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Tiedowns Used Properly Should Not Restrict Horse's Head by Don Blazer I don't like standing martingales (English) or tiedowns (western). I sometimes use a running martingale. Most of the time, neither kind is used properly. I'm one of the guilty ones. When I use a running martingale, I don't use it in the way it was intended. A running or standing martingale or tiedown is used to prevent a horse from tossing its head too high or pushing its nose too far forward. When a horse does either, the rider/trainer should start looking for the problem (most likely his or her heavy hands and no power from the hindquarters) not a martingale or tiedown. One end of a standing martingale or tiedown is attached to a noseband, then in some manner is held to a neck strap or breastcollar at the horse's chest, and finally goes down between the front legs to the girth or cinch. The noseband of either must be a "cavesson" rather than an ordinary noseband. A cavesson has its own headstall rather than being built into bridle cheek-pieces; it can be adjusted separately from the rest of the bridle. The English cavesson is usually wide, flat leather, while the western cavesson is usually a version of the Spanish bosal, braided rawhide. The attachment at the neck strap or breastcollar has variations, being either some type of snap or some kind of "run through". The running martingale also attaches at the neck strap, but does not go to a noseband. Instead, the running martingale ends in two rings through which the reins pass. The noseband placement of a standing martingale or tiedown is extremely important. It should be placed just below the point of the cheek, giving it plenty of bone support. A noseband which is too low can severely damage the horse's nose and can easily cut off his air supply. Adjusting the length of the standing or running martingale is where most are first improperly used. Mistakenly the idea gets contorted to keeping the horse's head lower or to keeping the horse from poking his nose out, so most of the time the martingale is too short. A martingale which is too short6 forces the horse to shorten his body, which in turn causes the horse to want to trot (jog) or canter (lope). If the horse is not allowed to accommodate his shortened body, he gets nervous and starts to "jig". The next thing heard is the rider/trainer saying, "This stupid horse is too nervous and has to have a standing martingale or tiedown to be kept under control." To be properly adjusted, the standing martingale should be long enough to be pushed against the horse's body from its contact at the girth, up the chest and under the throatlatch and jaw while the horse has its head in a normal elevated carriage. To be properly adjusted, the running martingale should be attached at the girth under the center of the horse, when brought up the side of the horse behind the front leg to the withers. The rings must reach the withers for the running martingale to be of proper length. If properly adjusted, either the standing or running martingale will allow the horse to lift his head only to a height where the horse's chin would be as high as his withers. The idea behind the use of running or standing martingales is to keep the horse from raising his head too high or poking his nose too far out in front, not in keeping the horse's head low or his nose in. Martingales or tiedowns should never be used with the intent of keeping a horse's head down or nose in. Standing martingales or tiedowns may be used with a curb bit, but a running martingale should not be used with a curb. The standing martingale or tiedown has no affect on the action of the bit because it has no contact with the reins. The running martingale, however, changes the direction of the reins by having the reins run through the rings which are always lower than the end of a curb bit shank. Since the reins no longer move directly backward, the curb bit loses its proper leverage function, unable to rotate around the fulcrum (mouthpiece) as designed. This is where I incorrectly use a running martingale. I often use one, with curb or snaffle, to put an artificially exaggerated loop in western reins. With the western horse, I want the reins loose and looped at any gait. To help the horse get the feel of the reins hanging down from the bit (looped), I run the reins through the rings of a running martingale. The weight of the martingale does the job. I never allow the martingale to restrict the horse's head in any way. If you are going to use a piece of equipment designed to force or restrict rather than educate, you might as well misuse it on the side of "giving" rather than "taking." * * * * Look for Don Blazer's books at tack, book and Petsmart stores. Visit A Horse, Of Course on the internet at

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