Training Fork Safety

By Patty Wilber

Based on advice in a Jack Brainard book (If I Were to Train a Horse, I think), I often use a running martingale when starting colts. It can give a little more leverage in order to prevent a wreck while a youngster is still learning how to respond to a bit, but doesn’t interfere with natural head carriage when all is going well.

The loop goes around the horse’s neck, the clip attaches to the cinch, and the reins go through the rings.

However, I have experienced a few glitches and came up with two very innovative (cough) ways to increase safety when using this tool.


Ellie, a three-year old filly owned by Judith Huchton modelling rein stoppers and the neck piece of the martingale tied to the saddle. She has eight rides, has been out on the trail and is just beginning to lope–both leads. She is a very sweet mare, (so far).

One: I put stoppers on the reins between the bit and the ring, because this one time (at band camp?), the ring slid all the way to the bit and hung up.  My poor horse was then trapped with the martingale ring right up on the bit.  Naturally, this was not a very comfortable position for the horse and because it was a youngster, the potential for equine panic was high.  Fortunately, everything ended peacefully, and an equipment change was called for: rein stoppers!

In the photo above, on one rein I am using a neoprene bit guard with a Velcro fastener as the rein stopper.  On the other, I lost the bit guard (Velcro fell off or something), so I cut up a hoof boot pad I wasn’t using. My cut job was imperfect, probably because I did it with my pocket knife, and I had to apply some duct tape to make it work.

Neoprene bit guard with Velcro (which can double as a rein stopper) 3.99 on the Walmart site and only 5.09 shipping.

I have also seen people cut up old garden hose.

Or, you can just buy reins that are already set up.

Two:  I tie the neck piece to saddle because this one time (at band camp?), I was lunging my horse with the martingale on, and she put her head down and started bucking.  That neck piece slid right up to her poll and when she tried to get her head back up, she was, yes, trapped.  The neck piece unstuck, but another adjustment was in order.

I do like the running martingale better than a simple training fork (= running martingale without the neck strap; or  maybe a running martingale is a training fork with a neck strap?  = “Texas Training Fork” on one website I saw.) because without the neck strap, if you drop the reins, the training fork goes right down, too. Also, when you are done riding, you have to take the simple training fork off before leading the horse anywhere, which is just a pain.

Happy Friday!




About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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2 Responses to Training Fork Safety

  1. EMoonTX says:

    Rein stops are a really good idea…on English saddles there are two little D-rings for the ties that English running martingales have to connect to the saddle. And yes, if you don’t have that, then the neck thingie can definitely (not often but possibly) slide up the neck. I’ve never used a running martingale but a lot of people do. I thought of trying it with Ky, but Fabian (his former owner and not *that* Fabian!) had used one with a harsh bit and it hadn’t done what they’re supposed to do.

    The so-called trainer who was riding Kallie (before I bought her) used one with her, but she wanted a more “Arabian” head set. So Trainer Laci and I have been riding her without that. From the POV of English riding, we ride her “bare”–headstall and bit and reins, but no cavesson and none of the fancy dropped/flash/figure-8 nosebands either. So it can look kinda western if you’re at a distance, where the full-cheekpiece snaffle can look almost (!) like a western bit. I’m not going to be showing her, so her head can be where it needs to be for balance at this point…and I want her neck relaxed and stretching forward. When she gets a bit excited and wants to jig, she throws her head up, but a couple of small circles or figures of 8–small enough to make the “jigging” posture uncomfortable–get her back to a walk. Our ride today was sheer pleasure for me.

  2. Doranna says:

    Rein stops and secured neck, for sure!

    I prefer draw reins because I can use two reins and always feel exactly what I’m doing/what’s happening, but it certainly is fussier all around. Takota is now stretching so nicely at times that I’m basically dropping them–but he’s also still flinging drama around regularly enough so I’m glad to have them. (Not that they made a whit of different when that saddle pinched him, but they made a *huge,* brain-altering difference when I first put them on and he said “OH. I GET IT NOW.”

    I’m going to hunt a nice running martingale as a transition to being nekkid, but so far I’ve found it stupidly difficult to locate a decent one that might fit the horsie. Grumble.

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