The standing martingale is a piece of tack that first gained prominence in the hunt field. It’s sole purpose is to keep a horse from flinging its head back and hitting the rider in the face. A standing martingale therefore should only come into play when a horse raises its head well above the normal level of control.
When out foxhunting, this can be an issue when you are galloping and jumping over hilly terrain. You don’t want to be smacked in the face when your horse makes that extra effort to jump a big stone wall while going up hill. Sometimes you have a horse that uses head flipping as an evasion. I had a mare like this: when she first came off the race track she would invert and throw her head back so fast it was amazing. Putting a standing martingale on her (until she learned she wasn’t a giraffe) was an act of preservation.
Most standing martingales rarely see the hunt field. They are widely used in the hunter ring (over fences, never on the flat) mostly because I think people like the way they look. I certainly can’t imagine a show hunter flinging its head up.
The problem lies in the fact that many standing martingales are incorrectly adjusted. Namely, they are too short and restrict the horse’s head and neck position. I think that’s because many people misunderstand the use of the standing martingale. Rather than using it as a safety device, people try to use them to control their horse’s head set and create a “frame.”
How to attach and adjust a standing martingale.
- A standing martingale attaches on one end to the girth and on the other end to the nose band or cavesson of the bridle. The strap is held in place by a either a breastplate or a neckstrap.
- With your horse standing calmly and at rest, check to see if the slack of the martingale (from the noseband to
the connection on the breastplate) is long enough that you can easily raise it up to the horse’s jaw.
- Make sure that the length of strap from the breastplate to the girth is not dangling. If it’s too long, it could potential trap a horse’s leg.
Tips and Warnings
- Standing martingales should ONLY be connected to conventional nosebands; never attach one to a drop nose band or a figure 8.
- Make sure your noseband is not too low on your horse’s head. If the noseband is too low and the horse snaps its head back it can damage the bone and cartilage of the nose.
- Standing martingales are not a substitute for training. Head carriage and submission to the bit are achieved by training that strengthens and supples your horse; not by tying its head down.
This is a useful demonstration of how to adjust a standing martingale.