Where Horses Come First ...

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Wed, 24 May 2017 12:31:00
Perhaps the biggest challenge that causes stress at horse shows and competitions is achieving perfect plaits. It's a fiddly business that takes time and patience - two things that are often in short supply just before a big event or show!
A well-plaited mane certainly improves your horse's chances in the show ring, and it certainly makes a big difference in, particularly, dressage competition if the judges' are impressed with your horse's neat and tidy turnout.
Conventional (hunter) braids are fine for most disciplines, with button braids being de rigeur for dressage. Of course some show categories like native ponies have to be shown with natural manes.
The number and placing of the plaits can actually enhance the look of your horse. Generally experts recommend not less than 9 braids, and no more than 11 (plus a french plait for the forelock). Traditionally there should be an odd number of plaits along the neck. Using more can make the neck of a short-necked horse look longer, and horses with a weak neck can be given the illusion of more crest by placing the plaits as high as possible.

It's certainly wise to practice your plaiting technique at home to make sure you can handle it calmly and neatly under pressure on the morning of the show. It's not recommended to plait the night before because hairs might be pulled or rubbed loose overnight or during travelling. Do, however, leave plenty of time for plaiting because if you become harried, your horse will pick up on it.
Practice makes perfect, and what you want to avoid is a few large clumpy braids that will do nothing for your horse's topline, and will prevent him from comfortably bending his neck.
Make sure, too, that your button braids are firmly secured and don't wiggle about - not an impressive sight in the arena!
Before you begin plaiting you need to bath your horse and shampoo the mane (preferably the day before) using a good shampoo and conditioner, making sure you massage the hair right down to the roots to remove any embedded dirt and debris.
There are numerous products available for mane and tail detangling. If you apply any of these it is best to comb the mane through thoroughly, and leave the product in (as long as you are sure your horse has no skin sensitivity issues) so that when you come to plaiting the hair will be "sticky" and thus easier to handle. If you prefer to rinse the mane off and it has dried sleek and soft before you come to start the plaiting process, you can always use a product like Smart Grooming's Perfect Plaits
to give the hair some texture and grip to work with (it also acts as a setting lotion to keep plaits in place). 
Before you begin plaiting you will also need to get the mane into shape, both as far as bulk and length goes. The optimum length for plaiting is about six inches width, and if the mane is very thick you can thin it and shorten it by pulling.
Mane pulling is not to everyone's taste (nor does every horse enjoy the process), so you may be able to achieve the thinning and shortening by means of grooming tools like a thinning comb and scissors. The goal is to have a mane that is of even thickness and length to achieve perfectly consistent plaits.
If you do want to try pulling, the ProEquine grooms have a great online guide to help you!

Firstly, make sure you have all the plaiting tools you'll need to hand. I find it best to keep everything stashed in a waist pouch - the hand Totally Smart Plaiting Apron is great for the job!
Experts recommend sewing plaits, so a ready-threaded needle or two, with a reel of thread to match the mane colour, are the first requirements. Then you'll need scissors, mane comb and hair clips, and a sturdy stool to stand on. Add an unpicker to correct any mistakes.
Tie up the horse (give him a haynet to keep him occupied if you think he may be jittery with your hairdressing operation!).
With the mane damp and prepared with product, use the mane comb to divide off your first section for plaiting. Start at the poll. A section should be about two inches wide (depending on how many plaits you want and how big you want the plaits to be.
Clip the rest of the hair out of the way, then divide your first section into three equal parts. Start plaiting firmly, keeping your thumbs on top.
SUPREME PRODUCTS has a superb range of plaiting and showing products, available here!
Plait right down to the bottom and hold firmly with one hand while you grab your threaded needle with the other. Sew around the end of the plait, then fold the ends under and sew around once more. When the end is secured, fold the plait in half, turning the end underneath, then pull the thread up from underneath pulling the needle out at the top of the plait.
Then stitch the needle and thread down the length of the folded plait (following the zig-zags) so that the needle emerges at the bottom. Fold the plait in half again, tucking the end underneath as before, then push the needle up from underneath, near the base of the plait, and pull the thread through. Finish off by sewing through the folded plait a few times to secure it, adjusting the shape and position if necessary. Cut off the thread with scissors.
Continue to section the hair and make plaits down the length of the neck.
You can plait the forelock using the same method, or, if you have the skill, make a French plait which will lay flatter.

Add a shine to your grooming efforts with a spray of Shapleys Hi Gloss or similar. If you want to really sparkle why not use a bit of glitter on mane and tail!
When it comes time to remove the plaits, use an unpicker to make sure you don't cut or damage the hair.
Once you've got your plaiting technique down pat, why not try experimenting with different looks, using silicone rubber bands (useful when you're in a hurry) or adding a bit of bling in the form of bejewelled crystal plaiting bands or mane and tail twists.

We have a host of show products available online that will ensure your horse has that immaculate look that translates into winning turnout.

We love this video from ProEquine Grooms which demonstrates how to plait a mane for dressage using yarn: