Running Martingale Helpful or Torturous

I always wonder if people think about how a running martingale adjusted incorrectly changes the way a snaffle bit was designed to work. Maybe it’s only me who thinks we should put more thought into how we use training equipment on a horse. I hope that the equipment we use on horses wasn’t designed on purpose to be torturous to horses but sometimes I wonder…. when I see a horse so angry, fearful or resentful that it makes me uncomfortable I think maybe we really do need to rethink what we are ignoring or not thinking about.

I care about the welfare and comfort of the horse so in this blog I am going to try to explain how I think a snaffle bit works and how a running martingale adjusted wrong can turn it into a torture device.

I have always loved to train horses in a snaffle bit, but until I was taught the proper way to use one I used to get a quick, fearful or angry response. The key to using a snaffle bit is to lift on it keeping your hands higher than the bars of the bit. And in the beginning using one rein at a time. When used correctly the bit applies pressure on the corners of the horse’s mouth and shows direction and head set to the horse. Most people drop their hands down below the bit turning it into a bar pinching device (pinching the bars of the horse’s mouth with the bars of the bit) which will eventually cause a horse to drop behind the vertical for a split second before it jumps back above the bit again. This is a pain reaction instead of a soft response to your hands. I look for a response that is giving, soft and willing when I pick up on the rein not a fast, over-reactive, fearful or angry reaction. Most people don’t take the time to evaluate what they are getting. Below are a few signs that tell you that you are getting reaction not response;

  • a horse ducking their jaw quickly to its chest and back in front of the vertical again
  • a horse moving its feet quickly in an un-asked for motion or uncontrolled movement
  • a horse that starts taking its face away from you and hiding behind the vertical
  • a horse refusing to be bridled
  • a horse that gets  angry as soon as you start using the bit
  • a horse that is always trying to pull the reins out of your hands

These are just a few signs that you are getting reaction instead of response from the horse. If you find this is happening to you find a qualified trainer or instructor who can show you how to properly use the snaffle bit. And not all trainers or instructors will have this information because we are just currently coming out of the era of force them to do it and into the era of how does this really work. So buyer beware when shopping around for information on horse training. The bit is only as good as the understanding of how it works and the correctness of the hands using it. Below are a few signs you could look for in a trainers/instructors horse that show you that they understand response;

  • a horse that pushes its neck out long and then brings its jaw in
  • a horse that stays soft in their hands and doesn’t try to take rein
  • a calm horse that moves  its feet slow until asked to move faster
  • a horse that can be picked up on and waits for the cue to move before moving its feet
  • a horse that immediately gives to the rein rather than pulling and then giving
  • a horse that when bridled pushes its head into the bridle trying to help the rider put the bit on it

So now we come back to what this blog is really about, how does the running martingale affect the snaffle bit. When adjusted correctly it may not have much of a negative affect unless the horse goes way above the vertical in which case it will pinch the bars of the horse’s mouth telling them don’t do that. But most people set this piece of equipment up to short… way to short so that any time they use the rein it pinches the bars of the mouth eventually causing the negative reactions rather than the positive response.

I was taught that the way to set a running martingale is to adjust the rings so they reach into the horses throat latch area as in the cover photo for this post. A big caution should be stated here because the reins in this photo don’t have rein stops on them and rein stops are an important piece of equipment that must be used with a running martingale otherwise you run the chance of getting your reins caught on the hardware that attach your rein to your bit. This can cause a big wreck with your horse, always ride with rein stops when you use a running martingale. Below is a video link showing you more about how to set up the running martingale properly.“>video link

Thank for watching and reading. Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this and would like more blogs like this one. Also I’m always available to answer questions.