This week’s theme is horses and numbers. What got me onto the topic in the first place was the word martingale.

Confused? You’re not alone.

My original goal was to look into the etymology of the word but I found a whole whack more. And as much as I hate numbers, I do love a running theme, so I will continue looking into a few more things, begrudgingly. But this will be the last time, of that I can promise.


Whether running or standing we know what a martingale is. It’s often attached to the breastplate but can also be attached to the girth. No matter what you affix it to the purpose is the same; to prevent horses from lifting their head too high.

The word martingale has been around since the late 1500s and stems from the Arab al-marta’a meaning “the fastening.” I do wonder why, of all the things that “fasten” when working with horses, the martingale was given the name rather than one of the other dozen or so fastenings. Just something to ponder.

Anyway, you might be wondering what an equine-themed martingale has to do with numbers. Not much, as it happens, other than the name. In the world of money, whether it be gambling or investing a martingale is a scheme that works on the theory of probability.

Keen to understand this martingale business, I did a simple internet search a came across this:

“ln general, if A and B are events, we say the conditional probability that B occurs given that A occurs is the conditional probability of B given A. This is given by the well-known formula P{A ┤|B}=P{A ∩ B}/P{A}.

And this is where my research stopped, and I can assure you this was the simplest formula on the 44 pages discussing Notes on Elementary Martingale Theory.

The more I researched the more confused I became as I believe there are different types of martingales. The name apparently comes from La Grande Martingale, which does absolutely nothing to satisfy my curiosity.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’m talking about when we bring numbers into the equation. But what I do know, now, is that a martingale is more than a few leather straps that may or may not attach to your girth.


Curious to know if horse tack waded further into the world of numbers, I asked an accounting friend what else might be out there. He mentioned saddle, and so here we go.

Whether English, Western, Side, Outback or Treeless we all know what a saddle is. The history of the word as a noun is a little scattered. It’s believed it has Germanic origins with sattel and Dutch with zadel, which morphed into Old English sadol/sadul. It has been around in verb form since the 1600s and means a burden, such as “I’ve been saddled with good looks my entire life.”

It’s a cross I must bear.

What does a saddle have to do with math? Not much other than a vague saddle shape and the name. I swear horsey things have leached into every facet of life.

Cast your mind back to linear algebra and then imagine, if you will, a saddle-esque shape depicted on a 3D graph. With this graph, someone with a curious interest is looking for a critical point known as a saddle point.

I’m already getting bored and confused so I will speed this up and give you a direct quote from, which had the most reasonable explanation,

“A point at which a function of two variables has partial derivatives equal to zero but at which the function has neither a maximum nor a minimum value.”

That certainly cleared things up for me.

I’m done

Even though the above is out of my wheelhouse I’m pleased I found yet another link from horses to the world at large. I do feel marginally smarter now, but I rue the day I came across the alternate definition of martingale.

Next time I see a correlation between numbers and horses I will give it a wide berth. A very wide berth.



Nicoguaro, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons