By: Ambassador Hannah Spector
I have been obsessed with braiding horses since I was old enough to show. I spent hours pouring over a battered copy of “Grooming to Win”, and trying to replicate all of the different braiding styles on my poor American Girl horse, and childhood pony. Many years later, I now have a semi-professional braiding gig for dressage and sport horse events in the Pacific Northwest, which helps me the majority of my horse showing costs. From one adult amateur to another, let me share some tricks and tips that make braiding (or your braider’s job) faster and easier!
Before you head to your show or event, spend some extra time on prepping your horse’s mane. Get their mane pulled or thinned out to the appropriate thickness and length. Seriously, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Good braids start with a good mane! And, whatever you do, DO NOT CUT YOUR HORSE’S MANE OR FORELOCK. A cut mane does not braid well because the natural taper of a braid (thick at top narrowing to thin at the bottom) holds the knots used to tie off the braid more tightly, and cutting the mane eliminates that natural taper as it is blunt at the end. And a cut forelock just looks sad, like when your mom tried to give you bangs before picture day as a kid.
Another step of prep often skipped is washing your horse’s mane. It is an old wives tale that a dirty mane braids better. Not only does it look sloppy, but dirty skin can also be itchy, so washing and cleaning your horse’s mane could reduce rubbing. Shampoo the daylight out of your horse’s mane a day or two before you show. Do not condition. Just shampoo. Scrub hard. Get the dander and grease and dirt and secrets out of the roots. Rinse out the hair really well. If your horse’s mane is light colored and you use a whitening shampoo, don’t leave it in too long or your horse will now have purple/blue hair (and let me tell you, it is really embarrassing when the judge comments that your palomino has a lavender mane…)
Having a horse that stands patiently and is comfortable with having their mane, forelock, poll, neck, and ears touched will go a long way in making you or your braider’s experience easier. If your horse doesn’t tie well, or is super fussy/fidgets, be available or have someone available to hold your horse. For the actual braiding process, I like to use a spray like Quik braid to add some grip and texture to each section of hair- if I am in a pinch, you can use cheap-o hair spray diluted with a little water. Grippy hair makes tight braids, and tight braids do not fall out as easily.
As your braider, it is my prerogative to make sure you braids look good since it is my work on display, so be sure to ask your braider what their policy is about touch-ups or braiding repairs. A sleazy at night will help to keep the shavings and dust out, and hopefully keep them fresh.
I hope some of these little tips and tricks can make braiding and mane prep less stressful for my fellow adult ammies....but the best perks of the job? Pony cuddles!
Connect with Hannah on Instagram @buttonbraidspnw for more lovely photos, tips and tricks to better your braiding!