We all enjoy a little pampering from time to time, and your horse is no exception. At this time of year, when the British weather is (sometimes) more favourable and you can turnout your horse more often and without a rug on — so that he or she can enjoy a good roll and scratch of his naked body — it might mean that they come in looking more mud (or dust) monster than riding partner.
Manes in particular and suffer, but with a little bit of time and effort you can keep it looking smart and tidy. Groom Amanda Thompson and coach Gemma Porter-Rawlings reveal their tricks of the trade to give your horse a hairdo to be proud of.
1 Brush to banish mud
If your horse has come in with half the field on his head, the best place to start is by giving his mane a good brush. A bit of elbow grease can work wonders to clear any excess mud and get your horse tangle-free. A dandy brush with firm bristles is best suited for his job.
“Brush the underside of his mane over to the opposite side of his neck, using quick flicking motions,” says Amanda. “To finish, brush it all back down, checking for any shavings, straw or mud.”
2 Tidy up with pulling or trimming
Before you get the shampoo out, it’s a good idea to thin out your horse’s mane and remove any stray hairs.
“I like to pull the hair before washing as the grease makes it easier to get a hold of,” says Gemma.
There are no strict rules as to how much to pull.
“It’s down to personal preference,” adds Gemma. “Dressage riders often leave the mane longer (about six inches) to give them the length to roll the mane into plaits, whereas showjumpers prefer it shorter.”
Tip: How to pull a mane
- Take a small section of mane, backcomb it to reveal the longest hairs, and wrap these long hairs around your comb.
- Tug quickly and sharply to pull the hairs out.
- Brush the mane to remove any tangles.
- Move on to the next section and repeat.
- Once complete, run your fingers through the mane to check you’ve got an even thickness.
Some horses don’t like having their manes pulled, even with a solo comb — and who can blame them — but there are products on the market to help you keep manes and tails trim and tidy in a kinder, humane way.
If you do choose to do it the old-fashioned way of pulling (as described above), do it after exercise when your horse’s skin is warmer and the pores are more open. This will make it easier for you and he’ll feel it less.
“Another thing you can do is apply pressure to the root of the hair,” advises Amanda. “This helps to desensitise the nerve endings so he won’t be able to feel you pulling as much. It’s a bit like when you pull your own skin tight when plucking your eyebrows.”
Pulling out a few stray hairs when you notice them should help you keep on top of things, but you may need to do a full pull every couple of months.
Tip: Consider trimming instead
If your horse has thin hair, is sensitive, or you’re not a fan of pulling, you can keep on top of his mane by trimming instead. To trim, apply a similar method as you would pulling, taking a smaller section and backcombing to reveal the longer hairs and then simply trim these away with scissors. Beware taking too much off with scissors though, as it won’t look natural.
“If you’re planning on cutting your horse’s mane, do a little bit at a time to avoid it looking too chopped,” advises Amanda.
3 Boost circulation with a shampoo
After all that plucking and pulling, your horse might be feeling a bit sore, so soothe his skin with a gentle wash.
“We like to use shampoo with lavender and camomile in as these have a soothing effect on the skin,” explains Gemma. “By rubbing in the shampoo, it also gives your horse’s neck a good massage, helping to circulate the blood and easing any soreness from the pulling.”
A good scrub can also help to wash away any build-up of grease and get your horse’s mane gleaming. To boost your shampoo’s soothing properties, treat your horse by washing him off with warm water. Once all the bubbles are out, dry him off with a towel and comb through his mane to get rid of any tangles.
4 Tame that mane
Traditionalists say that a horse’s mane should always fall to the right-hand side of his neck, but it could be that your horse’s mane has different ideas. Don’t worry too much, let it lie where it wants to naturally. However, a simple way to train a mane to lie one way or another is to section off the mane with rubber bands and lay them all on one side. If you do this for long enough and regularly enough, it is thought to be effective.
“You can do this with wet or dry hair and it helps to gently keep the mane in place without pulling your horse about too much and risking making him sore,” explains Gemma.
Tip: How to keep a mane in place
- Brush all of your horse’s mane to the right side of his neck.
- Split his mane into small sections that are roughly a mane comb’s width.
- Wrap an elastic band around each section, roughly a third of the way down.
- Leave to set in place and remove after an hour or so.
About the experts: Amanda Thompson is an event groom and member of the British Grooms Association. She enjoys dressage and showing. Gemma Porter-Rawlings is a BHS Stage 5 Performance Coach in Complete Horsemanship. She runs GPR Equestrian Services, offering tuition, BHS exam training, equine sports massage and livery.