There are three main types of martingales and each serves a specific purpose when it comes to the control of a horse or pony.
The standing martingale can be used in a variety of disciplines and it is an extremely good aid for riders whose mounts have a tendency to raise their heads too high. This is achieved through pressure on the nose.
A standing martingale is very simple to put on a horse. It has a neck strap, to which there is a front strap, which attaches to the noseband of the bridle and another strap which passes between the horse’s front legs to be anchored to the girth. A rider needs to slip the girth through this strap before girthing up their horses.
Riders are not permitted to use standing martingales in flat competitions or high level jumping, but this type of martingale may be used in Polo.
The second type is called a running martingale and although it is less restrictive on the horses’ head movement, it is a great schooling aid. Again the running martingale attaches to the girth in the same way as a standing one and comes up through the horses’ front legs. But unlike the standing martingale, it splits into two straps which have two rings at the end of each of them. These rings allow the reins to be slipped through on either side of the horses’ neck.
The aid a running martingale provides a rider is that it gives them more control over the downward pressure which is applied to the horses’ mouth via the reins. If the horses’ head carriage is good there is no pressure applied.
It is very important to have rein stops on running martingales to prevent the rings from catching on the horses’ bit.
The third type is the Market Harborough, which does work very much like a running martingale and it is a very useful training aid. It is, however, not legal to use in shows. The Market Harborough is a much stronger aid than either the standing or running martingale.
Lastly, there is the Irish Martingale, which although this is not like other martingales as it is a simple strap with two rings at each end, which the reins run through, it does not actually give riders any control over a horses’ head. Rather it stops the reins from coming over the head; therefore reducing the risk of this happening should a rider fall off.
Martingales are very good aids to riding and schooling. Many horses do go well if they are wearing them. However, when riding a horse in a martingale, riders must remember that some horses have a tendency to fight against any pressure that is applied to their heads. This pressure, which they are not used to, may cause them to fall over backwards, therefore great care must be used when using any type of martingale for the first time.