Tie down for an insecure horse?

Has anyone ever had experience using a standing martingale/tie down for a horse who is not a head tosser but insecure without constant mouth contact?

My gaited mare is going through some re-training, I bought her off a woman who only used her for trail and disclosed to me that the horse had been abused/was a nervous type. Fast forward, she’s a great horse to ride for the most part, but definitely spooky and lacks confidence. She seems to only be calmed when I’m actively on the bit, like it focuses her attention and that’s when she’s calmer and more sure footed. Getting her attention on me, she can handle most things. If I loose the reins, she immediately gets worried/distracted/looky . I used to have her on a simple d ring snaffle but my trainer said that she might not be confident enough with it, in the case of a spook I want to make sure I can get her attention back to me before a bolt. A more experienced friend of mine suggested a standing martingale (English tack I know, but that’s her discipline while I lean western) and we tried her out in it. She’s immediately calmer, was super confident in the arena and trail, and every time she got stressed and lifted her head, it bumped her back like a reminder. Eventually she didn’t even need it, and wasn’t bumping on it at all.

I know the main function of a tie down/standing martingale is to prevent head tossing, but I wondered if anyone has used it for just giving their horse some confidence. I don’t want to have to be on her mouth the whole time, and I feel like it allows her to comfort herself in a way. The goal would be that eventually I can get her to work without it and she feels confident on her own, but my friend is very adamant that she feels a notable difference in my mares behavior with it vs without.

For general context, her original bit was an imus gaited comfort bit which she rode so tense in, that if I even tapped the rein with a pinky she’d back up ten feet out of panic. I figured I’d try a simple snaffle and see if it helped her, which she calmed down quite a bit and became pleasant to ride with the exception of when she became spooky—I didn’t have enough control when she wanted to bolt. I swapped her off of a d ring snaffle I moved her to a myler short shanked bit with a medium port and she did well in it, liked the contact, but it still took her time to relax and I need to give her lots of reminders I’m there. We are currently trying her in an 3 ring elevator snaffle bit and the martingale and I could ride her with a totally loose rein and she’s confident and happy.

Sorry for the wall of explanation, just want to know if anyone’s used a tie down this way. Or on the opposite side, would you never use one for this or other reasons? I’ve heard they can be risky on trail through water but I don’t intend on taking her through water or steep ground.
I don’t know too much about this kind of tack, so I’d appreciate any insight.

If the elevator bit is a gag bit. It is used to raise the head. A martingale is for lowering the head.

I can tell you that a girl at our pony club put on a gag bit and a running martingale. The horse ran into a tree.

A running martingale when fitted correctly meaning, when pulled up the rings should reach the wither or 10 cm below, and there is no ‘v’ from the hands to the bit, is for stopping the horse from raising its head and only comes into play when the horse raises its head.

Standing martingales were illegal at out pony club. If a horse is going to fall it sometimes throws up its head. A standing martingale prevents this.


Honestly I would go back to square one and teach the horse to go on a loose rein. Also do a lot of groundwork. I don’t think the rein contact makes her feel “more confident.” Rather she hits the bit or martingale and obeys the pressure. But the panic button is still there. I wouldn’t feel safe trail riding a horse that had the potential to reslly bolt. I mean really bolt out of the blue, not just scoot a few feet.


Interesting, in our riding instructor program, in continental Europe, we were mandated to have a running martingale, with proper rein stops, on every horse we got on.
It was considered a safety issue.
Properly adjusted, a running martingale considered like a seat belt.
A running martingale just sits there but for that rare time your horse’s head gets so high it may hit you in the face.

Now, standard martingales were banned every place as a safety risk, in riding centers, while training and at shows.
The reason, if a horse were to stumble, a standing martingale adjusted where a horse can’t raise it’s head but so far, also keeps a horse from stretching his neck to help regain it’s balance and so is more apt to fall.

It was a big surprise when I came to the US and so many, practically all hunters, were using a standing martingale, training and at shows.
Jumpers still only used running martingales with stoppers on the reins.

Now, interesting that the OP finds her horse going better with a standing martingale.
Many barrel racers tell me it depends on the horse, some run better with one, others without.
For them, it also is about what each horse prefers as much as the rider and tack it runs under.

I assume the OP has had a vet look at the horse’s mouth and check it’s head and neck, to be sure it doesn’t has a physical issue adding to the situation?

