By Patty Wilber
The German Martingale is a training aid that can help “a high-headed or pushy horse get into a better frame by drawing the horse into a more favorable working position, with a flexed poll”, says Al Dunning, who uses them for horses of all ages and training levels.
Here is what a German martingale looks like.
Here is what it looks like on a horse–Gino.
I sort of made the German martingale shown in the picture. I say “sort of” because the reins with the rings were a gift from my friend Marcia when she was downsizing. I had another pair of reins where I had put the rings on myself, but these are sturdier. So, I just made the rope part.
The American Quarter Horse Association allows German martingales to be used in warm-up pens and they are also legal in barrel racing, pole bending, stake race, team penning, and ranch sorting classes/events.
I generally use the German martingale in young horses after they are riding confidently and we are ready to step up a little. I like it because it helps me more easily show a horse where they can put their heads when flexing at the poll. When they get there, the pressure releases. I have to be careful not to ask for too much and be sure to help the horse find the release, or else they can learn to lean on the snaffle bit. My horses are rarely heavy on any of the very standard shank bits I use (when they get there), but I do seem to end up with a bit more heaviness with snaffles.
As an aside, cow horses frequently stay in snaffles or bosals and are ridden two-handed through their five-year-old year where as reiners are in shank bits by three. The advantage of being able to go two-handed on unpredictable cows may be the reason.
For my most recent group of colt starts, I used a German martingale on Teeter to help her be a little lower-headed and a little softer in the face. I used one on Gino, and probably will some more, to help him flex at the poll. He can tend to be a little too low headed, so I have to watch that with the martingale. The martingale helped Gette find a way to stay soft in her neck and poll, and gather herself to drive from behind to ease from a trot to a lope instead of raising her head to raise her shoulders to get to the lope from the trot.
I did not use this tool at all for Rip. He did not need it, and for Daytona, who wanted to essentially fling herself into the lope, instead of using a martingale while riding, I used side reins and asked her to do a lot of trot-to-lope transitions in the round pen, without a rider.
Each horse is different and finding the right training path is part of the fun of riding young horses!