Riders employ martingales for a variety of reasons. These aids can help prevent a horse from running away; prevent a horse from raising his head above the point of control; help keep the horse’s head and neck straight; and enhance rider safety. But what effect does this equipment have on the horse’s sensitive mouth tissues?

“Very little attention has been paid to (the martingale’s) effects on the reins and the resulting pressure on the horse’s mouth,” said Hayley Randle, PhD, researcher at the Equitation Science Academy at Duchy College, in the United Kingdom. Randle and BSc (Hons) Equitation Science student Megan O’Neill recently performed a study looking at martingale attachments’ effects on rein tension in horses ridden by novice riders. She presented their findings at the 11th International Society of Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Randle and O’Neill chose to evaluate novice riders because previous study results have shown that they are overly reliant upon the reins for stabilization and, thus, could have high and inconsistent rein tensions. Depending on the martingale’s effect on rein tension, it could either be beneficial or detrimental to horses ridden by novices.

In their study, Randle and O’Neill randomly selected six riding horses and six riders deemed novice by the same instructor. They wore correctly fitting tack and performed a predetermined test that involved the walk, trot, halt, and circles in both directions, first with and then without martingales. Randle and O’Neill had each pair perform the test using an Irish mar