Here’s how to tame your steed’s tresses and make them show-ring ready.
Adapted from the book Grooming to Win by Susan E. Harris (published 2008 by Howell Book House®), an article in EQUUS and an article in Practical Horseman by Laurie Pitts.
Routine Hair Care
Both the mane and tail benefit from regular, careful detangling, ideally done by hand. Any tool—including combs and brushes—will pull out or break off hair each time it is used, ultimately diminishing the length and fullness of a mane or tail. The most effective approach to detangling is to begin at the ends of the hairs and carefully work toward the roots. Here is how to proceed:
1. Start at the edge of the mane or tail, holding the hair loosely in one hand.
2. With your other hand, gently separate a few hairs and carefully work them free from the rest for their full length.
3. Continue through the mane or tail until all the hairs have been separated and hang straight and free. Prior to trying to separate tail hair that is particularly snarled or full of bedding or burrs, spray it lightly with a conditioner or detangler. Avoid brushing the hair while it is wet because it will stretch and break.
In addition, keep the skin and roots of the mane and tail clean and healthy. Use a short-bristled body brush to part the hair along the crest and on the dock into small sections to get down to the skin. Those areas can also be cleaned with a damp sponge and a towel.
When braiding manes and tails, horses do not need their hair shampooed, but their manes and tails get dirty and stained, and sometimes the skin of the tail becomes soiled, greasy or full of dandruff. Too-frequent tail washing, especially with detergents, can remove natural oils and result in dry skin and hair. However, you can wash a tail when it is too cold to bathe the whole horse. You will need a hose with warm water or two large buckets of warm water, a large body sponge, shampoo and conditioner, a detangler, a coat shine product and a towel.
1. Wet the tail, including the dock, with a hose or wet sponge, or lift up the bucket and dunk the “skirt” (bottom of the tail). Be careful—when the horse feels water on his dock, he may squat and try to kick.
2. Apply shampoo to the skirt and rub it into the whole tail, working up a lather. Use the sponge to wash the skin of the dock.
3. Rinse the sponge and use it or the hose to rinse the tail from top to bottom. Dunk and swirl the skirt in a bucket of clear water until no soap remains and the hairs “squeak.”
4. Wring the skirt gently and blot with a towel. Apply conditioner, according to the product’s directions, or coat the damp tail hair with a detangler and a shine spray. Don’t brush or comb the hair while it is wet, as it will stretch and break easily.
To Train a Problem Mane
Pull the hair across the crest of the neck so it all lies to one side. Wet it and braid it—starting on the side, not the top—into small, tight pigtails no more than one inch wide. Fasten the braids with wrapped elastic bands or turn them under and tie. Now saturate with a braiding spray product. Leave the braids in for several days; apply a braid spray daily. When the braids are undone, dampen the hair and brush it to the correct side of the neck.
Protecting a Long Mane
A long, heavy mane is sometimes braided to keep it off a horse’s neck to facilitate cooling and protect the hair from sweat, tangling, breakage and other damage. Sometimes the forelock is braided to keep it out of the way of the bridle.
The simplest way to braid a long mane is to part it into three- to four-inch sections, braid them into a long pigtail and fasten it with a wrapped elastic band. Braids such as these may be left in for as long as a week at a time. This will also help train the mane to lie on the correct side of the neck.
Braiding the Mane
Braiding a horse’s mane prior to a show or event not only spruces up his appearance, but is, in fact, necessary in some disciplines. In most cases, the braid is required to lie on the right or “off” side of the horse’s neck. The following strategies can make the job easier:
Dampen the mane with water before you begin, but don’t shampoo, as this softens the hair and the braid will not hold as well.
Work with small sections of hair, starting close to the horse’s head and moving down.
After you have separated a section of hair with a mane comb or a specially designed braiding comb, secure the rest of the mane with the comb, a clip or a clothespin to keep it out of your way.
Dividing the section you’re working on into thirds, spray with a braid spray and begin to braid, keeping steady tension on the hair as you go. The braid can be secured with yarn that has been braided in (start it about midway down the braid’s length) or with a small rubber band looped onto the very end. Use a braid spray to tame the loose hairs.
Finish the braid by pulling it up with a specially designed braid pull or a thin wire that has been bent to resemble one. Tie off the braid with a second rubber band or the yarn ends knotted neatly underneath the braid.
If your horse is really tidy in his stall, it’s OK to braid his mane the night before a show or to leave mane braids in overnight between two days of showing. (Don’t leave them in for more than one night, though.)
The classiest forelock braid is a French braid. This catches all of the loose hairs and creates a really attractive look.
Simple step-by-step guide
Grooming tips and techniques
Selecting the right shampoo
Basic bathing tips: Shampooing
Basic bathing tips: Rinsing
Keep Your Gray Horse Gleaming
Horse Hoof Care Tips
Equine Massage Therapy
Winter Horse Grooming Tips
Grooming for Show Day
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