Run­ning Mar­tin­gale

Are you us­ing your run­ning mar­tin­gale cor­rectly? Check your habits against my hints.

Horse & Rider - - Practice Pen Tack Talk - By Al Dun­ning, With Jen­nifer Paul­son Pho­tos by Charles Brooks

Many peo­ple mis­un­der­stand the pur­pose of a run­ning mar­tin­gale for the Western horse. It’s not to trap or con­fine a horse’s head. The pur­pose is to use the weight of the rings and the leather fork at­tached to them to of­fer a quicker re­lease to a horse when he re­sponds to rein cues, as well as help the horse flex at the poll. When you re­lease your rein pres­sure, the mar­tin­gale weighs down the reins, get­ting the re­lease sig­nal to the horse sooner.

As with all tack, get­ting the most out of a mar­tin­gale re­lies on how the setup is made, cor­rect ad­just­ment, and proper use. I’ll dis­cuss those points here.

Leather Is Best

I pre­fer a leather run­ning mar­tin­gale. I’ve used them made of all kinds of ma­te­ri­als—ny­lon, cord, etc.—but leather has the body and life nec­es­sary to get the re­lease you’re look­ing for. A leather mar­tin­gale hangs bet­ter and holds up to use. One made from flimsy ma­te­ri­als or even poor-qual­ity leather floats around and doesn’t do the job.

Ad­di­tion­ally, choose a mar­tin­gale with large, heavy rein rings. They add weight, which aids in the quick re­lease of pres­sure. If you use the mar­tin­gale with a shanked bit, larger rings won’t get hung up on the shank and lead to prob­lems. This also al­lows me to skip us­ing rein stops.

Ad­just for Func­tion

The strap that runs be­tween the legs and con­nects to the ring on the cinch is the only ad­just­ment point on a run­ning mar­tin­gale. You can lengthen or shorten that piece ac­cord­ing to your horse’s build. For proper ad­just­ment, snap your mar­tin­gale to the cinch, then ad­just the strap so the rings are 2 to 3 inches from your horse’s throat­latch. If you ad­just the mar­tin­gale too short/tight, you’ll lose all feel with the horse’s mouth. The rings will pull the reins down be­fore they reach your hands in­stead of your reins be­ing a di­rect line from the bit to your hands.

On my setup, you’ll see a strap around my horse’s neck. It’s not ad­justable, but should fit com­fort­ably around your horse’s neck. When your reins are loose, this piece keeps the fork from get­ting too low, which the horse could step on or get tan­gled in.

Re­mem­ber to check the mar­tin­gale’s ad­just­ment on each horse be­fore you use it. The first horse you ride might have a shorter neck than the next one, re­quir­ing you to lengthen the strap for cor­rect ad­just­ment.

Proper Use

The sin­gle most dan­ger­ous thing you can do with a run­ning mar­tin­gale is to use it with reins that snap to a bit rather than at­tach with leather ties. The mar­tin­gale’s rings can get stuck on those metal snaps and make your horse flip over on you. Only use a mar­tin­gale with reins with­out snaps, whether a sin­gle rein or split reins.

Once I have a young horse go­ing in a snaf­fle, I add a run­ning mar­tin­gale so he can feel that quick re­lease from my reins and for an aid if he is ex­tremely out of po­si­tion. I can also use it for aged horses, whether in the snaf­fle or curb bit for re­it­er­at­ing fun­da­men­tals.

A run­ning mar­tin­gale has a sin­gle ad­just­ment point: the strap that runs be­tween the horse’s legs and snaps to the cinch. Be sure to ad­just your run­ning mar­tin­gale for each horse, de­pend­ing on his build and size.

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