5 Expert Mane Preparation Tips for Easier Braiding

A guest post by Mary Beth of Braid Secrets.

Check out the horse’s mane in this photograph.

Now imagine you must braid it for an event, hunter or dressage show tomorrow.

What are your thoughts about how this mane will braid?

When I think about braiding this horse, I see a mane that will:

  1. Be labor intensive to braid due to the mane thickness
  2. And hard to tie off at the braid bottoms due to the blunt ends
  3. Have long tail hair ends below the bottom braid knots  
  4. Be difficult to pull the braids up into the crest
  5. Result in braids that tend to twist

What do all these things have in common?

All the issues with braiding this mane are the result of poor mane preparation. These are time consuming problems that make mane braiding more difficult and will negatively impact your braids.

For most riders who attempt to braid this mane the results will be super disappointing.

And that is a bummer.

Because it doesn’t have to be this way. 

That’s why I’m sharing five expert mane preparation tips for easier braiding. These tips will help you ace your mane preparation so that you can craft your best braids swiftly and with greater ease.

I’m covering everything from how to evaluate a mane to sharing expert mane preparation techniques with you. These are simple things anyone can learn and do in a few minutes.

So, let’s dive in!

Tip 1:  Learn How to Evaluate Mane Type

Is your horse’s mane thin, average or thick?  You need to know the mane type so you can best prepare the mane for braiding.

To evaluate your horse’s mane type:

1. Grasp the mane at the poll, in the middle of the neck, and at the withers.

2. Compare the mane thickness in these areas.

Make a mental note of where the mane is thick and thin. Then use the guidelines in the next tip to determine the mane type.

Tip 2: Guidelines to Determine Mane Type

Most manes will fall into one of three categories: thin, average, or thick. Here are the characteristics of each mane type so that you can identify which one you’re working on.

Thin Manes

Thin manes have sparse hair from poll to withers and the horse will usually have a narrow crest. A thin mane frequently has a finer hair texture, too.

This horse has a naturally thin mane and a finer hair texture.

Average Manes

Average manes are thinner at the poll and withers and thicker in the middle portion of the mane. This is the most common mane type you’ll encounter.

This is an average mane that’s thicker in the middle portion of the neck.

Thick Manes

Thick manes are dense from poll to withers and the horse will have a thicker crest. A thick mane will likely have a coarser hair texture, too. This is by far the most difficult type of mane to braid.

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This horse’s mane is a good example of a thick mane type.

Tip 3: Customize Your Mane Preparation

Now that you’ve determined your horse’s mane type, use the table below to customize your mane preparation. Find your horse’s mane type and follow the mane thickness and length recommendations. Note that mane lengths are measured after the mane clears the crest.

*When creating button braids, your braid sections will be larger so the mane can be slightly longer than the lengths given.

Mane Preparation Chart

Mane TypeAdjust Mane ThicknessBest Mane Length
ThinNever pull a thin mane. You need to preserve the hair you have to work with and braid.Keep a thin mane shorter, just over four inches long* after the mane clears the crest.
AveragePull the thick areas of the mane, usually the middle section, until the mane density is more even from poll to withers.Shorten the mane to four- to five-inches long* after the mane clears the crest.
ThickPull the mane a little at a time over a couple of weeks until the mane is a manageable thickness to braid.Shorten the mane to five- to six-inches long* after the mane clears the crest.

Tip 4: How to Properly and Painlessly Pull a Mane

Many horses will stand quietly for mane pulling (thinning), but sensitive horses may dislike mane pulling. For this reason, I like to use a peaceful mane pulling technique to keep them happier and less stressed.  Fellow riders report:

“jaw-dropping results when using this method” ~ Charnae S.

All you need is a mane pulling comb, shown in the photo below.

Here’s how the technique is done…

Painless Mane Pulling Method

1. Backcomb a small section of hair up to the scalp.  

2. Wrap the remaining hair around the pulling comb near the scalp. Place your thumb on top of the hair.

3. Hold steady, downward pressure on the hair until you feel it release on its own. You’ll actually feel a “pop” as the individual hairs release.

4. Comb down the mane and continue working across the mane, one small section at a time. Pull the thick areas of the mane until it is more even (average mane) or the mane is a manageable thickness (thick manes). Read my recommendations below.

My suggestion for thick manes is to work on thinning the dense areas of the mane for five minutes a day after you ride. This is the best time for this task since manes are easier to pull after exercise because the pores are open and the hair releases easier.  

Do this until the mane is a manageable thickness to braid. This little-at-a-time approach prevents hair regrowth from becoming a braiding problem and it’s less stressful for your horse. 

Need help with painless mane pulling? I demonstrate this technique and other expert tips in my library of mane braiding videos and resources. Click on the link to get access to the library for FREE.

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Realize that mane pulling in an infrequent task. I pull my horse’s thick mane in the spring, then only need to shorten it during the remainder of the summer.

Tip 5: Shorten and Taper the Mane

Once the mane is an even thickness, you need to shorten it to four- to six-inches long, after it clears the crest.  Recall that the best mane length for braiding your horse’s mane depends on the mane type (thin, average, or thick).

