Hi ridecamp; regarding the post by Jon Linderman questioning the use of martingales for his horse. I just attended a hunter jumper clinic held by Nick Karazisses who is currently at the Indio High Desert Jumping Circuit, which hopefully will be on TV. That's the one where they jump real high, win lots of money, and some of the jumps look like Shamu the whale.
At his clinic, he had a very high strung horse with a standing martingale (tie down) . Now I have bad feelings about those, because I know two people who have put those on their horses and the horse feeling claustrophobic, reared and flipped over backwards. I also don't like running martingales very well as they limit your ability to use a direct rein on a green horse, and its like having a locked steering wheel in that case.
I talked with Nick about it, and questioned his use of the standing martingale, especially on a horse expected to perform a gymnastic of jumping six jumps over three feet, at twelve foot intervals, with a ground rail in between at the 6 foot mark. Here he was expecting the horses to really lift and use those shoulders, and I was waiting for a wreck.
He told me that he agreed about the running martingale and doesn't use those much. He also likes the German Martingale, which I have also used, as that one is not interfereing with the rider, and the horse self-rewards himself with a correct head carraige. Those however are too messy to use for an endurance ride...too many loops and snaps, what a pain it would be.
But then he told me that the standing martingale that he uses, is adjusted so that if the horse's head is quite high, to where the horse becomes hollow ( or breaks your nose..ha ha) that is where the standing martingale comes up against the horse. It is interesting to note that high jumpers like that apparently like the horses heads a bit more elevated than dressage riders, and so it looked kind of foreign to me. But if you watch someone like Susan Hutchinson, you'll see that the horse's head is a bit high as they coil for a jump. In endurance we may need that highness on occasion in order to go a hurdle. So you don't want the head tied down like a Quarter horse that is learning penny rolling. (sigh) The thing that interested me the most though was that he said that the horse can be totally controlled laterally by the rider, meaning you can use a direct rein.
Now I am like you trying to keep the youngster's heads down naturally through training, and for that I use dressage. I believe, that the horse needs to develop the muscles to stay in a frame, and that takes time to get them to soften and to carry themselves consistently in that manner. Further, I don't like using tie downs in a ride where I may encounter water or obstacles that may cause a risk of drowning or injury to the horse. You gotta take off the device in that instance. But if you are fearing getting your face smashed in (and didn't a woman do that at Tevis last year and came in top ten...then going to the ER later for stitches)..you could use a standing martingale for that safety purpose. Just be real careful to adjust it so your horse doesn't freak out, they can move their head up as needed, and don't introduce this at a ride. You gotta practice with it at home first. You might even improvise with an elastice type device (which can be home-made successfully out of a bicycle inner tube) Young horses seem to respond well to "boingy" restraining devices.
Good luck! Beth