuse of a standing martingale or tiedown, predominantly as a means to check a horse from tossing its head can result in the overdevelopment of the muscles on the underside of the neck. It creates an upside-down neck that makes it more complicated for the horse to relax and loosen properly. It may also lead to putting undue pressure on the spine of the horse, diminish the shock-absorbing capacity of the leg anatomy, and can also lead to lameness. The risk of accidents is also involved. Rules for their use differ extensively.

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