In the world of horse showing, details matter.
Regardless of the discipline, you and your horse should have a neat, professional look. And in many disciplines, the look is completed by braiding your horse’s mane and tail.
Whether your first competition is in the hunter ring, the dressage arena, or perhaps even driving a gentle giant, this post is an all-inclusive guide to figuring out how to achieve that winning look by braiding.
Although it may seem as if braiding in and of itself is straightforward, there are many different styles and techniques.
Which braid you pick should depend on your sport and sometimes, your horse’s breed.
When to Braid
Most riders only braid for competition. Braids are typically done relatively close to show time to maintain a tidy appearance.
If braiding is done several hours or even the night before a competition, a mane tamer (also called a sleazy) can be used to keep stray dirt and shavings from spoiling all your hard work.
Braiding can also be done for schooling shows or clinics. Although hunter and dressage braids are more formal, there are types of braiding that are less time-intensive.
Certain horse breeds, including Andalusians, Arabians, and Friesians, are expected to have longer manes. Maintaining their locks takes a bit more work, so riders frequently manage their manes using a loose, functional braid.
There are all kinds of braiding options for your horse, from fancy to fuss-free!
Hunter Braids: Neat and tiny braids are essential for recognized shows, but optional for schooling shows.
Dressage Braids: Larger than hunter braids, but still beautifully accentuate conformation.
Running Braids: Relatively effortless type of braiding that can be used to keep your horse cool during a schooling session.
Draft Horse Braids: Colorful ribbons are braided into the mane for a flashy appearance.
Braids by Discipline
Small, precise braiding is standard for hunters, while dressage horses require an impeccably neat but larger button-style braiding. Scallop braids can also be used in the hunter ring and are a looped type of braid tied with yarn.
A variation on the hunter-style braids is the rosette braid which can be used for both eventing and dressage. It involves wrapping the braid at the crest and securing it with yarn.
Four-strand braids are an acceptable alternative for breeds with long manes in the dressage arena. It is similar to a running braid, but holds up better than a simple running braid.
Horses competing in pleasure driving have the option of braiding, but it is not mandatory. If the horse’s mane is particularly unruly, braiding may be the best option to present a polished appearance.
Braids by Breed
Certain breeds are known for their long manes and can be braided in different ways to showcase their gorgeous locks.
Andalusians can often be seen sporting a French braid in various types of competition. Lusitano horses can be found sporting the continental braid, a form of braiding that involves creating different sections of hair using small rubber bands.
Although not technically braiding, American Quarter Horses often have their manes banded in a variety of Western sports.
Banding involves using small rubber bands to evenly section off the mane.
Saddlebred horses are shown with a colorful ribbon woven into a single braid near the horse’s poll. They also have a ribbon woven into their forelock and tucked to one side of the bridle’s browband.
Horse Braiding Techniques
There are slight differences in how some people approach braiding their horse’s mane and tail.
Some people prefer to braid a wet mane, while others prefer working with a dry mane.
Some people use water, and others use hair spray or gel. Still, others use yarn, while some riders pick waxed thread. It takes a bit of experimentation to find your grooming groove!
Towering horses and teeny braids are the hallmarks of the hunter look.
How do you do hunter braids?
Due to their small size, hunter braids take more time than other braids. This type of braiding is created by weaving a piece of yarn matching the color of the horse’s mane into a standard 3-strand braid technique.
The yarn is pulled up through the top of the mane and tied down to create that gorgeous hunter look.
Finish by either French or Dutch braiding the forelock. In recognized shows, you can also French braid the tail.
How many braids should a hunter have?
30-40 braids are standard for hunters. The number of braids will vary based on mane thickness and the length of the neck.
How do you remove hunter braids?
Take small scissors and clip the yarn securing the braid. You’ll also need to clip the thread securing the braid itself but can then completely unbraid the mane.
Dressage braids also feature the basic 3-strand technique with a slightly different finish.
How do you do dressage braids?
Braids for the dressage arena are larger than hunter braids. This technique is created by braiding even sections of mane and securing it with rubber bands at the bottom. The braid is secured at the top of the neck with waxed thread.
Forelocks can also be French braided or can even be braided using the simple 3-strand technique.
How many braids do you need for dressage?
9-15 braids are standard for dressage.
How do you remove dressage braids?
Braids can be removed using small scissors to clip the thread and rubber bands securing the braid.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much does it cost to have a professional braid your horse’s mane?
You should expect to pay somewhere between $40 and $100 for a mane braid and $25 to $75 for a tail braid. Prices can vary drastically depending on the event and the braider’s experience.
Q: How much do professional horse braiders make?
Yes, some people make a living braiding horse manes and tails! Salary depends on the geographical area, client base, going show rates, and how quickly the braider can work.
In regions where showing is more popular, the earning potential is higher. The faster a braider works, the more horses they can get done and the higher the income.
Q: Why do people braid a horse’s mane?
People have been braiding horse manes for a variety of practical reasons over the last few centuries. Horses with long manes were often braided to prevent their hair from getting caught in farm equipment.
Warhorses were braided to avoid entanglement with weapons or brush while traveling through rugged terrain.
Braiding showcases the fact that you have spent a great deal of time preparing your horse to show and that it is well-cared for. Even today, many owners braid their horse’s mane or tail, especially when long, to prevent it from getting tangled. If the horse is competing, braiding can showcase conformation.
Q: What is a fishtail braid?
A fishtail is a type of tail braid that is similar to a French braid in that it starts at the top of the tail and is created by pulling the outside pieces of hair into the braid as it works its way down. The final result is a braid that lies flatter than a French braid.
Q: How do you do a dressage plait?
Depending on where you live in the world, you may hear the word “plait” instead of “braid.” They are two words with the same meaning.
Q: How do you braid a hunter with a long mane?
Love your horse’s long mane and don’t want to cut it for the show ring? Simply braid halfway down as you would in the first step of a traditional hunter braid.
Apply a rubber band and pull the unbraided lock of the mane up near the crest. Pull it back down and braid the excess mane into the next section.
This technique does create a slightly chunky look, but it’s a small price to pay to keep your horse’s lovely long locks!
Q: What is the easiest horse mane braid?
The running braid is a simple, functional braid that’s quick and suitable for everyday schooling sessions or trail rides.
Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming show or simply looking for a new way to spice up your schooling look, braiding offers a massive range of possibilities!
It’s an art that takes time and plenty of practice to master, so don’t get discouraged if your braids don’t turn out perfectly on the first try. Keep trying and sample a few different techniques until you find one that works for you.
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How to Braid a Horse’s Mane – AQHA
The Chronicle of the Horse (chronofhorse.com)
How To Braid for Hunter, Jumper & Dressage | Horse Journals
BRAIDED HORSE MANES: Why, How-to & Expert Advice – Braid Secrets
How to Braid a Horse’s Mane for Hunter Competition (horseillustrated.com)
How To Do A Running Braid Mane On Your Horse – Best Horse Rider
3 Grooming Mistakes to Avoid in Halter Horse Classes – AQHA
What does tradition tell us about braiding my driving horse’s mane? – Carriage Association of America
The Cost Of Your First Dressage Show (ifthesaddlefits.com)
Braiding and the Hard Work Put Into Being a Professional (horsesport.com)
How To Fishtail Braid A Horse Tail (cowboyway.com)
Bryant, J. O. (2006). The USDF guide to dressage. Storey Publishing.