How to Braid a Horse's Mane
Follow these step-by-step horse-showing instructions for braiding a horse’s mane for English classes.
By Tara Matsler for The American Quarter Horse Journal | January 28, 2014
English competition exudes class and style. Not surprisingly, what is quick to draw the judge’s eye is a horse and rider who look clean and professional, and neat, tidy mane braids are a means to accomplish that.
American Quarter Horses are seen sporting braids in a multitude of AQHA classes, including hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, hunter hack, equitation over fences, working hunter and pleasure driving.
While braided manes may look like the impossible, learning how to braid a horse’s mane becomes easier and easier with practice.
To show you the way, Stacy Lane Huls of Phoenix offers step-by-step advice for braiding horse manes, with the help of three-time AQHA hunter under saddle world champion Blended Choclate as her equine model. You can also watch all of Stacy’s advice in this YouTube video, brought to you by AQHA Video.
For a picture-perfect braided mane, Stacy suggests that you have the following handy:
- Stool: Stacy prefers to stand so she is above neck level, allowing her hands to work at her waist level while she is braiding. She has found that working with her hands below her, not above, makes for a less-tiring process.
- Spray bottle: filled with either water or a braiding spray product, such as Quic Braid.
- Yarn: Try to match the color of the yarn as best you can to the color of your horse’s mane.
- Latch hook: You can find a latch hook at a craft store, generally in the yarn section.
- Brush or comb
- Plastic hair clip with large teeth
Since you’ll be juggling quite a bit while you are braiding a mane, Stacy prefers to tie her scissors and latch hook together by a length of string.
“The string will go around your neck and over your shoulders, enabling the scissors and latch hook to dangle in front of you for easy access while mane braiding,” she says.
There’s a lot that goes into horse-showing. For additional tips and tricks, download AQHA's Beginner’s Guide to Showing. Let AQHA relieve your showing stress, because no one should have to go it alone.
When shopping for yarn, Stacy likes to take a length of yarn and test its strength by pulling on it. She is looking for a yarn that holds up to a significant amount of pressure because she doesn’t want the yarn to break while she is pulling on it during the mane-braiding process.
Once you’ve got your yarn home and you’re ready to braid the mane, it’s now time to cut the yarn into 40 pieces.
1. Take the end of the yarn between your thumb and forefinger, wrapping the yarn around the length of your elbow.
2. Continue to wrap the yard for 40 passes, stop then cut the loops of yarn where your thumb and forefinger meet, severing it from the skein of yarn, as well.
3. Your yarn should end up being twice the length of your elbow to your thumb.
Prepping the Mane
Before you start braiding a mane, you’ll want the mane pulled and even, clean and dry.
“I like to wash the horse’s mane several days prior to braiding,” Stacy says. “The mane will be clean, but with a little bit of tackiness to it.”
When you wash the mane, only use shampoo, not conditioner. Conditioner will make your horse’s mane slick and hard to hang on to.
Now that you have your supplies in order and mane prepped, it’s time to get down to the task at hand: mane braiding.
Braiding the Mane
Do you know how to find an amateur horse? Or what training and other related expenses to expect? You don’t? No worries, AQHA can help! Get the Beginner’s Guide to Showing report and make your showing experiences a little bit easier.
- Take the spray bottle (filled with either water or a grooming product like Quic Braid) and spray the section you are starting with. Run your fingers through the dampened hair and work the liquid in.
- Using the hair clip as a marker, section off a portion of mane that is as wide as two to three of the “teeth” on the clip. For a thicker mane, use only two teeth’s worth of mane. Once you have the section of hair portioned out, use the clip to hold the rest of the mane back.
- Split the selected section of mane into three even parts to start your braid. With each crossover, place your thumb on top of the hair to hold it in place. The key is to keep the braid tight with your thumb as you are braiding down.
- Three-quarters of the way down the hair, stop braiding and select a piece of yarn. Lay the yarn so the middle of the length of yarn is on top of where the braiding stops. You can lay one half of the yarn on the far side of the horse’s neck. The other half of yarn can hang down on the near side of his neck.
- Resume braiding, crossing the hair over the piece of yarn that is laying on the near side of the horse’s neck. Make one more cross-section, then pull down the other half of the yarn – the half that was laying across the horse’s neck.
- Continue braiding the mane and yarn as far down as you possibly, then prepare to knot the yarn.
Knotting the yarn
- To tie off the yarn, take one piece and lay it over the top of the braid, then pass it back under (almost like tying a necktie), making a loop. Pull the tail through the loop and pull it tight. Repeat that process two or three times – these knots will cover the ends of the mane hairs that are left at the bottom of the braid.
- Remove the hair clip and measure out hair for the next braid. Try to duplicate the same width as the initial section of hair all the way down the horse’s mane.
