Horse Care Tips

How to Pull a Horse Mane (And When NOT To)

Horse mane
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Written by Aimee B.

Mane Management Made Easy

A horse’s mane can be one of its most beautiful features. For many owners, however, managing and caring for a horse’s mane can be daunting. This is especially true if you are taking your horse to any shows.

Although many show day preparations traditionally included pulling a horse’s mane, this trend is changing. Several innovative companies have developed various tools to achieve a picture-perfect mane without pulling and with a renewed focus on horse comfort. This blog post covers how this traditional trend is changing and the easiest ways to achieve a perfect mane without pulling.

The “Mane” Event: Goal Manes

Regardless of your horse’s breed or the discipline you’re showing, a spectacular mane starts with a clean mane. Most experts recommend shampooing no more than once weekly to preserve the natural oils in the horse’s skin.

Aside from being clean and tangle-free, there are a few discipline-specific differences in the ultimate show mane.

If you’re showing a Quarter Horse or American Paint Horse in a Western class, the judge will expect your horse’s mane to be banded. This means the mane is split into small sections with tiny rubber bands around each section.

To do so effectively, the mane needs to be about 3 inches long and thin enough that it will lie flat against his neck.

Braided horse showing

Photo Cred: Erin Brown

Hunter and dressage events feature horses with almost impossibly tiny, and tidy, braids. Similar to Western horses, the manes must be thin enough to lie flat on the neck and around 4 inches in length.

Braided mane

Photo Cred: Canva

The common theme here is that the mane needs to be of a certain length and thin enough to achieve the desired end result.

Traditional Pulling Methods

So how do you get a horse’s mane to be the appropriate length and thickness?

The most common method has historically been by pulling the mane. This involves using a metal comb to grip small sections of hair and then “pulling” (ripping) it out at the root.

Shifting Perspectives

As with many things in the horse world, controversy abounds regarding the practice of pulling a horse’s mane.

The research on the issue is sparse, but many people oppose pulling because they believe it can be painful for the horse. Some horses seem to show their discomfort by tossing their heads while having their manes pulled.

Even though other horses stand perfectly still and even appear to sleep through the process, equine behavioral experts argue this is the phenomenon of learned helplessness. In other words, some horses believe they must endure the pain because they have no other option.

Although there isn’t much research on the topic, it’s challenging to believe having several hairs at a time repeatedly ripped out of one’s body isn’t painful.

Fortunately, there are now several alternative methods for thinning and trimming a horse’s mane that doesn’t involve pulling.

These new tools have made it possible to achieve the same results without causing your horse any discomfort.

Alternatives to Pulling

There are a few different types of tools on the market that can be used to thin and trim a horse’s mane without pulling.

Thinned and trimmed mane

Photo Cred: Canva

Scissors

One of the quickest and easiest methods involves something you likely already have in your tack box. It’s a good, old-fashioned pair of scissors. You can easily replicate the look created by pulling with the proper techniques.

Achieve a natural look by angling the scissors upwards and sporadically snipping off the ends of the mane once you have cut the mane to the approximate finished length.

Combined with a pair of thinning shears, it’s one of the easiest and most painless ways to tame that mane!

Thinning Combs

These magical little devices help you effortlessly thin out a mane in minutes! Although there are different styles available, the basic concept is that they have blades that cut several strands of hair as you comb it.

Thinning combs produce a mane that looks like it’s been pulled, but without the hours of painful work, it takes to pull a mane the traditional way.

Clippers

If your horse grows a thick mane, the clippers will be your best friend! Start by flipping the top layer of your horse’s mane to the opposite side of their neck. This portion will not be clipped, so you may want to secure it with a clip.

You can now take the clippers to the remaining underlayer and buzz away! Simple, fast, and pain-free for your horse.

More Humane Pulling Methods

Even though there are now several alternatives to traditional pulling, some people still prefer this method. If you choose to pull your horse’s mane, you can do a few things to make the process potentially less uncomfortable for your horse.

After Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise, the kind that makes your horse sweat, naturally opens up pores. So, if you choose to stick with a traditional pulling method, doing so after your horse has been worked may be the key to reducing associated discomfort.

Although pulling a mane after exercising may reduce the pain, there are no guarantees that it will completely eliminate it.

Pull Hairs, Not Chunks

Pulling a few hairs at a time versus a large chunk may also slightly reduce the discomfort to your horse. Although a valid option, this method will theoretically increase the time it takes to work through your horse’s mane. And it still involves yanking hairs out of your horse’s body.

Combined Reinforcement

This method involves offering your horse something he enjoys while you pull his mane. For example, you could feed him treats or even his supper while thinning out his mane.

Combined reinforcement theoretically causes the horse to focus on something he likes rather than the discomfort of the thing he doesn’t like.

Again, you are still likely causing discomfort, and adding treats to the equation doesn’t necessarily change that fact.

The Bottom Line

If you want to avoid causing discomfort to your horse, the best solution is to ditch the pulling altogether and go with one of the many humane alternatives now available. Your horse will thank you for it!

Tools like scissors, thinning brushes, and clippers can help you achieve the same results without causing pain to your horse.

If you’re riding Western, you can consider roaching your horse’s mane in the off-season. The term “roaching” refers to completely shaving off the mane.

This method requires planning on your part because you’ll want to shave the mane in enough time for it to grow back to the desired length.

Remember that the mane does help with fly control, so you may need to plan alternative fly management. The upside is that it’s easier to spot ticks when your horse’s mane is gone.

And if you’re showing in hunter or dressage classes, consider switching to the European style of braiding. The braids are larger and can accommodate more hair than the standard American style of braiding.

Western: Roach the mane

English: Use a European style of braiding (button braids)

Whatever method you use for your horse’s mane, remember practice makes perfect! It’s always best to practice in the off-season, not the night before a show. Trust us—we’ve been there!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What side should the mane fall on?

Some sources say a horse’s mane should fall on the right side of its neck. But in hunter and dressage competitions, the mane is generally braided on top of the neck, so it doesn’t matter on which side the mane naturally falls.

Q: Does pulling a horse’s mane hurt?

It’s difficult to make the argument that pulling strands of hair out of one’s body isn’t painful. And the same can be said for the old practice of pulling a mane.

Thankfully, there are several very effective and much quicker alternatives to pulling that result in a show-ring-ready mane!

Q: How often should you pull a horse’s mane?

Pulling a mane is generally only done in preparation for a show.

Q: How do you cut a mane so it looks pulled?

You can use clippers to cut the underside portion of the mane, leaving only the outer part. This method takes care of the thickness but not the length.

But by using scissors to cut upwards, you can create the appearance of a natural versus artificial hair length. There are several excellent YouTube videos showing this technique.

Parting Thoughts

You may want to avoid traditional mane pulling methods for many reasons. The good news is that several options are now available that can help you achieve the same results without causing pain or discomfort to your horse.

So, next time you tackle that mane, consider trying one of these more humane alternatives!

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About the author

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Aimee B.

Aimee grew up riding and showing in western pleasure and horsemanship through 4-H. She began riding dressage 7 years ago and is currently training her 3.5-year-old Friesian/Quarter Horse.

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