Holding It On or
Holding It Down
by Leah Posey Patton
Martingales, tie downs, breast collars, breastplate, britchin and crupper may be terms familiar to most mule enthusiasts, but the items themselves and their use might not be. All of these items are pieces of tack used either to position and maintain headset of the mule or to help keep the saddle in place.
The Western tie down is not meant to force an animal=s head down into the desired position. Rather, it is a means of preventing the head from going too high and also for the mule to balance against. The roper wants his animal to stop on a dime, but maintain a balance against the rope he=s just thrown. The mule that throws its head up and sideways has lost this balance. However, he can work against the tie down to keep himself balanced and centered. Tie downs are most frequently used in speed events such as barrel racing or pole bending. In fact, their use is deemed illegal in most other events other than roping.
Remember the nature of the mule=s head - the more excited he gets, the higher the head tends to go. Mules are sometimes that way. If your mule is low-headed, even at speed a tie down is inappropriate. If a mule decides to carry his nose out and down, there is the danger of getting a foreleg through the tie down and it should not be used in these cases.
The tie down consists of a thin nose loop (usually a cable bosal) with an attached strap. The strap may clip on or be woven to the noseband. The strap runs down through the ring on the breast collar and attaches to the forward ring of the western cinch. It should be slack enough to that the mule can stand comfortably with his head in a natural position with tension on the strap.
The English equivalent of the tie down is the Standing Martingale. It has a separate headstall (crownpiece and noseband) and strap that runs down the girth. Some English girths have a front ring to clip to. If not, make sure your martingale has a loop end to slid over the girth. If you are using this type of fastener, but sure to slide the girth through the loop before tightening the girth. Otherwise you will have to ungirth and start over again.
To properly adjust a standing martingale, you should be able t lift the slack to touch the mule=s throat when he is standing naturally. The standing martingale is occasionally seen on jumpers, but should be used on hunters. Check rulebooks to see if they are allowed in pleasure classes. Many rulebooks prohibit them.
The Running Martingale s the other English headset aid. The martingale is on a separate neck strap, usually run through the D rings on the front of the saddle. It will also have a strap that runs back to the girth. Instead of a headstall, the running martingale is Y-shaped above the breast strap, with rings on the end of the Y. The reins are run through the rings and rebuckled. This works with the rider=s hand and in combination with the rein pressure on the snaffle to keep the head in place.
This is good for just the occasional head tosser. Rein stops (little leather tabs placed snugly on the rein) should always be used with a running martingale. This prevents the rings of the Y from running up to the bit (which happens when the animal lowers the head and the face goes behind the vertical) andcatching on the rein buckles. Running martingales can be used on jumpers. Check rulebooks. Running martingales are always used with snaffle bits
Breastplates are used with English or cut back saddles and are narrow, flat (usually leather) straps that fit snug to the chest. They are usually a single flat band with a drop strap to the girth. Their use is designed to keep the saddle in place and come in handy in jumping, cross country and hacking.
Western breast collars is the equivalent to the English breastplate. It is made in a Y-shape and is wider. It may be made of leather, synthetic or even lined with fleece to coordinate colors. Breast collars are used on working stock and with gaming tack to ensure the stability of the saddle. With show tack, the breast collars are made to match the show saddles and can be as ornate as the saddle itself.
Breeching (britchin) is the term used for the equipment derived from harness that goes over the mule=s rear. Britchin is used with pack saddles and harness to keep the saddle from sliding forward or to aid the harness animal in backing. Full Breeching is not usually seen on saddle mules and is not appropriate for pleasure classes, although many pack/working saddle mules might wear them everyday for riding and work.
Cruppers are developed from full britchin. The crupper is a shaped tailpiece, attached at the back of the saddle and run under the mule=s tail. A variety of styles may be seen suitable for use with English or western saddles. Cruppers are usually allowed in most mule classes. The crupper should always be carefully fitted to the mule - not only smoothly under the tail. But for slack as well. A crupper that hangs 2 inches below the dock of the tail is not going to help much with a sliding saddle.
A good fitting saddle and a well trained animals that does not need extra aids is always the best way to go. But, in the event that extras are needed, be sure they fit properly and always check for wear and tear. Just as you would not want your girth or stirrup leather to suddenly give way, it could mean problems if your martingale suddenly broke and wrapped around a fore leg or the crupper rode farther down under the clamped tail of the mule. Be sure your mule is accustomed to being ridden with the extra tack at home - not at a show for the first time. Likewise, try and see if they will work without it, in the event that a break should occur. You don=t want a mule that refuses to move without his britchin!