How do you grow and maintain a long mane on your horse?
This is often a large challenge - both grooming wise and also genetics wise. Horses, like humans, have a hair life cycle that is ruled by genetics. (You can learn more about how manes and tails grow in this amazing article.) Have you ever seen an Appaloosa with a mane like a Friesian? Probably not. The goal is to grow a healthy, undamaged mane and keep it that way. Only then can the mane grow as long as your horse's genetics will allow.
This is a lot like maintaining hair on your own head - you want to prevent breakage (you will have hair shedding, this is normal and all animals with hair do it.) Breakage is the result of brittle and unhealthy hair, or sometimes wind knots and tangles can lead to breakage. Daily attention is key.
In order to grow a great mane, you must feed it from the inside. Our friend Karen from Kentucky Performance Products lets us in on some nutritional tidbits for growing a great mane and tail.
"Certain nutrients, such as omega fatty acids; the trace minerals zinc, copper and iodine; the essential amino acids lysine and methionine (found in high quality proteins) and the B vitamin biotin, must be present in the correct amounts in a horse’s diet or skin, hooves, and hair will suffer. Getting the right balance is key, more is not always better. Take selenium for instance, this trace mineral must be properly balanced in the diet, too much selenium can cause toxicity which leads to hair loss in the mane and tail, among other symptoms."
Consult your Veterinarian and/or Nutrition Specialist to make sure your horse's diet is on target.
Other than that, there are a few things you can do to prevent breakage of the mane as you grow and keep it long. Keep the mane conditioned (be warned - some brands can make the reins slippery and therefore dangerous) and if it starts to get really long, consider keeping it in several long and loose braids that hang down. If you horse rubs his neck, I would just leave the mane long and skip the loose braids. Use fingers to groom the mane and very carefully with a wide tooth comb or brush. Burrs and fox tails and the like can be picked out easily after applying a detangler, use your fingers and a lot of patience. As with tails, work from the bottom up.
Braids keep it all contained! Keep the braids loose to prevent "itchy crest".
Long and loose braids are comfortable for your horse, and don't get tangled in the reins.
If you do get stuck with wind knots (the dreadlocks of the horse world), you are at least lucky that your horse's mane can grow that long! Try and spend some time on the mane every day, working with a conditioner and your fingers to untangle that mess. Adding water and shampoo to a wind knot will likely leave you frustrated, the wet mane is likely to make the hairs snap easily and the hairs will not be as slick. Slick is what you want for detangling. Keeping the mane detangled is key to prevention of these knots. If you can't attend to the mane every day, consider keeping it shorter or heavily conditioned (again, a warning about making the reins slickery, too!). You can also try the loose braids once you get the knots out.
Wind knots take lots of time to happen - so plan on a bunch of time to get them out... You will probably want to work on them a little at a time! Lots of patience and reward for your horse as you work them out.
What are your tips for a long and healthy mane?