Running martingales are widely used across most horse disciplines, both as a training aid and in competition. While not permitted during dressage tests, they are often seen in both jumping and racing, and are of particular value for training young horses. Correctly fitted, the running martingale is a safety device that prevents a young or excitable horse from throwing up its head, so the rider stays in control.
Fit rein stops to the reins of your horse's bridle. This is best done away from your horse. Rein stops of leather or rubber are an essential safety item, as they stop the rings of the running martingale from becoming tangled in the bridle or, worse, in one of your horse's teeth. Thread each rein through the central hole in one rein stop, leading with the central buckle part, not the bit buckle end. The rein stops should be positioned around 200 to 255 mm (8 to 10 inches) from the bit.
Put on your horse's saddle and snaffle bridle as normal.
Place the neckstrap of the martingale around your horse's neck. It should fit comfortably around the base of its neck. If necessary, adjust the length of the strap so that it sits in the groove of its chest.
Take the broad strap at the bottom of the martingale and pass it between your horse's front legs, then undo the girth and pass the end loop through it, keeping the buckle on the outside and ensuring the strap is not twisted. Refasten the girth, ensuring that the strap remains centred.
Check the length of the martingale by holding the rings up to your horse's withers. For the purposes of basic training, these rings should come up to the approximate height of your horse's withers. If the martingale is too long or short, you need to adjust the length at the girth end. The most efficient way of doing this is by unfastening the girth, unthreading and adjusting the strap, then repeating Step 4.
Undo the central buckle on the horse's reins, and pass one rein through each of the rings, ensuring there are no twists in either the straps or the reins. Then replace the reins on either side of the horse's neck and refasten the buckle. The martingale is now ready for use.
Throughout the process, particularly with a young horse, it is important to make your movements as calm and efficient as possible. For this reason, it's a good idea to examine your martingale and make initial adjustments away from your horse. When first fitting a martingale, it is useful, though not essential, to have someone to hold your horse while you make the necessary adjustments.
Once you and your horse are used to the martingale, the strap that passes between his legs can be conveniently threaded through the girth when the saddle is first put on.
While not essential to the action of the martingale, a thick rubber ring, available from your saddler, can be used doubled up in front of the neckstrap, to stop the martingale from sliding down.
For convenience, the rein stops can be left on your reins even when your martingale is not fitted.
If you are thinking of using a running martingale because your horse habitually throws its head above the angle of control -- rather than as a precautionary measure -- you need to check whether there is a physical cause for its behaviour. Is the horse finding the bit painful, perhaps because of a problem with its teeth, or does it have pain in its back? Ask your vet to help you rule out physical factors.
When fitting a running martingale, it is important to ensure that it is not too tight. If the rings interfere with the straight line between your hand and the horse's mouth, the martingale is too tight for general training purposes, is likely to annoy your horse, and could cause an accident by restricting its ability to balance itself. You may have seen running martingales used much tighter, for example by show jumpers, to create a distinct angle in the rein. This use of the running martingale is best left in expert hands.
If you are in doubt about the use or fitting of the martingale, always seek the advice of a qualified instructor.