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Are you sure that is what you meant? Or did you mean that “Standing martingales were illegal”?

ETA that it has now been fixed.

Actually OP just had another thread about this sane horse I assume, where she concluded she needed to restart the horse from basics. I don’t see where going trail riding in a gag bit and tie down is part of the first week of restarting.



I am so sorry.

As you all thought it was standing martingales that were banned, not running martingales. I wonder if this silly phone changed what I wrote as I put running earlier. It seems to change a lot of what I type. I will have to proofread better or change a setting.

I agree with others. What is needed here is training. Not changing bits and adding other kinds of gadgets.

Think of dressage as the trunk of a tree. On the branches are trail riding, jumping, polo, cross country. Etc, etc.

You do not take out a horse trail riding or jumping, etc etc. Until it is hoof perfect in the arena without severe bits, martingales, etc.

This is not just the horses welfare at stake but ultimately the life of the rider.


Yes that’s me! I should clarify, we are starting her from basics, and I am not riding her, my trainer and friend are. We are trying to find a bit that she rides in comfortably that will help her feel confident, since my d ring snaffle wasn’t doing enough. And while testing out bits she found the elevator/standing martingale to be infinity calming. We had decided to take her out on trail (I say ‘we’ but I’m on a slower horse) after arena work that went really well and since she’s more stable on trail than she in the arena, we gave it a shot and she had no incident the entire time. She was also with a rider I trusted to ride better than me, and she did very well. For whatever reason, trail is comfortable to her. We are still working with her on the ground, on basics like lunging and desensitizing work, etc.

The point of this thread is to ask for a second opinion on the recommendation from my friend with the standing martingale/tie down. I don’t want to hinder my mares training, but I also want to be able to feel safe on her when we start working in the saddle when that time comes. In the meantime, experienced friends are working with me in desensitizing and basics both in the saddle and on the ground. Im new to a this stuff, so I came here to ask for opinions before I bought tack, or put my horse in something that could have downsides.

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The snaffle bit is the kindest bit and what horses are started in.

In her defense, she’s never bolted on me ever. In her worst spooks I’ve been on with her she just spins around gets jiggy. She’s jogged a few feet before and stopped immediately when I asked, but my friend told me she “bites through the bit” in the d ring and that I run the risk of a full bolt with her. I just trusted this and changed out bits since I don’t know a lot about bits and the last thing I wanted was to have her in a bit that was unsettling my horse. I suggested using the myler bit or elevator without the tie down and my friend said she needs mouth contact and that the tie down is best. If the tie down won’t really help her and be more like a crutch, I think I’d rather just train her without it.

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Okay, this is what I was afraid of. I don’t like the idea that my horse can’t lift its head when she wants, and since she’s not a head tosser, she just tenses her neck muscles with her head up high, I was confused by the recommendation to put her in one.

She mostly uses it as a reminder to not panic and it substitutes rein/mouth pressure. I saw her work in an arena with it and instead of butt tucking and tensing when worried, she’d bump her head up, hit the martingale, and then bring herself back down calmer and focused. It was like a reminder to keep working. Eventually she stopped bumping on it and just kept her head level with no more reactions. But like I said I’m very conflicted bc I’ve heard of dangerous things standing martingales can do, and I don’t want to just take the easy way out if I could just train her to accept less mouth/rein contact. My friend seems to really want me to use it, but I’m not convinced.

Autocorrect does that and some times it doesn’t change a word until you click post.
You may have proofed it right, but it still came out what autocorrect decides it needs to be.

My phone conducts updates automatically.
I keep clicking autocorrect off after each one re-installs it.
At times it still on without my knowledge and it tricks me, as it did you.
All you can do is shrug after the fact.

I agree, don’t ride a horse that has problems where the problems make the situation dangerous.
Until reliable control is established, ride under controllable situations.

Also don’t forget to have your vet check for any physical problems that may be adding to the horse’s discomfort if you have not yet, like, bad teeth, kink in the neck, bad eyesight, rule all that out also.

We had some horses come to us to retrain that all they needed is a good teeth floating to get rid of mouth pain making using a bit painful, why horse would go better with one and not another bit.

