Learn to create horse braids for the mane, forelock, and tail, or refresh your skills, before horse show season really starts. As the show season approaches, it's time to get your horse, tack, grooming box, and show clothes ready. While there are some tasks you cannot handle too far ahead of time, you can spend the pre-season practicing those skills so you know that they will go smoothly on the big day.
Grooming is at the top of the wait-til-showtime list, with horse braids looming large on the task roster for many a rider. While you cannot place horse braids in your mount's mane more than a week to ten days ahead of time, you can spend the pre-season learning how to braid or brushing up on your skills. Although mane and tail braids can seem daunting, you can get them down by just putting in the practice.
What Are Horse Braids?
Horse braids involve weaving sections of mane, forelock, or tail hair into decorative shapes. Braids are both decorative, often worn for horse shows or other special events, and practical, protecting the mane hair from breakage or tangling.
Why Braid Your Horse's Mane?
Many equestrians think of horse braids as something to enhance the look of their mount, especially in the show ring, but these creations also protect the mane from breakage and tangling at home and in transit.
How Can Braiding a Horse's Mane Be Beneficial?
Braiding your horse's mane protects mane hair from breakage, tangling, mud, and collecting debris from pasture or stall.
How to Braid Your Horse's Mane
To a beginner, horse braids can seem a little daunting, but the process is straightforward and can be easily mastered with practice.
Step One: Assemble Your Tools
You will need just a few tools to get started. The bare basics are a fine-tooth comb, yarn, and a pull-through tool. You will use the comb to work out tangles and to separate the mane into sections. The yarn will be secure the end. The pull-through is a device for hooking rugs from a crafts store and is used to pull yarn through braids. Scissors can also come in handy while braiding. Clips will keep unbraided mane hair out of your way as you work. To give yourself a little more grip on the mane, you can spray water on the hair and even include a little hairspray.
Step Two: Wash the Horse's Mane, Forelock, and Tail
Your horse's mane and tail need to be clean, with no stable or pasture debris or dust, before you begin. Make sure the hair is dry before brushing or braiding. If the mane is too long or untidy, you can trim the hair.
Step Three: Brush the Horse's Mane and Tail
Brush the mane thoroughly, smoothing out tangles and getting rid of any small bits of debris that remain.
Step Four: Braiding the Mane
Begin near your horse's ears, at the top of the mane, by separating a section of mane with the comb. Check the thickness of the mane by running your hand through the hair. With a thick mane, section off a small section, roughly half an inch. If your horse's mane is of average thickness, the first section should be a closer to three-quarters of an inch. Divide thin manes into one-inch pieces. You will need to experiment with the size of the sections to get an even amount of hair for each braid.
Remember to only braid small sections so that there will not be too much pull on the horse's neck when he lowers his head and stretches his neck to drink and eat.
Separate the section into threes, then cross one outside piece over the middle, then cross the section on the other side into the middle. This equals one rotation. Be careful not to braid the first four or five rotations too tight, which can pull on the horse's neck and cause discomfort. After that, concentrate on making the braid smooth and tight enough to keep its shape.
Counting your rotations helps you make all the horse braids the same length. Add the yarn halfway by placing it behind the braid and holding it against the mane hair. Braid the yarn along with the mane hairs. Be careful not to braid all the way to the end of the hair so your yarn's knot will stay in. When you reach the end of braiding that section, loop the yarn around the end of the braid and knot it. You can add another knot for more security.
Wrap black electrical tape around the end of each braid for security. Unlike most kinds of tape, electrical tape will not leave a residue. Thin rubber bands, sometimes used instead of electrical tape, should not stay in the mane too long because they can damage and break off the mane hair. Braids should only be left in for a week to ten days.
Note: Take care not to braid too tightly. Overly tight mane braids can irritate the hair roots and the horse's neck with too much tension. This can lead to mane breakage as the horse rubs his mane against walls, trees, fences, or whatever they can reach trying to relieve the tension. Leave the mane long over the horse's withers, usually the last three or four inches of the mane. The withers area is subject to a high amount of tension, and braids can pull too much here.
Depending on the look you are going for, you can finish the mane in a variety of ways. You can leave the braids as they are, but there are quite a few options beyond that.
Proper horse braids complete the neat and tidy hunter look. To achieve the pulled together effect, you will start by using your pull-through. With care, push the tool through the top of the braid, as close to the skin as possible. Then use the pull-through to grasp the yarn end and pull it back through the braid. Be careful not to pull any mane hair up through the gap. You will notice a tug against the tool when the end of the braid is in place. Use a double twisted knot, using each end of the yarn, and tie it tightly under the braid.
Tucking Braids For Long Manes
When your horse has an extra long mane, he will look more pulled together if you tuck the braids up. This also has the benefit of protecting the mane better than just braids alone. First, make a small opening in the top of a single braid by separating the braid into two sections. Then, feed the end of the braid through that gap until the loop is about six inches long. Use black electrical tape to secure the tucked braid.
Step Five: Braiding the Forelock
Before you begin, dampen your hands and work the moisture into the forelock. Begin to French braid the forelock (you do not need to count rotations) and braid the yarn in three-quarters down. When there is an inch of hair left, tie off the braid. Pull the end of the braid through the top of the forelock, and knot the yarn as described in the Hunter Braids section.
Step Six: Braiding the Tail
Dampen the tail with the spray bottle, then comb through the whole tail, all the way to the end. Start with three small braids right at the base of the tail to begin the braid tightly, then French braid down until you reach the end of the tailbone. Pull these horse braids very tight.
Now begin a regular braid and add the yarn, about twice the length of the yarn for the mane, about three-quarters down. Continue until you reach your desired length. Next, finish the braid with a yarn knot and begin a pinwheel. Divide the excess yarn in two, with a piece on each side of the tail, and pull the yarn through the tail braid close to the knot at the end. Now you can roll the braid into a wheel. Pull the yarn through the braid after one roll. Roll the braid until there is no more to roll.
Thread the two pieces of yarn through the bottom of the French braid, then knot the yarn together beneath the pinwheel, followed by a knot on top and a double knot underneath. Cut three shorter pieces of yarn, then work each of them under one of the first three rotations of the braid at the base of the tail and knot.
One last step: wrap the tail to protect the braid from rubbing.
After following the steps above, you will have learned to create horse braids the correct way. Now that you know how to braid manes, forelocks, and tails, you can enjoy the way your handiwork enhances his good looks. Your new horse braids will make both of your more confident at the next showcase or event.