I have a wonderful technique I learned from another professional braider that uses a dull clipper blade to shorten the mane. The advantage to using this technique is that it creates tapered hair ends so that it’s:

  • Easy to tie your braids off at the bottom
  • And simple to pull the braids up into the small space at the crest

You will need a dull clipper blade and a comb to comb out the mane. Any dull clipper blade will work. In the photographs, I’m using the back blade from a T85 clipper blade set that are used with large body clippers.

Here’s how the technique is done…

Mane Shortening and Tapering Technique

*Use the Mane Preparation Chart in Tip 3 to determine the best mane length for your horse. Mane lengths are measured after the mane clears the crest since this is where the braids truly start. Starting your measurement after the crest will also help prevent you from making the mane too short.

Expert Tip: It’s always better to err on the side of the mane being too long. If you make a mane too short, it may be not be braidable.

1. To shorten the mane, backcomb a small section of hair up toward the scalp using a dull clipper blade.  Hold the remaining hair with the fingers of your left hand.

2. Put the teeth of the clipper blade on the remaining hair at the length you want and place your thumb on top as shown. Press down on the hair with the blade (held in your right hand) to shorten the mane.

3. Work across the mane in small sections backcombing and shortening the mane as you go. Comb down the mane frequently to identify any areas that need shortening.

This is my ace mane shortening and tapering technique because it leaves the mane ready for good, fast braiding and the mane looks fabulous unbraided, too.

Need help with shortening and tapering the mane? It’s easy to learn how. I demonstrate this technique in a video, 5 Secrets for Perfect Mane Braids, in my mane braiding resource library. Click on the link to get access to the library for FREE.

End Results and Benefits

Here’s a photograph of a well-prepared average mane that will set you up to create your best braid ever in a timely manner. The benefits to customizing your mane preparation include more even braid spacing, identical braid size, and an even bottom line to your braids across the neck. These braid characteristics make your braids stand out in the show ring.

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A well-prepared mane is ready for good, fast braiding. Perfect braids are easiest to achieve when the mane is an even thickness and proper length.

Takeaways: Mane Preparation Tips

Here’s a recap of the five expert mane preparation tips for easier braiding:

Tip 1: Learn How to Evaluate Mane Type

Knowing how to evaluate your horse’s mane type is the first step in preparing a short mane for good, fast braiding. Compare the thickness of the mane at the poll, in the middle of the neck, and at the withers. The width of the crest can also provide clues to mane type.

Tip 2: Guidelines to Determine Mane Type

Use the information you gathered in Tip 1 and the mane type descriptions provided to determine your horse’s mane type. Most manes are either thin, average or thick.

Tip 3: Customize Your Mane Preparation

Find your horse’s mane type on the Mane Preparation Chart and customize mane pulling (if needed) and shortening as described so that you create the best conditions for successful mane braiding.

Tip 4: How to Painlessly Pull a Mane

Mane preparation is done in advance of shows, in a thoughtful manner that takes into consideration the sensitivity of your horse.  Learn the painless mane pulling method and use it after riding to start optimizing mane thickness.  Exception: Remember thin manes are never pulled since you must preserve the hair you have to work with.

Tip 5: Shorten and Taper the Mane

Use the dull clipper blade technique to shorten the mane and taper the hair ends to the best length for your horse’s mane type.  Remember the optimum lengths for thin manes (just over four inches), average manes (four to five inches), and thick manes (five to six inches long). 

Do you recall the first mane in the photograph at the beginning of this post? The condition of that mane will make braiding time consuming, difficult, and result in poor braid quality.  You can avoid that scenario by using these tips and techniques.  Customize your mane preparation to your horse’s mane type and you’ll set yourself up for braiding success and ease. 

Have you prepared your horse’s mane for braiding? How did it go? Which tip was most helpful to you? Leave a comment and let me know.


Mary Beth

P.S. Need help with mane preparation? Or creating flawless braids for eventing, hunter or dressage shows? I teach riders like you how to succeed at mane braiding.  I demonstrate expert techniques and tips in my library of mane braiding videos and resources. Click on the link to get access to the library for FREE.

Get INSTANT ACCESS to the Free Resource Library at braidsecrets.com

Mary Beth Rohaly is an equestrian braiding expert and instructor who is passionate about teaching riders how to create flawless braids for successful hunt seat and dressage shows. Or to earn income $$$ braiding other horses.

She is the creator of the Mane Braiding Workshop where she teaches her complete step-by-step Braid Secrets system on video including hunter and dressage braids.  Riders of all levels are dramatically improving their braids with the knowledge they have gained in this workshop.  You’ll shorten your learning curve and benefit from Mary Beth’s hard-won knowledge, experience and expert tricks of the trade.

Ms. Rohaly is a featured Braiding Expert on Jane Savoie’s Dressage Mentor website. She has competed in both hunt seat and dressage competitions, so she truly understands what it takes to create top notch turn out for each discipline. Visit braidsecrets.com for blog posts, additional information and products. You can connect with Mary Beth on Facebook and Pinterest.

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