Martingales and draw reins all have a different purpose, but it can be confusing trying to figure out when you need what. National Finals Rodeo qualifier and futurity trainer Danyelle Campbell explains types of martingales and draw reins, how and when to use them, how to adjust them and safety when using headgear.

When trying any new headgear or training aid, one of her biggest pieces of advice is to keep safety at the forefront.

“Always when you put any leverage on a horse for the first time, jip them around the roundpen with it on, or if you don’t have that access, pull them around on the ground and back them up—let them feel where the leverage is coming from,” Danyelle said. “I’ve seen many wrecks from people jumping on a horse pulling on them, and it scares the horse because they’re not used where the leverage is coming from. Tiedowns, bonnets, any form of martingale—always let the horse get comfortable with where the pressure is coming from.”

Danyelle also advises if you have snaps on your reins to separate the snap from the martingale with a curb strap or put tape over the snaps so that the martingale can’t get caught and unsnap your rein.

German Martingale

german martingale on horse

A German martingale connects at the cinch and runs through each side of the bit, connecting to sets of rings on the reins.

“I use these on occasionally; it’s not my main training method. I actually prefer a draw rein or running martingale. A German martingale doesn’t put a lot of leverage on your horse like a draw rein. It’s something light and soft that you can get a little extra softness on your horse’s face,” Campbell said. “I don’t ever use them tight—the tighter they are, the more it pulls the horse’s front end down and the shoulders down. Every aspect of my training is keeping the shoulders up and moving forward. If a German martingale is overused or used improperly, I find the horse will get a little heavy in the front end and that’s what I try to avoid.”

german martingale on horse
Danyelle demonstrates a properly adjusted German martingale. Notice how as Danyelle picks up the rein, the martingale is engaged first while the rein underneath it is still slack. As she continues to pull, the martingale will pull with the rein, applying pressure from below.

When adjusting the martingale, keep the length of rope or leather that runs through the bit and connects to the rein slightly shorter than the length of rein to properly engage the pressure.

“If you have the actual martingale part way longer than the rein, it’s not doing any good. It needs to be a little shorter, so when you pull on the rein it’s actually pulling from down below and then pulls with your rein when the rein tightens,” Danyelle said. “It’ll help with bend, it’ll help with stop, it’s just an aid to keep them from getting their head up too high when you pull on them. It reiterates softness and breaking at the poll.”

Danyelle says she’ll use a German martingale with any bit, but she usually chooses an O-ring snaffle or draw gag.

—> Read more on Danyelle’s favorite bits here.

Draw Reins

draw reins on horse
Danyelle notes that these draw reins appear very short because her horse is at rest. If she were to mount up, they would be the proper length.

Danyelle’s favorite form of draw reins are homemade. She starts with 14 feet of rope, preferably boating rope which is intended to get wet and remain supple, and four brass snaps. She ties one to each end of the rope to hook to her saddle and slides two on either side that will attach to the bit.

draw reins on horse
Make sure you choose snaps with rings big enough that the rope slides freely, with no stickiness or resistance.

Danyelle clips her draw reins to the top D-ring of her saddle where her breastcollar attaches. Some people attach them lower, like to the rigging of the saddle or even between the legs and onto the cinch, but Danyelle says this is a common misconception that actually drags the horse’s entire front end down.

She uses draw reins to help a horse raise its neck and shoulders, not to lower its head.

“I don’t use draw reins to get my horse’s head down. I actually want their neck to come up, and I want them to break at the poll and feel their shoulders raising underneath me and driving with their hindquarters,” Danyelle said. “A lot of people think draw reins are for head control, but I use draw reins for entire body control.”

She says riding with draw reins helps get a horse using its body effectively, driving through itself from the hindquarters.

“Like any tool, I don’t overuse these but I definitely always have them. I use these for total body control and collection. The reason I use them is to get a horse to break at the poll, raise their shoulders and drive from behind,” Danyelle said. “A lot of times when I use these, I’ll just lope all the way around the pasture and intermittently ask them to break at the poll and drive forward, like a racehorse. You see racehorses galloping down the track and they’ve got their neck up, their head down, driving through. That’s what I want in a barrel horse.”

Draw reins give the rider a lot of leverage, so you need to be especially cognizant of your hands when riding with draw reins.

“You have to have very, very soft light hands when you use these,” Danyelle said. “Make sure the horse feels where the leverage is coming from before you step in the saddle.”

Running Martingale

running martingale on horse
This leather running martingale features an adjustable strap around the horse’s neck as well as adjustable forks that connect the rings to the reins.

Running martingales, or training forks, come in many varieties such as rope or leather, but Danyelle prefers one made of quality leather with an adjustable strap around the neck as well as adjustable forks to ensure a proper fit on any horse.

She will typically use a running martingale with a ring snaffle or a bit without much leverage.

“A running martingale will help a horse bring their face down a little, but you can’t get a lot of bend from side to side because the rings stop the horse, so you can’t really get their nose to come around. If you’re working toward that, this is probably not the best tool for you,” Danyelle said. “I like these just for overall riding. It’s not too much, and it reminds them to keep their head down.”

running martingale with stoppers
You can make your own martingale stoppers with pieces of a garden hose. Whatever material you use, be sure it’s wide enough and sturdy enough that the rings cannot slide past it.

It’s critical to have stoppers on your reins so that the rings can’t slide up to the bit, especially if you have snaps on your reins. Danyelle prefers to make her own stoppers with a garden hose instead of buying martingale stoppers, because she’s experienced martingales sliding past store-bought stoppers.

“You never want this ring to slide up and get on your snap or get stuck where your reins tie. it can scare your horse and cause a huge wreck,” Danyelle said. “You can pick any color of hose you want and paint it for fashion if you want, just use something big enough those rings can’t slide past.”

Watch this video to see more from Danyelle on martingales and draw reins.

Visit for more videos from Danyelle and other highly successful trainers.


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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