How to Use a Running Martingale
Maybe you've been here before — the sun is beautiful, the wind is still and you're having a near-perfect ride when a sudden, sharp noise spooks your horse. As a natural response, your horse lifts their head and you temporarily lose control, leaving the fate of the next few seconds in their hooves.
As a rider, this can be a heart-dropping moment. Whether your horse runs off, jumps off all fours or bounces back with grace is up to them. The best thing you can do is give them gentle encouragement to keep their head down and posture engaged. For better control in situations like these, we recommend using a running martingale.
What Is a Running Martingale?
Typically used for English riding, a running martingale is a Y-shaped leather strap used for better control and connection to your horse. They consist of three parts, including:
- Neck strap: The neck strap is a looped leather strap placed around the horse's neck, connected to the chest strap and martingale rings.
- Chest strap: The longer piece connected to the neck strap is called the chest strap. This strap extends under your horse and connects to your girth through a loop at the end.
- Martingale rings: Two smaller straps with metal rings extend from the neck strap. When worn, the chest strap and martingale rings form a line parallel to your horse's underside, connecting the girth and the reins.
Like humans, horses have their good and bad days. Some days, your horse likes to stay connected to the bit and responsive to your movements, and other days they're too busy thinking about the leftover hay saved in their stall. Running martingales establish a gentle line of control, suggesting that your horse keeps their head down, bringing them into the right posture and preventing them from moving out of your range of control.
What Is the Difference Between a Running and Standing Martingale?
A standing martingale is similar in structure and purpose to a running martingale. Used in both English and Western riding, standing martingales connect to the noseband rather than the reins, giving the rider more structured control and continuous encouragement.
Some riders prefer running martingales as it gives the horse more freedom in their movements and the ability to release pressure once they achieve the desired result. The standing martingale has more restrictions, and you should avoid using a drop, flash or figure-eight noseband for the risk of damaging your horse's nose cartilage.
When Should You Use a Running Martingale?
Running martingales are a popular choice among riders because of their subtle influence if you and your horse practice the right techniques and for the support they provide during disagreeable moments. A running martingale is recommended for:
- New riders learning the ropes: For a new rider, a running martingale encourages proper hand placement. Even the most experienced riders may not have perfect hand placement all the time. Your horse will be thankful for the extra mouth protection.
- Experienced riders learning a new technique: Whether you've been riding for a few weeks or many years, you learn something new every day. Running martingales help teach your horse good habits before learning bad ones and can be particularly useful in training dressage. However, it's discouraged to use running martingales during a test.
- Casual riders going on a trail ride: On a casual ride, you may appreciate the added support against unforeseen spooks when walking up or down steep terrains.
- Practiced riders gently breaking in a horse: Learning a new skill is challenging for horses and humans. If you're working with a green horse, you might find a running martingale useful for encouraging good habits over bad ones.
Most trainers recommend not becoming overly dependent on a running martingale's aids, but they are undeniably helpful for extra support or when learning new riding techniques.
How to Fit a Running Martingale
To fit a running martingale, fully tack your horse — including the bridle with the reins placed over the neck. During the fitting, you might want a second person present in case your horse decides to roam or spooks.
Standing on your horse's left side, hold the running martingale by the neck strap with the chest strap and martingale rings hanging down. Make sure the chest strap is facing the saddle. To fit the running martingale to your horse, follow these steps:
- Place the neck strap over your horse's head and pass the reigns, sitting them comfortably above your horse's shoulders. Make sure the adjustable buckle is on the left side facing you.
- Let the neck strap rest and undo the girth, but don't drop it.
- Take the long chest strap and pull it under your horse's chest, making sure there are no twists. Pull your girth through the loop at the end of the chest strap until the loop is at a center position of the girth in the middle of your horse's underside, forming a T-shape.
- Redo the girth.
- Revisit the neck strap to make sure it fits properly. Open your hand flat and place the backside of your hand against your horse's neck with the neck strap resting on your palm. Move your hand upward toward the crest, making sure there's some slack. Stretch the neck strap upward, where there should be about a four-finger space between the crest and loose strap.
- If needed, adjust the neck strap so it's not too loose or tight following the criteria outlined in step five.
- Once the neck and chest straps are situated, grab the two martingale rings. Pull both rings towards the withers on the left side, making sure they reach about that length.
- If needed, adjust the martingale ring straps to the appropriate length.
- With the properly fitted martingale rings, undo your reins. Hold the left ring upward, pulling the reins upward and toward the saddle. Staying on the left side, do the same thing with the rein on the opposite side.
- Bring the offside rein around the top of the horse's neck, and redo your reins to prepare for your ride.
It is incredibly important that you add rein stops. This safety feature prevents the martingale rings from catching on the ends of the bit, which could result in injury to you and your horse. Once you have your running martingale adjusted, you're ready to ride!
Trust Horse Tack Company for a Reliable Selection of Running Martingales
Horse Tack Company has a wide selection of quality English breastplates, martingales and training martingales. If you're local to New Holland, Pennsylvania, come visit us! We would love to get to know you and provide the tools to help you reach your goals and Love the Ride.
You can also shop from the convenience of your home with our online store. If you have any questions about how to use a running martingale or one of our many styles, contact us today and we will answer as soon as possible.