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Draw Rein vs. Running Martingale

Draw reins and martingales have different purposes, and it can be challenging to figure out when you need to use either. This article explains draw reins and martingales and how they should be applied to your horse during training.

Draw reins and martingales have similar functions but are not the same. The martingale is a training aid when a horse is not bending or raising his head too high, draw reins teach a horse to keep light contact on the bit while freely moving forward into the bridle, supple, balanced, and straight.

Running martingales and draw reins are training tools, but how do they work, and what are the differences? When should they be used? So how do you know when they may be helpful, or will they cause more problems? We discuss these questions to help you distinguish between the two and when to use them.

Draw Reins

English and western riders typically use draw reins to train horses to collect. Draw reins are manufactured from nylon, rolled leather, cord, and cotton webbing.

Some horse trainers say draw reins are helpful training tools teaching a horse to be light on the bit. Draw reins are not fixed, so a rider can quickly change the tension or contact.

Draw reins directly link from the girth to the bit and imitate the reins; they are stiff and must therefore not be adjusted too tight.

Draw reins should only be used when a horse is ridden under saddle, fitted with a snaffle bit bridle and standard reins. Draw reins double a rider’s strength; some riders use them on horses with hard mouths or horses that are hard to control.

However, the force the horse rider applies the horse will feel double. So, take extra care when using force when teaching with draw reins. Always ride with a gentle soft hand when using draw reins.

Draw reins are just an extended leather strap of 17 feet buckled in the center, with ends that circle the girth on both sides of the horse. Draw reins go from the girth up through the bit rings, returning to the rider’s hands, creating a pulley system that lets a rider work on muscle memory with a horse reinforcing good carriage and movement. 

Draw reins are a great way to teach a horse correct head and neck balance and reinforce a supple neck. Horse trainers recommend draw reins to be used only for flatwork. If a rider wants to use draw reins for jumping, they should run them through a neck strap to keep them away from the horse’s legs for safety.

Draw reins teach a horse to lower his head under the saddle and feel light bit contact as he stretches down and forward. When draw reins are used to gain collection, there is a give-and-take action to the rider’s hands. A rider picks up feels the horse becomes collected but then loosens the reins immediately.

Draw reins are great for young green horses and an excellent way to achieve the sensation of wearing a bit attached to reins while lunging. Draw reins fasten to the bit just like regular reins but then attach to the saddle to motivate softness in the horse’s mouth. 

Draw reins encourage a horse to lower his neck and head, with his nose slightly ahead of the vertical, guiding him in position. Your draw rein contact should always be loose when your horse’s head is in the correct position.

Using draw reins as a teaching tool is fine, but you don’t want your horse to depend on them once he learns how to collect.

Continuously riding with draw reins can teach your horse to lean or hang on them. It could also have the opposite effect when you remove the draw reins; your horse may be less on the bit because the draw reins kept him there.

Your horse could even throw his head up or push his nose out, the exact things you were teaching your horse not to do. To avoid this, it is essential to keep draw rein training short.

A rider should warm their horse up in regular reins, teach ten minutes with draw reins, and then ask the horse to maintain the correct head and neck position in regular reins.

Draw reins are meant to be a subtle reminder of where your horse should collect and help keep him balanced.

Draw reins play a part in teaching a horse to be collected, but a rider should also have a soft hand, a balanced seat, and correct leg pressure to teach a horse. Draw reins are meant as a teaching aid, not to be used every day.

Running Martingale

Running martingales give the horse rider extra control and stop him from raising his head too high. A running martingale works by steadying the reins and applying pressure on the mouth through the reins and bit when a horse raises his head too high.

Most show jumpers prefer using a running martingale specifically for strong or young horses.

The running martingale consists of two straps: one strap fastens to the girth after passing through the horse’s front legs, then splits into two straps, with a ring at the end through which the reins run.

The reins should have stoppers to prevent the rings from getting caught on the buckle where the reins attach to the bit. The split strap is kept in place by a second strap that fits around the horse’s neck.

Most horse riders prefer the running martingale because it does not influence the horse when it is in the proper position. Running martingales are popular for showjumping and eventing.

Running martingales are a popular training tool because, in most cases, they help soften hand signals from the rider to the horse and vice versa.

When a rider has poor hands or a bit sensitive horse, a running martingale is an excellent choice to soften things. A running martingale stops inconsistent rein aids from young riders transmitted to a horse’s mouth” and reduces the tension on the horse’s mouth.

