What is a martingale?
A martingale is piece of equipment, or tack, used in a variety of equestrian disciplines, to prevent a horse from throwing its head in the air. In so doing, it protects the rider from being hit in the face and prevents the horse from lifting its head beyond the angle at which it can be safely controlled. The two most popular types of martingale are known as a ‘standing martingale’ and a ‘running martingale’.
The standing martingale is effectively a strap that attaches a cavesson or flash nose band at one end to the girth or breastplate at the other. It works by putting pressure on the nose. A standing martingale is, however, more restrictive and potentially more dangerous than a running martingale and is forbidden in the cross-country phase of eventing competitions.
A running martingale consists of a chest strap, which passes between the front legs and attaches to the girth, before splitting into two. At the end of each strap is a ring, through which the reins pass, and the split strap is held in position by an adjustable neck strap. The running martingale works by applying downward pressure on the mouth, rather than the nose, and is popular for jumping or riding cross-country. However, it must be used in conjunction with rein stops, which prevent the rings of the martingale from becoming entangled with the bit or reins.
Confusingly, Martingale, with a capital ‘M’, is also the name of a theoretically perfect, but practically fatally flawed – and, in fact, downright dangerous – betting ‘system’. Martingale is a negative progression system for games of chance with a nominally 50% chance of winning or losing, such as betting on red or black, or odd or even, in roulette. The idea is that you start each cycle by betting a single unit stake, bet a single unit stake every time you win and double your stake every time you lose. Theoretically, every time you win, you win enough to cover your losses and make a profit of a single unit stake.
However, Martingale perpetuates the common gamblers’ fallacy that a succession of, say, red numbers on a roulette wheel means that a black number is more likely to occur. Of course, each spin of a roulette wheel is independent, so a black number is no more likely to occur on, say, the tenth spin than it is on the first, regardless of what has happened in between. If you had an infinite bankroll and a bookmaker or casino with an infinite payout, Martingale would be perfect but, in the real world, has no merit whatsoever. Even a losing run of six bets leaves you with the prospect of betting 64 times your original unit stake to make a profit of just one unit, still with no guarantee of success, so avoid Martingale like the plague.