Form & Function of the Fringe
Equine manes are more than just a natural fashion statement. While they may come in various lengths, thicknesses, and colors, they serve as protection and even a form of social communication. Throughout the ages, equestrians have found different ways to protect and style horse manes.
Horse manes come in various lengths, thicknesses, and colors. They provide protection and can even act as a form of communication. Plus, they beautify the animals we love!
The “Mane” Event
By exploring the complex history of the horse’s mane, we can gain a deeper appreciation for this remarkable feature and the important role it has played in a horse’s life.
The Horse Mane: Purpose & Evolution
As prey animals, horses need every form of protection they can get. Did you know that their manes are one of these types of protection?
Longer manes serve as a barrier to defend against predators’ teeth.
Stallion manes also tend to be thicker than mares, which is believed to be an evolutionary adaptation for protection from other stallions during fights.
Manes also help keep horses cool in the hot summer sun and add a layer of warmth in the winter. Their forelocks help keep flies out of their eyes!
So what is a mane, anyways?
Technically speaking, the mane is composed of thicker hair than the rest of the coat that grows from a ridge on the horse’s neck. This thicker hair grows from the top of the neck (poll) to the withers.
There is also a section of mane that falls onto the horse’s face. This is commonly referred to as the forelock or foretop.
The thickness of a mane depends on a lot of factors, one of which is breed. Since the mane developed as an adaptation against the weather and for protection, horses from different regions have different thicknesses and lengths.
- Cold Weather = More Mane
- Warm Weather = Less Mane
Horses that originate from cooler climates tend to have thicker coats and manes.
For example, the Friesian, which originates from a region of the Netherlands is known for their gorgeous, flowing manes.
Magnificent Mane Club Members
Gypsy Vanner horses can grow their manes down past their knees. Some even have double manes!
A double mane is when the mane is so thick, it splits down the middle, creating a full mane on either side of the neck.
According to the Andalusian breed standard, these horses must have “abundant and long, wavy” manes.
Lusitano manes can be quite impressive, both in length and thickness. The mane is commonly braided depending on the discipline.
The Paso Fino is a genetic relative of the Andalusian and Lusitano breeds.
According to the Paso Fino Horse Association, these horses “are often defined by their long, flowing mane and tail. Paso Fino breeders take great care to keep them in naturally perfect condition.”
Did you know the average winter temperature in Iceland is at or below freezing? The Icelandic Horse’s thick mane and coat definitely add a layer of warmth in the wild.
Originating from the harsh Austrian Alps, the Haflinger is easily identified by its flaxen mane and tail.
This breed type is known for the gorgeous feathering on their legs, but they also have thick and luxurious manes.
Grooming the mane is important to keep your horses’ mane tangle free and growing. It is also important to wash your horse’s mane when you bathe your horse.
Even though the mane can protect a horse from insects, a dirty mane can harbor mites and camouflage other issues..
|Mane Dos:||Mane Don’ts|
|Use a wide-toothed comb or brush that is made for manes and tails||Use smaller toothed brushes made for humans or shampoo made for humans|
|Begin at the base/root of the mane and work toward the tips||Brush out large knots without a detangler or using your hands first|
|Use your fingers to detangle large knots before you use a brush. Use a detangler to help||Leave things like shavings, burrs, dirt in the mane. Make sure to pick them out before you brush.|
Just like how different people have different hairstyles, there are different ways to style a horse’s mane.
Braiding a horses’ mane is very popular in most English disciplines, but the styles of braids vary.
For example, the hunter discipline has its own style of braids.
Hunter braids are small, pulled up and tied.
This shows off the horses’ conformation and highlights the bascule over a jump.
In Dressage and Show Jumping, you often see button braids.
These are larger than hunter braids and each individual braid is curled into a round “button”.
Both hunter and button braids require a shorter mane and one that is thinned. If the mane is too thick or too long, it will create uneven or chunky braids, which distracts from the overall turnout of the horse.
Horses with traditionally longer manes like Freisiens may sport a French braid, or running braid, along their neck for competition. Owners of these breeds often do loose braids for turnout to protect the mane.