When fitted correctly, the ‘fork’ of the running martingale must loosen an inch when the horse lowers his head. There must be a straight line from the rider’s hands to the bit rings when the horse’s head is in the proper position, and the martingale is not restricting him.

German Martingale

Another martingale that is an excellent training aid is the German martingale. It is designed to control a horse’s head carriage, preventing it from carrying its head too high.

The German martingale is an excellent teaching tool that uses leverage to teach a horse to lower its head and bend its neck into the proper position.

German martingales help high-headed horses become collected and draw the horse into a better working position. German martingales help riders maintain an excellent vertical head position, but the pressure is released when they are in the correct frame, making them a softer choice than draw reins.

A German martingale is a great training aid as it slightly puts pressure on the horse when he raises his head too high and releases the instant; the horse softens his neck, rewarding the horse and allowing a rider to ride with direct bit contact.

When a horse starts to get too forward, the draw will engage as a kind of discipline, teaching the horse to return to the more comfortable zone where there is less pressure on the bit. 

With a German martingale rein, the martingale forks rise from the chest and loop through the bit, then snap onto rings. Generally, German martingales come complete with reins.

It is important to know German martingales are generally illegal at most horse shows.

Don’t use a German martingale if you are a novice horse rider or checking with a horse trainer.

When using a German martingale, consider these points.

  • The longer the martingale sets, the higher the horse will carry his head.
  • The shorter the martingale, the lower the horse’s head will be drawn.  
  • To keep the draw attached longer, fasten the martingale to the ring that is further from the bit.
  • To transition to a straight rein quicker, fasten the martingale to the rein ring closest to the bit.  

Draw Reins VS Running Martingale

A round frame and correct head position almost every horse rider strives for in horse sports. But it doesn’t always come that easy. It requires a lot of training, sometimes for years on end. Achieving that suppleness and strength will require a lot of progressive training and training aids.

Running martingales and draw reins are excellent to teach horses the suppleness and roundedness of the head riders need. Draw reins are fastened to the saddle, run through the bit rings, and end up in the rider’s hands. Experienced horse riders should only use draw reins to correct poorly schooled horses.

The running martingale is the better choice because it offers no resistance when the horse’s head is in the correct position. A martingale only corrects the horse when his head is wrong and then releases him when he fixes it.

Running martingales is safer than drawing reins as the horse rider has more control over restricting or allowing the horse’s head movement. A running martingale does not place a lot of leverage on your horse like draw reins. It is soft and light and gives a little extra softness to your horse’s face.

Using draw reins, a rider can keep pulling and pulling until the horse’s chin is on his chest, giving no release when the horse’s head is in the correct position. That would be the incorrect way to use draw reins.

When draw reins are used correctly, they can be very effective for achieving good head position and suppling exercises, but they require an experienced soft hand to be applied effectively.

However, it is easier to make a mistake with draw rains than with a running martingale. Therefore, we prefer using a running martingale to correct a horse’s head carriage gently.

Both are excellent training aids in the right hands, and they should always be used with great care during training. It should be noted that both these items are no substitute for good hands.

Another point to consider before using draw reins or martingales is to check your horse’s teeth. Make sure your horse’s teeth are floated first by a professional to give it a better chance on the bit. You might find an incredible difference in a horse’s response and behavior to the bit once their teeth are done.

How to Hold Draw Reins Correctly

Get your horse forward onto your hand; do not pull back against his mouth. It is the most critical point about using draw reins never pulling back. Always remember, you are trying to lower and lengthen your horse, not shorten his neck.


Both draw reins and martingales are training aids to teach a horse to lower its head and get collected. Running martingales functions in a similar way to draw reins. They are helpful on horses with a high head carriage and designed to change how a horse feels pressure.

Martingales encourage the horse to lower its head, and then when its head is in the correct position, the pressure is immediately released. Draw reins are great training tools to teach a horse to be light on the bit but should only be used for short periods.

As with all teaching aids, martingales and draw reins are helpful, and each one has its uses; however, some are more effective on certain horses than others.

Both require an experienced rider to use them. They will help your horse bend and soften on the bit when applied correctly.

We found that a running martingale is the best choice as it corrects when a horse raises its head too high, but the pressure is released once the horse fixes himself allowing a softening reward when he does so. 

We hope we cleared up the question about draw reins vs. running martingales for you and that you will make the best choice for your horse.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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