Martingales are simple but effective aids that are added to the bridle to help you control negative horse behavior when riding.
There are many types of martingales you can fit your horse’s bridle, but they all essentially serve a similar purpose, putting pressure to stop unruly behavior. They are used to protect both rider and horse.
It can be overwhelming deciding which martingale you need, so we have put together a complete guide that goes over each type and its uses. We also provide our top choice from each martingale type and information on how to fit your new martingale.
Different Martingales Top Picks & Guide
Most martingales work to improve your horse’s discipline and act on the bit placement, making your horse lower their head.
To effectively function as a training device, it needs to exert sufficient downward pressure on the bars of the mouth. It also controls head movement up to a certain point.
With several styles available, the two most common types are the standing and the running martingales. Other types include bib martingales, Irish martingales, and German martingales.
Popular in European racing, a standing martingale consists of a single short leather strap that passes through a neck strap. On one end, it attaches to the girth, while on the other end, it reaches up to the throat lash but attaches to the cavesson noseband.
The standing martingale consists of a simple fixed strap that keeps the horse’s head in place. It is one of the types of training devices that prevents dangerous behavior.
Standing Martingales Positioning
The main body of these types of martingale attaches to the girth of the horse’s bridle as a short leather strap. It should stop about an inch below the horse’s throat lash before being attached to the cavesson noseband.
Best Standing Martingale: Collegiate Fancy Standing Martingale
- Top-quality European leather
- Stainless steel hardware
- Adjustable neck strap and girth loop
The Collegiate Fancy Standing Martingale leaves the rider’s hands-free as pressure is placed on the bridge of the horse’s nose when their head is raised.
The standing martingale creates a straight line running from the girth to the horse’s head.
The martingale stops horses raising heads and rearing. This gives the rider extra control and will improve the rider’s ability to achieve collection while acting as a safety device too.
This kind of martingale is often found in European racing, but it can also be used in jumping disciplines.
- Stainless steel fittings for added strength
- Both neck strap and girth attachment are adjustable
- Forms a straight line running from the girth to the cavesson
- Serves as an additional form of control
- Pressure is fixed to a certain point
- Pressure can cause rubbing and rawness on the horse’s nose
- Neck strap is too large for a smaller pony
- Low hanging martingale can present a tripping hazard
Suitable for several disciplines of riding, the running martingale prevents a horse from rearing or raising their head too high, and by acting on the bars of the mouth. This device can improve collection and obedience.
The main strap passes between the horse’s front legs before going through a neck strap before splitting into two martingale straps with rings through which the reins pass. This places the twin straps of the split martingale in contact with the reins, allowing for a sliding movement.
Unlike the standing martingale, which restricts movement from side to side, the running martingale prevents freedom of movement from being restricted, except when the horse shakes their head dangerously.
Fitting A Running Martingale
A running martingale attaches to martingale rings, which can move on the reins. Running or split martingales should also stop at about an inch below the throat lash when pulled tight, softening when the horse lowers their head.
Be sure the strap around the neck is correctly fitted and doesn’t have a tendency of slipping forward. This can bring the running martingale close to the ground and could lead to a rider’s fall.
Best Running Martingale: Weaver Leather Standard Running Martingale
The Weaver Leather Standard is an economy-running martingale, which offers safety and durability.
The name may be somewhat misleading as the product is nylon, not leather. Reins stoppers can be purchased in either rubber or leather as per pony club regulations.
The martingale offers a sliding form of control that will stop your horse from panicking and rearing when correctly fitted.
- Fully adjustable
- Rein straps are fully adjustable
- Nickel-plated loops and rings
- Correct placement aids control
- Bit acts on bars of the mouth when head raises
- Stainless steel snap, but plated rings lose their finish
- No rein stops or martingale stops
- The snap attachment requires a girth with d-rings
- The rein adjustments are not fixed
The bib martingale is a strap between the reins that stop your horse from biting the two straps leading to the reins.
A bib is similar in its placement, but it is a webbed triangle that runs between the area where the cross-reins strap would be and anchors at the breastplate. This aid helps with keeping the two straps balanced and even before they join the reins.
Best Bib-Style Martingale: Shires Bib Martingale
- Available in two sizes, cob and full
- Easy design at an affordable price
- Would require import to the U.S.
- Can cause horses to become irritated
An Irish martingale is a simple strap that runs between the two straps of a split martingale. This prevents the reins from coming over the horse’s neck during a fall or if they run away.
Best Fixed Irish Martingale: Nunn Finer Irish Martingale
Whether you are racing or not, your horse may benefit from a fixed training device like the Nunn Finer Irish Martingale that helps prevent rearing and head shaking.
- Keeps reins from tangling over horse’s neck
- Solid brass rings to attach to reins
- Only available in one size
- Not fully adjustable according to different horse sizes
This device (also known as a market Harborough) has two sections that pass through the bit rings where it attaches to the reins.
For a training aid that offers control on each of the reins, this is the best option for your horse. It is used in jumping disciplines, European racing, and leisure riding.
The main strap attaches to the girth. It then passes through the neck strap before splitting into two extra reins coming through the bit rings to attach at a certain point on the reins.
Best Market Harborough Martingale Reins: Kincade Web Market Harborough
The Kincade Market Harborough is a sturdy and effective training aid. The martingale reins pass through the bit rings, before fixing to the usual reins. Consequently, the bars of the mouth are aligned with the bit for better control and safety.
This martingale is ideal if your horse is prone to pulling or headshaking. When the horse raises their head, the martingale applies more pressure to the bit, causing the horse to lower their head. Pressure is instantly alleviated when the horse lowers their head.
- Comes complete with webbing reins with D-rings
- Improves horse’s head carriage
- Reduces head tossing and dangerous behavior
- Can cause hyperflexion with unkind fitment
- Fixed straps on the reins can lead to a horse panicking
- Neck strap sliding can lead to danger
How Does a Martingale Work?
The martingale strap creates a straight line from the horse’s chest to the bit rings. This puts pressure on the horse’s bit or reins and asserts control.
With an additional form of control, martingales can redirect the horse’s range of motion without interfering unnecessarily with the horse’s mouth. Using this aid can help negate the need for a harsher bit.
Different martingales create additional pressure that is useful for varying reasons.
You would use such a training device to improve collection (when the horse lowers their head), prevent rearing, and stop head bobbing.
Essentially, most types of martingales anchor a horse’s head and will control head carriage and give the rider better control.
Fitting a Martingale
A martingale, regardless of the type, attaches to the girth by passing between the horse’s front legs. From this position, it can control head carriage and act to assist the rider.
The reins pass through the control rings on the martingale straps or fit the cavesson over the bridge of the horse’s nose.
Always secure the aid to a horse’s neck with a strap to prevent dropping the martingale close to the ground.
Martingale Correct Position
A horse’s neck should never be brought into hyperflexion, and different martingales need to respect the correct position of horses’ heads.
A correctly fitted martingale shouldn’t be too long or it will hang between the horse’s front legs. One that’s too short will affect the horse’s upper neck and can cause a break at the C3 vertebrae.
Type of Material
Martingales can be either rubber or leather.
All types of martingale attach to the girth. They run up between the horse’s front legs, passing through a strap around the neck before attaching to either the bit rings or a cavesson noseband or regular noseband.
Be sure the training device you choose provides additional pressure without interfering unnecessarily with horses’ head positions.
Deciding on the best martingale to use for your horse is often a case of trying one and then buying what works. For help in collecting your horse and preventing rearing behavior or head tossing, a running martingale or a standing martingale is useful.
The kindest and most natural aid martingale is the running martingale since the pressure slides as the horse moves their head, releasing instantly.