Martingales Buying Guide

Martingales Buying Guide

There are a large range of different martingales available, this can make it difficult to choose the right one for your horse so we have put together this buying guide to help you decide.

At Equus we have a range of martingales from top brands including Shires Equestrian, Busse and Collegiate

How this guide is structured

This buying guide tells you everything you need to know about buying a martingale - which ones you can get and which one is suitable for you and your horse.

Be sure to bookmark this page - we'll update it from time-to-time so it's always got the latest information you need to make the right choice for you and your horse.

How to use this guide

You can either read it from top to bottom or click on the links below to go straight to the section you want. At the end of each section is a handy link that'll bring you back to the top. Know what you're looking for? Shop our full range of martingales and breastplates now and remember, we offer free UK delivery on all orders at EQUUS.

Purpose of a Martingale The Running Martingale
The Market Harborough The Standing Martingale
Other Martingales


Purpose of a Martingale

A martingale is a piece of equestrian tack designed to control a horse's head carriage and act as an additional form of control besides, for example, the bit. It prevents a horse from throwing its head so high that the rider gets hit in the face by the horse's poll or upper neck.

There are three main types of martingales: the standing, the running, and the German martingale. Each of these three types of martingales are used in different ways, for different reasons, and in different equestrian disciplines. A martingale is used to protect both horse and rider from injury. It also helps to either prevent bad head carriage habits from forming or to train a horse out of bad head carriage habits.

Martingales are usually made of leather, although they can also be made of strong synthetic material. It’s not essential to ride with one and it’s very much down to a rider’s personal preference. Hacking, hunting or even jumping tend to be when they’re often seen.

Knowing about the differences between the types of martingales available, including how they work, the benefits of each type, and when to use the different types is useful so that you can recognise when one might be required. 

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The Running Martingale

The Running Martingale is designed to work in conjunction with the bit. It features a long-looped harness strap that is anchored to the girth and a strap that fits over the horse's head and sits above the shoulders, as with a standing martingale. The running martingale differs by having two forked straps that are attached to the reins by metal rings. Sometimes a running martingale is referred to as "training forks" in western riding. It is important for riders to know how a running martingale works, the benefits it offers, as well as the safety issues associated with it.

Busse Basic Professional Martingale 

How does a Running Martingale work?

The way a running martingale works is that when the horse raises its head too high, pressure is placed into the mouth through the reins and into the bit. This pressure encourages the horse to lower its head in order to release the pressure it feels in the bit.

What are the benefits of a Running Martingale?

A horse that carries its head too high can benefit from the use of a Running Martingale. Some riders like to use one on a horse that tends to speed up and get away from the rider. A Running Martingale is often preferred over a Standing Martingale, as the rider is able to offer more freedom to the horse, although there is less control of the horse's head movement.

When should a Running Martingale be used?

A Running Martingale is accepted under British Show Jumping and Bristish Eventing (in the show jumping and cross-country phases) rules. Running Martingales, just like Standing Martingales, cannot be used in dressage events. A running martingale can also be used by Pony Club riders and for hacking.

What safety issues do I need to aware of with a Running Martingale?

A Running Martingale is considered to be safer than its counterpart the Standing Martingale, as the rider has more control over allowing or restricting the horse's range of head movement. When using a Running Martingale, it’s important to use rein stops. These are placed between the martingale rings and the bit, and they stop the rings from dropping down to the bit and interfering with the lips and mouth of the horse.

Shires Silicone Rein Stops

It's important to measure the length of this martingale correctly. If the martingale is too short, then the horse's lateral head movement will be too restricted, and if it's too long, it will be ineffective in maintaining correct head position.


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The Market Harborough

The Market Harborough, also called the German martingale, is similar to the Running Martingale except that the fork straps run through the rings of the bit and then attach to the reins.

What are the benefits of a Market Harborough?

A Market Harborough provides greater control of the horse's head than a Running Martingale by applying pressure through the bit and into the horse's mouth. The rider has a greater feel of the horse's mouth than when using either a Standing or Running Martingale.

When should a Market Harborough be used?

The Market Harborough is used as a training aid in order to teach a horse to flex at the poll and to relax to the feel of the bit, while still maintaining maximum appropriate head movement. Riders find this martingale very useful when trying to teach a horse collection.

This type of martingale cannot be used in competition events. It is used primarily as a training aid.

What safety issues do I need to aware of with a Market Harborough?

This type of martingale should always be used with a snaffle bit, not with a Pelham bit. The Market Harborough is considered a safe option for restricting horse head movement as it is, effectively, operated by the horse, not the rider. As the horse moves its head out of position, it feels pressure through the bit, and as soon as the horse corrects its head position, the pressure eases.

Shop Market Harboroughs here

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The Standing Martingale

The Standing Martingale consists of a neck strap that attaches to the girth and runs between the horses legs, through the neck strap up to the back of the nose band.


What are the benefits of a Standing Martingale?

The standing martingale is designed to encourage the horse to lower his head by putting pressure on the nose. When the horse lifts his head the strap puts pressure on the noseband encouraging the horse to keep his head lower. It can prevent the rider from being hit in the face when the horse throws his head up and prevents the head from going up past the point of control.

When should a Standing Martingale be used?

It should be used on a horse that puts their head up past the point of control, this is where the bit is no longer working correctly as the horses head is too high. It can be used on horses that constantly through their head up to prevent the rider being hit in the face. The standing martingale should only be used if the running martingale does not work.

What safety issues do I need to aware of with a Standing Martingale?

The standing martingale should only be used with a cavesson noseband. The standing martingale can restrict the horses movement, especially if it is not fitted correctly. If the standing martingale is too tight it can cause your horse to feel restricted and be uncomfortable.  

Shop Standing Martingales.

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Other Martingales

There are a handful of other martingale types available, although these are not as commonly used as the Market Harborough, Standing or Running Martingales. The Irish, Bib and Hunting Breastplate Martingales complete the list!

Irish Martingale

The Irish Martingale is used in horse racing and is designed to prevent the reins from sliding over the horse's head should the rider fall. The Irish martingale does nothing to restrict the horse's head movement and offers no control of the horse for the rider. It’s simply a safety precaution. For this reason, the Irish martingale is sometimes referred to as a semi-martingale. It is simply a short strap that connects both reins together in front of the horse's neck. 

Shires Blenheim Irish Martingale

Shop Irish Martingales here 

Bib Martingale

A Bib Martingale is a combination of Irish martingale and Running Martingale. It is commonly used for race horses and acts to keep the horse's head low while offering the same safety provided by the Irish martingale.

Shires Blenheim Bib Martingale

Shop Bib Martingales here

Hunting Breastplate Martingale

The Hunting Breastplate Martingale is a combination of breastplate, which helps to keep the saddle in place, and either Running or Standing martingale. The breastplate can be used on its own. The Hunting Breastplate Martingale is used in hunting classes or out in the hunting field.

Visit our specially curated collection of Martingales and Breastplates here.

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Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

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