Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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aeron_mack.karen_monroeAeron Mack / Middleburg PhotoAeron Mack is an honorary whipper-in. Recently she was bewildered by conflicting statements concerning martingales. She writes:

“According to Wadsworth [Riding to Hounds in America, 1962], running martingales are dangerous and not permitted, but I can't find anyone who can explain exactly why. I recently took a clinic with Aidan O'Connell who explained the dangers of a standing martingale, which I agree with. Personally I do not use a martingale of any sort, but would like to be able to better explain to people why they can be dangerous. It would seem to me that, in the event the horse stumbles or falls, a running martingale would better allow him to keep/regain his balance. I also like that if I slip my reins over a tricky jump, the running martingale is also released, where a standing cannot be. Any words of wisdom on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

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+1 # Cheryl Microutsicos 2011-11-13 09:57
I once had my horse get the ring of his running martingale stuck on a bottom tooth, believe it or not. I do not remember if I had martingale stops on at the time... maybe not?? But believe me, I make sure that I have them on each time now. That was a scary event, luckily my horse stood still and didn't panic too much!

I use a running martingale and the only thing I don't like is if you have to hand someone your horse to hold or get off and lead them it's not as easy, you can't just slip the reins over their head.
+3 # Nancy Ambrosiano, MFH 2011-11-16 12:38
I had always understood that the risk was for the running martingale rings to be caught on a passing branch, facing forward as they are, and the other issue being the running martingale's potential interference with the horse's mouth.

A well-adjusted standing martingale, long enough to allow a floundering horse to regain his footing, merely (and effectively) protects one from a broken nose. If adjusted too short, indeed, it would hinder a horse's jumping efforts, but that's an adjustment issue.
+1 # tiffany teeter 2011-11-18 12:14
no one has mentioned a stumble and the horses front foot getting caught. it happened to me. fotunately themartingale broke ! the whole episode was unattractive. ideally ones rides with only a breastplate or a yoke to grab on to and the horse dpoesnt throw his head about
# Cheryl Microutsicos 2011-11-22 11:41
Tiffany, along my my "tooth in the martingale" story and your foot caught story... my friend's mare actually got her standing martingale strap caught in her mouth! These are all pretty scary events. I wonder if the risk of these freaky things outweighs the risk of getting whacked in the head.
# Ellen Jefferies 2013-03-28 11:55
And I had a bratty mare somehow manage to stick her head behind a running martingale (with proper stops) so it went over her nose. Would have done the same with a standing martingale. By the time she had enuf training to no longer be bratty, she also no longer needed a martingale.
+3 # Andy Bozdan 2011-11-20 15:09
I have to say that as an English huntsman and also in my time a professional show jumper I hate standing martingales with a passion! Running Martingales give your horse a chance to stretch out over a fence and use themselves properly and freely over a jump. Standing martingales do not! Also I have seen many standing martingales so badly adjusted that I have wondered how the poor horse could jump anything let alone a decent coop! Those who likethe standing martingale will always point to the safety for the rider if the horse has a tendency to throw its head up. I would agree that a novice rider might feel a lot safer and confident with a standing martingale but any half decent rider should be able to cope with that kind of nonsense from the horse if they cant then perhaps they need to get their horse sorted out rather than 'tying' their horses head to his chest! There is also the fact that when you get into trouble in front over a fence if you have a running martingale you have the option of slipping your reins and helping your horse. With the standing martingale this is not really an option. Depends on your ability as a horseman and the manners of the horse you are riding I guess!
-1 # Charlotte McDonald 2011-11-25 10:31
I have seen the dangers of the running martingale including the risk of getting caught on a tooth or branch even with proper stops in place. Interference with the mouth and steering ability are other issues. The reins should never be taken over the horse's head in case it gets away. A standing martingale allows better head control. Dressage work is not going to control most head carriage when galloping across an open field. A proper martingale and suitable bit are key to control as well as less grain and more exercise!
If a horse stumbles, it is probably unsound and unfit for hunting. If you do not know how to adjust your tack properly, you should ask for help or you are probably not experienced enough to go hunting.
If you are using the martingale to avoid getting "whacked in the head" you should probably get another horse and sit up in the saddle.
Horses however, are individual. If you don't know the difference, consult someone who has experience foxhunting.
# Cheryl Microutsicos 2011-11-28 17:34
While I don't agree with some of those comments, I did want to report back that I hunted a good long and hard hunt yesterday without any martingale and things went just fine. To avoid extra tack cleaning and more things to keep track of, I am going to go without it for awhile and see how we make out. :-)
# Charlotte Mcdonald 2012-01-29 08:39
To the person who wants to avoid extra tack cleaning, regardless of whether you use a martingale you should always use a breastplate, is a martingale strap really more to clean?? If you are really having good hunting you will probably be covered in mud from head to toe! Anyway, I'm glad you are enjoying hunting martingale or not. As you get more experienced and move on to new horses, you may find more "gadgets" helpful, especially if you end up on thoroughbreds to keep up with the coyotes!
# Theresa McManus 2012-01-28 22:55
I'm sorry this is one of my pet peeves, There is no need for a gadet. When the martingale is taken off is the problem solved? NO so why not school and learn to communicate with the your horse to drop their head!
# Charlotte Mcdonald 2012-01-29 08:33
Schooling is of course an important point. Many horses will respond to this well in an enclosed ring or arena, or even in an open space under relaxed conditions. However, many will get excited and want to run under Full Cry conditions, flat out galloping behind hounds and other horses and a coyote! Most horses and riders are not accomplished enough to be able to keep their horses in a "frame" in full gallop. In fact, I'm not even sure a horse could truly gallop in a frame. If you can control your horse without a martingale (is a bit a gadget too?) great, iif not you shouldn't come hunting out of control. Spoken as an MFH
# Connie 2012-06-20 15:51
Because when schooling in an arena or out on a nice brisk trail ride with friends, there is still the absence of the huntsman's horn, the hounds and the fields. My perfectly happy to plod along mare goes into another gear on hunting days. It's not a bad gear but a gear that is controlled with a martingale correctly adjusted for fox hunting. Maybe in her second season of hunting we won't need it.

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Panel of Experts

Hugh Robards, ex-MFH

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Dr. Roger Scullin, MFH

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Jerry Miller, MFH

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Paul Striberry

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Nigel Peel, MFH (UK)

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C. Martin Wood III, MFH

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Steve Price

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C. Martin Scott, ex-MFH (UK)

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Marion Thorne, MFH

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