Equestrian tradition dictates that the horse's mane--and tail, in some sports--be cleanly braided for shows and competitions. Depending on the size and location of the braids, riders can maximise a strong neck and disguise a weak one, writes Carolyn Henderson on the Horse and Hound magazine website. Knowing the style of braids recommended for your riding discipline and plaiting them correctly increases your chances of getting high marks at your next horse show.
Horses competing in the art of dressage typically sport "button" braids designed to show the muscling in the neck. Braiders plait a 2- to 3-inch section of mane into a loose braid that tightens as it goes down. Once the hair is tied off, the braider attaches heavy thread or yarn to the end of the braid and pulls it through the top of the plait near the horse's crest by using a large needle or crochet hook, making a loop. The braider forms a "button" by rolling the loop into a ball and sewing it into place. Justin Ridgewell, a groomer for the Canadian Olympic dressage team, recommends using waxed string to hold the braid in place.
Equestrians in the hunter-jumper discipline style the horse's mane in a series of short braids that hang down approximately 1 inch from the crest of the neck. Riders braid mane sections varying in size from 1/2 to 1 inch in tight plaits and tie them off with yarn or thread matching the colour of the hair. Braiders use a rug hook or crochet needle to pull the end of the plait through the top close to the crest and tie it off with the thread. This type of braid allows the mane to lie flat against the horse's neck, notes the Hunter Jumper Connection website.
During shows, riders typically tie the long mane of the Arabian horse in a French braid running down the crest of the neck. Also called a "running" braid, this style enhances the long neck and fine face of the Arabian horse. A weak neck can be disguised by placing the braid on top of the neck, while a horse with a thick neck easily wears the braid hanging lower on the crest, advises Judith Draper and colleagues in "The Ultimate Book of Horse and Rider." Braids are secured with thread or rubber bands that match the hair colour. The forelock should be braided in the same manner as the mane.
Equestrians in the Western disciplines "band" the horse's mane. Riders divide the mane into small sections--typically ½ inch wide--then wind rubber bands the colour of the hair into the top of each section. This allows the hair to lie flat on the horse's neck and makes the thick neck of most quarter horses appear slimmer, says Mandy Lorraine on the EquiSearch website.
A braided tail adds to the picture of elegance and refinement needed in the hunter-jumper disciplines, states Cindy Hale of HorseChannel.com. It accentuates the horse's hindquarters and shows the heavy muscling required for this sport. Riders begin by sectioning three strips of hair at the top of the horse's tail. They then French braid down to within 2 inches of the end of the tailbone by pulling in strips of hair from the back of the tail. This creates a flat, clean look on the top half of the horse's tail. The strip of French braid is then plaited all the way down, creating a "pigtail" that the rider either wraps or loops around the braided half of the tail.