Mythbuster Monday: Riding a Horse in a Tie Down/Standing Martingale Helps Him Balance

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Does riding a horse in a tie down/standing martingale help him balance?

It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Does riding a horse in a tie down/standing martingale help him balance? Can it cause issues? Does it build up a different set of muscles? Read further to find out!

Myth: Riding a horse in a tie down helps him balance

Myth or Fact: Both


Standing martingale and tie down are terms that can be used interchangeably (depending on the type and discipline). In western riding, this piece of equipment is referred to as a tie down. However, in English riding, the tack piece is referred to as a standing martingale. For the purposes of this article, we will use the term tie down.

Tie downs are a piece of optional tack that have a noseband connected to a strap that goes between the horse’s legs and connects to the girth. In English riding, often the martingale will connect to the breast collar and does not go between the horse’s legs. Either way, the mechanism is to prohibit the horse’s head from going too far up. The main reason for this piece of equipment is to have more control by limiting head motion.

Although reasons people choose to use tie downs vary, many argue that it gives the horse more balance. But does the mechanism of tying a horse’s head down allow the horse to balance better?


According to an article by Shame in the Show Ring*, tie downs are a crutch that cover the real issue. Horses should not need any aid in balancing. Naturally, horses can run full speed and maneuver their bodies to make stops and turn quickly. If a horse needs a piece of equipment to aid them in their natural movement, the trainer should be asking why. There may be gaps in training, the rider may not be balanced (which causes the horse to be off balance), or there is a soundness issues that is keeping the horse from balancing.

*We are aware that this blog can be problematic. However, in this instance, valuable information is available. 


What many refer to as “bracing” in the competition pen is when horses have heavy contact on the bit, which leads to the horse throwing its head up to get away from the pressure. Horses use their heads, necks, and spines together to balance. The analogy used in this article is that putting a tie down on a horse is the equivalent of asking a tight rope walker to balance without his hands. The article also points out that horses ridden in a tie down are more likely to slip, trip, and fall in the competition pen than those that are ridden without one.


In an article by Horse and Rider, Fred Whitfield, a seven-time Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association World Champion Calf Roper, discusses the concerns of tie downs. He states that while many rodeo riders use tie downs to give the horse something to brace against while stopping, tie downs can prevent a horse from regaining his balance if he stumbles. He also says that tie downs are often used by many riders to compensate for their heavy hands and inadequate training methods. Whitfield asserts that while correctly utilizing a tie down every once in a while may not be a bad thing, constant use of one puts strain on the neck muscles and vertebrae causing arthritis over time.


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) also put out an article discussing the use of tie downs for balance. They state that if a horse can not naturally balance at high speeds there is an underlying cause that needs to be investigated. The horse may be in pain or discomfort or he may have balance issues due to poor training techniques. Also, tie downs may create pain due to the horse being unable to maneuver his head and neck the way that is natural for him.

In The Team Roping Journal, an interview was done with Trevor Brazile. Brazile states that the intended use of a tie down is not for it to be balanced on all the time. He also says that horses should not be restricted when they’re doing their job. They should have freedom while they’re working for their rider. However, he has seen horses that have been in tie downs their entire working career due to gaps in training. When another person bought them and attempted to ride without a tie down, the horse was so used to having the tie down, it could not carry themselves without it.

One of the reasons horses will utilize the tie down to balance is because the rider has taken the horse’s natural ability to balance away. When a horse can’t have his natural headset, he can’t balance correctly, which leaves his only option to brace into the tie down. Over time, this will can cause shoulder and back soreness.

Horses should be able to balance naturally without any tools. If a horse is utilizing a tie down to balance, the trainer should try to understand the underlying cause.

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