A correctly adjusted running martingale can make all the difference in coping with a resistant or spooky moment when schooling your horse. Watch how it works in this sequence with my student Sara Ellsworth.
1. Coming into the "spooky" end of the arena at the trot, Sara Ellsworth's 18-hand Swedish Warmblood, Falon, is very relaxed, on the aids, well-engaged and listening. At this moment, the running martingale is passive and not interfering in any way--while it's hard to see the slight droop in the forks, you can tell by the straight line from Falon's bit through Sara's wrist to her elbow.
2. In the next step, Falon, is starting to look and get nervous about what's up ahead. Sara still has a straight line from the bit to her elbow, but without her even having to think or react, the martingale has automatically started to activate--the forks are straight and no longer droopy. She is sitting well down and even though she's slightly behind the vertical, she's there to use rider position to drive him well underneath and push him instead of trying to pull him. And that's one of my big things: Push, don't pull.
3. In the very next step Falon is very nervous and alarmed. You can tell by the slight vee in the reins that the martingale is keeping him from throwing his head in the air and getting away from Sara. Instead, she can just continue to keep the balance on his outside shoulder, drive him ahead and use her inside leg and outside rein to push him forward and toward the rail.
4. And look at this! One step later, Falon has come back down on the bit again. Sara has a straight line from the bit through her wrist to her elbow and the martingale is once again inactive and non-interfering. It's as if Falon, who a moment earlier was ready to throw his head in the air and spin and bolt, is now saying "OK, I'm good with this. Sara, I have the confidence and trust that you'll take care of me if I go where you want me to go."
Learn more about how to use a running martingale for more effective training, and how to adjust it correctly, in the March 2007 issue of Practical Horseman magazine. See "Maintain Control with the Running Martingale" on page 58.