Mane and Tail

The Mane

There is a huge variation in the types of mane horses have, and the way you look after your horse’s mane will depend partly on whether it’s long, short, thick – or if it has a mane at all. Ponies usually have the longest and thickest manes, while donkeys have little mane at all.

All manes befit from grooming, as it takes away dirt and debris and keeps it neat and untangled. Short manes can be combed, while longer manes can be brushed with a human hairbrush or a stiff dandy brush. Horses with very long manes may need to have them detangled by hand. Whether you keep your horse’s mane long or trim it shorter, depends partly on what you what to do on your horse. Western ponies and horses often have longer manes – they tend not to go in for show jumping or dressage, and it may be advantageous to have a long mane for showing. But if want to do showjumping or dressage, it might be more manageable to have a shorter mane, and maybe even keep the mane in plaits. This makes it much easier to look after and control.

If you take your horse to a show, it’s probably best to wash the mane along with the rest of the horse. Even if you’re not showing, it’s a good idea to wash the mane every so often – it stops the build-up of dandruff-like film at the base of the mane. Use conditioner to make the mane easier to detangle and to make it shine. You can also put on a commercial mane detangler, which will make the mane really shiny and easy to manage, and your horse will look and smell as if it’s been to the hairdresser!

Pulling the mane is usually better than trimming it, as it gives a natural, neater edge. It makes it thinner and easier to manage and detangle. Although it sounds painful, most horses don’t mind having their manes pulled. To make it comfortable for your horse, pull the hair upwards from the crest, rather than sideways or down. If you are going to pull the mane, do it after exercise when the pores are open, which should make it easier.

Some horses don’t like having their manes pulled and will toss their heads or bite. In this case, just do a few stands every day, so the process is extended rather than doing the whole lot in one session. This makes it less stressful for both you and your horse.

You can use trimming shears if you are in a hurry, which gives the appearance of a pulled mane, but the effect won’t last long before the cut hairs start to grow and stick up straight in the air. Pulled manes look more natural, last longer, and are less stiff.

Roaching or hogging is when the mane is completely shorn. This is needed for some sports such as polo, and often on cobs. It makes a ragged mane neat and easy to care for. A roached or hogged mane will take about 6-8 months to stop sticking straight up and lay to one side, and a year to return to a natural length. It’s probably best, if you want a roached mane, to maintain it this way in the long term.

Braided manes help keep a long mane under check. Traditionally manes are braided from the right-hand side. They accentuate the neck for showing and can be used to keep the mane falling on one side if it is usually divided.

The Tail

Use a comb to groom your horse’s tail – not a brush as this tends to pull out too much hair. You don’t want a thin weedy tail.

Starting from the head, run your hands over your horse to the tail so she knows you’re about to work at the tail end. Hold the tail to one side, don’t stand behind your horse. Then work in small sections, combing through the ends first and then working in.

When you wash the tail, put in lots of conditioner or detangler so it makes it easier to comb, and less hair gets pulled out. You don’t need to comb the tail every day, as you’re aiming at a thick, glossy tail, and you don’t want to do anything to pull out too much hair and make it straggly.

You could plait or braid the tail, which will make it easier to look after, especially if it’s long. Or you can use a bandage. Often these are put on for traveling, but can also keep the tail neat and tidy.