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Yes, this is what I swapped her to when I got her bc her imus bit was way too harsh. She was tense, would rush to do whatever I said even with the quietest hands, as if she was afraid of consequence. When I put the snaffle on her she loosened up, felt calmer, and happier. But I was told by friends who rode her than she “bites through the bit” and doesn’t respect it and would bolt one day. She never bolted, our incident where I fell off wasn’t a bolt, she picked up a trot on trail and I wasn’t sitting correctly (I can balance on my hands sometimes when I don’t focus on my posture hard enough) and a well timed trip had me out of the saddle. She didn’t run off, she stopped and came back and nudged me with her nose like she was asking me if I was okay. I don’t know a lot about bits, I know basics, but I suppose I got worried if I wasn’t seeing something everyone else was so I decided to test other bits and see if maybe there would be one she liked more. They say she rides better in a myler/elevator but I had no problem with her in the snaffle.

I don’t really know what to do at this point. I don’t know as much as my friends who’ve had horses and been riding their whole lives, so I don’t want to turn down their well meaning advice as if I know better.

Bitting up will not stop a horse that bolts.

The worst bolter I ever knew was when I was a teen. Another girl owned him and rode him in one of those basic western curbs. And when the mood took him he would bolt for home.

A horse needs to be taught to respond to a bit and honestly I do not even know what “bites through the bit” means. I do know that as an English rider I find a snaffle to be a very powerful bit not least because you can effectively take a horse’s head away from them in a one rein stop or tight circle that means they can’t bolt. However I realize that many Western riders are uncomfortable with snaffles and want some leverage power.

It’s great you have people to help. However it would be even better if you could find someone to help with a deeper knowledge base about starting and restarting horses. From what you said about this horse in your other thread she needs at least a month of groundwork and inhand work before anyone gets back on her.

You are describing a horse that is heavy on the bit, used to pulling, and a trainer that is going into a war of escalation on the bits. What you need is to teach her to be light on the snaffle.

Our dressage program does this but obviously I cant really instruct via message here. But I see it done all the time.

”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹You may need to pay for this expertise. “Friends” that help out often make matters worse.


Ah yes! There was a point she was being more resistant in the snaffle and we got her checked and she needed a teeth float. We fixed her up, and she worked fine again. We’ve had her back checked by a chiro, vet has come out, she’s fine as far as we know.

I don’t know what it means either, I think it means they brace on it/ignore it and not listen? But I’ve always found her responsive in the arena, she challenges once or twice but it’s not hard to get her to listen.

Yeah… I’m starting to think this is what I have to do. I used to have an old gaited specializing trainer I loved but the covid situation made me unable to meet with her so I’ve relied on friends/trainers around the stable to help (they have a wealth of knowledge which I’m grateful for, but this bit changing frenzy is worrying me). I think I’ll call her up and work with her one on one to find what works best. I don’t want to rely on heavy mouth pressure/tack if I don’t have to, I just want to give my horse confidence and safety. She has such great potential to be a great horse.

My thoughts on working with young or troubled horses. First you need to get the appropriate energy level. If you have a hot young OTTB you may need some energetic longeing or turnout, for instance. Then you need their attention. For instance, if you have a herd bound horse or one fresh off 5 years in pasture, you need to do enough groundwork that they have their attention on you all the time, even when they are momentarily looking at something in the distance. When you have adjusted their energy and have their attention, then you need to make sure you can adjust their mood to calm happy cooperative. If the horse is nervous or angry or wired up, then you need to do things to de-escalate that.

Finally you start on actually teaching cues and expecting obedience. You teach whoa and gait changes by voice on the longe and even better if they will halt from a canter at liberty when you say whoa. You teach them to give to the bit and halt in hand.

You do all this on the ground before you even think of riding. Every day you need to assess energy level, attention, mood, and obedience. You can never take all these for granted even in the more seasoned horse. There will be days they are high and flighty and days they are lethargic. Obviously different horses fall on different places on the spectrum.

You need a ground work person to help you with the basics to make this horse safe for you. A riding trainer is going to want to move too quickly to under saddle.

After you have done lots of groundwork in a rope hackamore you might try riding in a mechanical hackamore. If the horse is fussy and leaning on the bit taking the bit away might stop the cycle of pull and fuss. A hackamore is too severe a bit to ride on contact so it will force you to have a loose rein and use your seat more


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I agree with Scribbler 100% and I, too have never heard the term bites through a bit.

You have someone telling you to change to severe bits and to use a standing martingale.

Don’t walk away. RUN.