Button Braid Tutorial:
Hunter Braid Tutorial:
Running Braid Tutorial:
Popular in Western disciplines, banding divides the mane into small sections secured by a rubber band at the base. Imagine many many “ponytails” on the mane. You can find banded manes in Western Pleasure, Horsemanship, Trail, and Showmanship classes.
Banded manes are also pulled and short.
Fancy Banded Tutorial:
A roached mane is one that has been completely shaved to the base of the neck. You often see this in polo ponies to ensure their manes don’t get caught up with mallets. Sometimes ropers will roach a mane as well, to prevent the rope from getting tangled.
Fun Fact: The Fjord horse must have a roached mane for breed competitions, though it isn’t shaved close to the neck. If you roach a mane and then want to grow it out, it is going to take between 5-7 months.
A horse’s mane traditionally lies on the right side, but sometimes a mane will grow unevenly and may fall to the left. So, which one is “correct”?
Mane Falling to the Right
Traditionally, the mane should fall to the right as it is the “off-side” of the horse.
This means it is the side that a horse is not mounted from.
If you think back to when horses were used for both travel, war, and work—preventing objects like swords, chainmail, and even supply bags from getting tangled in the mane was very important.
The tradition still continues today, as manes prepared for shows (either banded or braided) also go to the right.
Mane Falling to the Left
If a horse’s mane falls to the left, you can “train” the mane to fall to the right by braiding or banding it to the right side.
Horses can have problems with their manes, just like humans can run into issues with their hair. But there are some well-established routines that can help you troubleshoot problems that may arise.
If a horse’s mane is too thick you have a few options—the first is to pull the mane. You can use something like a mane comb to thin out the hair from the root.
This how-to video is a great mane pulling tutorial:
You could also use a thinning knife or thinning scissors:
Some grooms use a combination of both techniques.
Whatever you do, do NOT cut the forelock!
A thick forelock is ideal and should never be cut! I promise you (from experience) that it will look like a kid who cut their bangs right before school photo day. It never works out well.
Some horses, like Appaloosas, have naturally thin manes. Fortunately, there are products and practices available to help promote hair growth.
First of all, don’t brush out the mane unless you see large tangles or debris, only use your fingers to detangle/brush.
The growth rate and health of a mane can be heightened by what you feed your horse. Multiple products are available as supplements, including HorseGuard, Farriers Choice and SMARTMane & Tail.
We recommend speaking with your vet or equine nutritionist, however, before adding any supplements to your horse’s food.
Finally, you can use a product like MTG or Effol, which features a combination of oils that protects the root and encourages growth.
Rubbing Out the Mane
A horse could rub out their mane for a variety of reasons, but the #1 is itching. If a horse is rubbing to satisfy an itch, the mane is going to be a casualty.
To encourage less itching, try products like MTG and make sure you are getting out tangles as well as keeping the mane well groomed.
Be sure to remove braids and bands as soon as possible after your horse show to prevent rubbing and hair loss.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the purpose of a horse’s mane?
A horse’s mane exists for protection from the elements and predators. It helps keep their necks cool in summer and warm in winter. It can also keep bugs off their faces and is an extra layer of protection from a predator’s teeth.
Q: What is a horse mane?
The mane is longer, thicker hair that grows from the top of the neck from the head (poll) to the base of the withers
Q: Why do they shave horse manes?
Sometimes, horses’ manes are shaved to help them stay cooler in different climates. Breeds like the Fjorde have their manes shaved to meet breed standards for shows. You can also find shaved manes for medical reasons if there were mites or fungus.
Q: What is a horse’s hair called?
Horse’s hair that covers their body is called their coat. The hair that grows from the neck is called a mane. The long hair that grows from the horse’s tailbone is called the tail.
Q: Why are horse’s manes on the right?
Horse’s manes lie on the right because the right side is traditionally considered to be the “off-side” of the horse. Falling to the right allows a horse’s mane to stay out of the way when a person is mounting or from equipment like polo mallets.
Q: Do all horses have manes?
Yes, all horses’ have manes, but they vary in thickness and length.
Next time you admire a horse’s flowing mane, remember that it’s not just a pretty accessory, but a functional and important part of their overall health and protection from the elements.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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- How to Pull a Horse Mane (And When NOT To)
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- Horse Mane Braiding Demystified (Tools, Types, FAQs)
- Expert Tips on How To Create the 3 Easiest Mane Braids