We get it -- braiding can be tricky. Between the rubber bands, yarn, spray, scissors... the list goes on. There’s a lot to keep track of and trying to apply perfectly looking braids on a moving animal isn’t as easy as it seems.
The “mane” steps to mastering your braiding skills begins with understanding these three steps: preparation, application and removal. By understanding the importance behind mastering the basics of these three steps, you will be able to better organize yourself and therefore, set yourself up for optimal success (and beautiful looking braids).
We met up with Top Three- Day Event Groom and Co-Author of World Class Grooming for Horses, Emma Ford, to learn everything there is to know about mastering the art of mane braiding.
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“One of the most important things when it comes to braiding is making sure the mane is the correct length and the correct thickness for the type of the braids you are doing,” says Emma. When it comes to preparing the mane, most people assume you must pull it. False. Preparing the mane to its appropriate length and thickness can be done in many different ways, not just by pulling it.
To start, having too clean of a mane can actually make it harder to prepare. By having a little bit of a dirty mane to work with, you can assure it won't be too slippery or hard to handle.
Next, choose how to prepare your mane:
- Scissors and a Comb: This is a great option for horse’s who are sensitive to pulling. This technique takes practice, but once mastered, it will look just as natural as a pulled mane.
- Razor Blade: This is great for thin manes and also another great option for horses who dislike the feeling of having their manes pulled. You can also use clipper blades if you so choose.
- Shedding Blade: Using a shedding blade is great for thick manes. Not only can you shorten the mane, but you can also thin out the mane, allowing the mane to be easier to work with.
Now, it’s time to apply your braids. It's important to recognize beforehand how you envision your braids to look, but also what is realistic for you and your horse. “Braiding is about producing the best outcome for you and your horse,” tells Emma. Use the technique that you feel you can apply best and that also will be most comfortable for your horse.
Starting with Eventing and Dressage braids, you can choose from two techniques, rubber bands or sewn in. If you’ve already learned a technique and like it, stick with it. If not, learning sewn in braids from the start works great for most people.
For sewn in braids, you will need waxed thread, crocodile clip, large plastic needle, water or braiding spray and scissors. Always make sure the mane is dampened to ensure tight and neat braids. And remember, Dressage braids should always sit on top of the crest to make sure the neck of the horse looks larger and can in turn, showcase the rest of the neck.
For Jumpers, banded braids can be quicker and most efficient than sewn-in braids. For Jumper braids, you can use wider sections of hair, but remember to twist as tightly as possible so that your rubber band can ‘catch’ the bottom of your rolled up braid to hold it in place.
Lastly (and probably the most precise), Hunter and Equitation braids have a very specific braiding style and therefore, sewn in or yarn is recommended. When it comes to these types of braids, making sure your technique ensures consistency in spacing, evenness in the amount of hair used in each braid and the same number of twists down each braid is key.
Finally, the easiest of all the steps. The main goal when it comes to removal is to preserve the mane (not pulling out chunks of hair in the process) and to make sure our horses are safe. “If you’re doing this in a stall, do not let the rubber bands or string drop because if a horse were to eat enough of them, it can cause a problem in their digestive track,” tells Emma. Using a seam ripper is the easiest way to remove sewn in braids, however, if you must use scissors, make sure they are small enough as to not remove excess hair or interfere with your horses safety.
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