The Use of Martingales and Draw Reins

You have to know when to use them.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

A pleasure horse, either under English or western tack, is supposed to be a pleasure to ride. He’s soft at the trot, flexed at the poll, responsive to the rider, looks straight through the bridle and moves with collection.

A horse that roots his nose, moves trashy, fights the bit, throws his head and is rough in a gait is not a pleasure to ride.

Two of the devices many horsemen use to solve such training problems are martingales and draw reins. Used properly, training devices such as these can improve a horse’s performance.

Tommy Sheets, who won his first world title in 1980 junior trail, and Patsy Beever caution that improper use of these artificial aids can quickly destroy a horse’s responsiveness to the rider.

Martin has practical solutions for horse and rider problems that he shares in AQHA’s Horse Training Techniques with Martin Black report.

“You have to know how and when to use them,” Patsy says. “Martingales and draw reins are helpful aids, but they’re neither meant to be used permanently, nor together. Each operates quite differently. A martingale will assist in keeping a horse’s nose down, whereas draw reins will pull the head down and back. Both devices will aid in correcting several head, neck and body problems.

“It has been my experience,” Patsy says, “that in order to train horses properly, using artificial aids or not, it takes 80 percent brains, 10 percent strength and 10 percent horse. By using training devices improperly, no matter how good the horse is, you can absolutely ruin him.”

Patsy continues, “As long as a rider goes about training a horse to do something in a patient and methodical manner, that in itself will help keep him from making mistakes and getting into wrecks. Nothing will last if it is done irregularly. Consistency when giving cues is the key to teaching a horse many maneuvers, whether is it setting his head or moving correctly.”

Patsy explains that when a rider is experiencing a problem with his or her horse, certain elements should be considered before selecting a training aid of any kind.

“The first thing a rider should do when his performance starts sliding downhill is to check himself,” she says. “Check body and hand position and posture in the saddle. Bad habits with riders create bad habits with horses.

“Next, a rider should check his horse. Sometimes a problem can be easily solved by just adding another pad or rubbing a horse down with some liniment after a strenuous workout.”

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When a rider is having trouble locating his or his horse’s problems, Patsy advises going to someone who can help finding a cure. “This doesn’t mean a person has to go to a horse trainer, but it is a good idea to go to someone who knows horses and can intelligently study the problem. Ask the person to watch you ride. Many times, this person can immediately spot the problem and offer some kind of advice.

“Martingales, in addition to draw reins, can be recommended for a horse who will not flex at the poll, will not break at the crest and wither, and will not tuck its nose and carry its head correctly.

“But each of these training aids has different pressure points,” Patsy says. “A running martingale, for instance, is more a basic device than draw reins. Draw reins can be more severe and are used to overhaul a horse’s headset and position. A martingale will help a horse steady his head and bring it down as well as back. The martingale should be set when the horse is standing in a natural position. The rein rings of the martingale should be set at the height of the horse’s chin when pulled up toward the throatlatch. It is important to note that martingales should not be set so short that they interfere with the rein action when the horse’s head is in the normal position.”

Both martingales and draw reins teach a horse to give to the bit. But the severity of the horse’s problem and the experience of the rider will determine which device should be used. Draw reins require a more experienced rider since they are more severe, and a rider can apply twice as much pressure on the horse’s mouth than with normal reins.