8/ MAY 2021 THE RIDER My Spin: Cowboy Martingale

to remove resistance.” Al’s website:, mentions that the

martingale is their best selling item in their tack shop. In Horse & Rider, August 2016, Al Dunning

writes about the martingale. “To help a high headed or pushy horse get into a better frame.” There is a good description of how it works in that article.

things is that “it helps teach the horse to give to our hands and flex at the poll... Any kind of performance horse, the #1 control factor is the horse flexing at the poll.”

History of the Cowboy German Martingale I have to think back to how many years I’ve

By Susan Dahl.

Cowboy Martingale A trainer sometimes needs equip-

ment that will make their job easier when it comes to training horses. Similarly, a rider needs to cue a horse properly while they are learning. Today, I’m going to talk about some uses of the cowboy german martingale that a rider can appreciate. I believe in using speciality equip-

ment like the cowboy german martingale as it makes it easier for the horse to under- stand what it is that you want them to do. That’s use #1.

Why a Cowboy German Martingale? Larry Trocha has a video titled:

“Horse Training Using the German Mar- tingale, part 1” which explains why it’s his favorite training aid. “If I had nothing else to use, this would be my primary training aid”. He goes on to say that he likes it because it does several things that are critical and one of the most important

been using the western-style german martingale. I bought my first one from Larry Trocha about 15 years ago. I have several articles about it on my website (dating back to 2009): back when I was training other people’s horses (I’m retired now). The information is still noteworthy for riders if you’re interested.

Speaking of Riders... I was scribing for the NRHA judge at the last

ORHA reining show in June and was pleasantly sur- prised to see one of the top trainers, Jonathan Newn- ham (please see last month’s article) using the german martingale. He’s the only trainer/rider I’ve seen using the cowboy german martingale so I asked his opinion: “I’ve been using them for 20 years for collection, to get a horse to break at the poll and as a training aid.”

Speaking of Trainers... I had the privilege of listening to Al Dunning at

the 2015 All Equine Show in London, Ontario speak about bits and the cowboy german martingale. You can see the martingale in the photo of Al and I. In my article “A German Martingale Is Like a

Calculator”, Al “mentioned how he uses the german martingale a lot for setting a horse’s head and helping

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Now for Some Uses 1. Helps the horse understand what the rider is asking the horse to do. ie. a rider aid. 2. Shows the horse where they need to keep their head automatically, while the rider is working on regular things. 3. Riders, who are not yet at the stage where they want or can work on a horse’s headset, will use the cowboy martingale to keep the horse’s head set prop- erly as they learn. ie. The horse’s head is set properly from the beginning though through the use of the training aid. It can be removed later. 4. It’s used for collection and flexing at the poll for performance horses and I would suggest, for all horses. 5. Can be used temporarily when a horse tends to flip their heads. It removes resistance and teaches the horse not to do that. 6. Teaches the horse where to keep their head while the rider is learning a new event or sport. 7. A rider is working on headset and/or collection be- fore a show. 8. Fixes horses that are chargey, roots on a bit, or are high headed. 9. It’s great for when you just want to go for a ride and not think about head set.

Last But Not Least (a story): I had some students (a long time ago), who rode

recreationally and were not very good riders. They just wanted to ride safely. And they wanted to use the cowboy martingale like some riders would a tie down. ie. a regular piece of equipment. I was hesitant. I don’t like people using a training aid like a rider aid. I didn’t want them to become dependent on it. Why? I had some mirror time and really won-

dered why? I realized and told them - why not? I had a change of opinion. These people were not into seri- ous lessons. They just wanted a ‘quick fix’. So I

thought, why not? If it meant that these riders were going to be safer (due to the horse’s head being in a better position and therefore more control by the rider) then both the rider and horse would be happier. So that’s another use: safety for horse and rider. Putting my spin on the cowboy german martin-

gale. ReinersueQ @KISS Reiners

About Susan Dahl Susan Dahl, ORHA/NRHA past multiple champion, writer, blogger, author and clinician, retired certified professional horse trainer. Owner of Foundation Reining Training Centre in Durham, ON. She special- izes in effective horsemanship, and reining. For more information on her services: judging, clinics or resale horses, please contact her on facebook, her website: or reinersue@hot-

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