You coming off after a trip is what happens with learning and no one is at fault. The fact that she came back to you and did not leave you to walk home is fantastic.

How did you come to buy an untrained horse as a beginner? If because of the same friend. Then quicken your RUN.

You need to start this horse from the beginning as Scribbler said, so sit back and take stock and take emotion out of it.

As you now know, friends for free are not helping but actually making things worse.

Of course the same can be said for reading what we say on this forum.

It is going to cost you a heap more money to get this horse trained.

The cheapest thing for you to do is sell this horse and take riding lessons and if you do buy a horse, you buy an older horse that is already trained. This horse will cost you more to buy, but will cost you a lot less in the long run and you will he able to ride that horse immediately, if you have had enough lessons beforehand.

If you keep this horse, because you are unable to keep emotion out and of course you are in love now. Then find a great trainer and do not begrudge $1.00 they ask for.

Your problem is you do not know a good trainer from a bad trainer, as you do not know what you do not know.

We have all been there. Do not think you are alone. We are with you and we will help you whichever decision you make.

But none of us can help you as much as the trainer you choose in real life.

If going the second route. I would start another thread saying where you are and asking which trainer to go to. I would also do that if moving to your area as an experienced rider.

Say where you are. What level the horse and you are at. What discipline you are wanting to learn. Whether you are going to keep this horse at home or move it to where the trainer is or where it is now and who do they suggest is the best person to help them.

So that is the first fork in your road to being a great horse person.


Thanks Bluey.

I did go and edit it and have proofread after posting as well. This is a new phone. I turned it off on the other phone and have been getting more and more frustrated with this one. GRRR.

I ended up with this horse in part because I was a bit of a bleeding heart and her last owner had pulled her from a bad situation, but couldn’t give her the right environment (backyard stall, no arena to work in, and a disability on top of it all that made her decide to let her go). I have been riding myself since I was young, and always considered myself intermediate. That being said though, I was always taking lessons, I didn’t own my own horse until recently (first horse was a rescue with kidney disease so I really didnt ride her so much as just give her proper end of life) and so I am very inexperienced when it comes to tack, general care, and training. If a horse has known vices, I’m comfortable dealing with them (old horse I use to ride would randomly bolt in the arena when he felt the urge, for no reason, and I’d just ride it out). But unknowns and a horse who comes with trauma and training gaps is new for me and definitely has lowered my confidence. My mare needs and experienced rider for sure, which I am not. I suppose I say all this because when I bought her, I tested her out first in a community arena and she did really well with me on her. I gave her opportunities to buck, dump me, try and unseat me, anything, and she didn’t. She spooked once or twice but it was superficial planting, and she tends not to spook as hard anyway when she’s “working” vs on the ground. I thought I could handle her issues as long as she was okay in the saddle. I saw how hard she was trying to please. The more I rode her and got to know her, the more I noticed her gaps and behavior. I think she was also unnerved by a boarding facility—much noisier and full of strangers.

I got a gaited specializes trainer who helped me learn a lot more about her needs and how to ride her but had to stop after she had colic surgery and was laid up for 4 months. Then of course covid hit and I couldn’t see my trainer at all. It’s made things harder for sure. We’ve been mostly focused on her groundwork training but it’s certainly depending on the day how she handles it. I absolutely attune my fall to being on me, we were gaiting up a little hill, she tripped real hard and I tensed when I should have moved with her and I tumbled off. Bruised ego, but now I gotta focus on having a better seat.

My friend is a damn good rider, but definitely is more risk taking and daring than I am and I think her riding background has her rely a lot on spurs, harsh bits, etc to get horses to do what she wants, and while I’m not saying that’s a bad idea in some cases, I think if I tried to spur my horse she’d leap out of her skin. The heavy hand hasn’t seemed to work with her in the past and only makes her anxiety worse. I want a bit for my horse that helps her confidence, but I don’t know a lot about them and so far I’ve gotten so many different recommendations I’m at a loss. I want to pick what’s best for her and I’ll just conform to learn it. I think what I’ve got to do is just get back in touch with my old trainer, and figure out what my mare needs together.

I think if I sold her off, she’d have to go through the process of adjusting to a new person all over again and I don’t know if she could deal with that. It took me months to get her to even like me, and a traumatic surgery before she even trusted me. I’ve promised to care for her and I’m committed to it.