- Using your scissors, trim the hair at the bottom of the braid, cutting at an angle and shearing the hair so the end is not blunt and is within a quarter inch of the yarn knot. The ends of the hair should come to a natural point.
Tying the Braids Down
- Take your latch hook to the far side of the mane, making sure your closure is open and pushing against the base of the horse’s neck, come through the bottom of the hairline and push the hook all the way through. Take the tail of the yarn, laying it in the hook and pull the closure down over the yarn in the hook, then pull the hook and ends of yarn back through the braid. The end of your yarn should now be laying on the opposite side of the horse’s neck.
- To tie the braids down, take the yarn in your left hand and hold the loop of the braid in your right hand. Pull gently so the knot is buried inside the braid.
- Separate your yarn into two pieces, then cross one strand over and under the other, creating the beginning of a knot, but you’re going to have the yarn wrapped twice, rather than once like you would when tying your shoes. Push the knotted loop under the braid, pulling it snug but not tight. Place your thumb on the base of the braid, holding the braid down and pull the yarn tight, minding not to break the yarn.
- Cross the yarn again, starting a knot, this time pulling the crossed yarn down to the top of the braid so the knot is now laying on the braid.
- Take your thumb and push the braid up so the crossed yarn is in the middle of the braid, then pull the knot tight.
- Knot the yarn one more time, this time placing the knot under the braid. Pull it tight and flip the tails of the yarn to the far side of the horse’s neck so they are out of your work space.
- Remember that the bottom loop of every finished braid should be evenly lined up. This is what keeps a braided mane looking uniform.
- If you are working in sections, always leave one braid down as a guide to remind you of how far down you had braided before incorporating the yarn, knotted the yarn and trimmed the end of the braid.
- To cut the excess yarn, pull the yarn up, then clip one side of the yarn with the scissors and then the other side, continuing down the row of braids and clipping as close to the base of the knot as you can.
You want horse showing to be fun, not stressful! But factor in all of the research you have to do to make showing easier? Forget it! That’s why AQHA created the Beginner’s Guide to Showing report. Download the report and let AQHA answer all of the questions that are necessary to ask before entering the ring.
Finishing the Forelock
- Because the width of a horse’s forelock is generally wider than a typical mane braid, you will want to complete a French braid on the forelock.
- Wet the horse’s forelock, then smooth all the hair down and section off the top of the braid, near the bridle path, into three equal parts.
- Once you have crossed all three sections, pull out a little bit of hair from the outer edge of the forelock, right below your initial three sections. Add the outer hair to the closest section you have crossed over, then continue your braid.
- Continue adding from the other edges as you braid, alternating from side to side and working your way down the forelock. As you braid, remember to pull the hair down as you go so that the braid stays tight and flush to the horse’s forehead.
- French braid until you get to the end of the base of the forelock, then switch to the traditional braiding technique.
- After you have braided halfway down the forelock, add your yarn, the same as you had done for the mane. Continue braiding with the yarn blended in with the forelock.
- Once you have reached near the end of the forelock, lay the piece of yarn from the right side over the top of the braid so that the yarn tail is facing left. Wrap the tail of the yarn underneath the braid, pull up through the loop, pulling tight. Repeat this process twice more.
- To finish the forelock, place your latch hook at the top of your braid so that the hook is facing down toward the horse’s nose; keep the back of the hook against the horse’s forehead. Aim to have the latch hook travel down the center of the braid and exit the base of the forelock in the center.
- Take the tails of the yarn and put them through the latch hook, shutting the closure over the yarn. Pull the yarn all the way through the top of the braid and continue pulling so that the tail of the braid is hidden in the French-braided section of the forelock.
- To tie off the forelock, separate the yarn tails. Starting on the right side, just slightly below the top of the braid, push the latch hook through the forelock to the left side; the latch hook will be perpendicular to the braid. Put the yarn tail through the hook, then shut the closure and pull the yarn through the braid. Switch the latch hook to the left side of the forelock, pulling the yarn through from the right. Pull the yarn tails snug.
- Use the same knot you used to finish the mane braids, meaning you will wrap the yarn twice, then pull it down and snug against the forelock braid. Cross and loop the yarn once more, and pull it tight against the braid.
- Take your scissors and trim the yarn tails flush to the braid.
After you’ve labored away on braiding your horse’s mane, you don’t want to skip this very important step: putting on a mane tamer.
“As soon as you’re done braiding, slide on your mane tamer,” Stacy says. “Mane tamers come in different weights. A summer weight is light, airy mesh, nylon fabric that helps not hold the heat in.
“A mane tamer will help keep your braids fresh for the morning, and if your horse lays down, the mane tamer prevents shavings and dirt from getting into your mane, your finished product.”