How do I get ready to practice braiding? What do I need to do, and what supplies do I need?
Braiding is beautiful, and can be fun sometimes!! It’s not fun, however, when you have 20 minutes to do it and you are not really sure what to do at a show….so now is the time to practice at home.
There are tons of different styles of braids, for all sorts of disciplines. For the most part, we can talk about braiding in two categories - short manes and long manes. Let’s start with the short ones and go from there!
- Short manes are seemingly easier to braid - unless you accidentally made them too short!! So, let’s start from the “prep” part. For some of the western disciplines, like western pleasure, that bands the mane, to the tiny and numerous hunter/jumper braids, to the few and far between dressage button braids, you will start with a short mane.
These are dressage button braids.
- Now, most folks tell you that 4 fingers long is about ideal mane length for any of the above disciplines. And, for the most part, that’s great!! Unless you have a horse with a super wavy and curly mane, in which case you want more. I have always tended to like 5 to 6 fingers, just in case…. You can always go shorter, but it's gonna take a while for mane to grow out....
- For any mane, thick or thin, I like the entire mane to be consistently dense. By that, I mean that the mane is the same density from ears to middle to withers. Most horses are thicker in the middle.
- To create even density in the mane, you will need to thin the mane by pulling the thicker sections. No freaking out here. Many horses tolerate and even like this process - you can also read this article for more tips. If you choose to use other methods to thin the mane in the middle section, such as a thinning comb with a retractable blade, you will be left with lots of shorter pieces that usually like to stick straight up, since you are not pulling from the root, instead you are cutting near the root. These pieces will also poke straight up in between your braids. (Not ideal, but some creative twisting and product can help a little bit.)
Pulling the mane to create even thickness throughout.
- After pulling, you are left with a mane that is consistently dense and consistent in length. Maybe you also trimmed up the ends, that’s great too. Point is, same length, same density. This creates even braids, be it buttons, H/J, or any variation on the theme.
- For long manes, which are seen in some of the western disciplines, some saddlebred disciplines, and the baroque breeds, you can get away with a little more variation in the thickness and still be OK. Most western horses with longer manes are fairly thin from ears to withers, and most baroque breeds are thicker all over.
- Now we are just getting to the practice braiding part. So now you want to think about a few more things before you bust out the yarn and elastics. I like to braid a mane that’s a bit dirty - not crazy dirty where you can see it from space, but just enough stick that your fingers, yarn, and elastics are not going to ice skate away from you and the mane. One or two days (or more) after a shampoo is usually good. This works great for me - not so much for others. If I’m working with a long mane, I like to keep it a bit cleaner, since you are seeing more of it than a braided mane. That’s the point of practicing - so you have the time to experiment and see what works for you!
An evenly pulled mane helps you create evenly spaced braids.
- I also like to see what width of braid works for my horses. When I play around with this, I use a mane comb and a rubber band around a few tines of the comb so I can measure each braid to be consistent.
To get ready to braid, I also like to use an apron to house all my stuff:
- Lotion/potion to help smooth and set the hair
- Rubber bands
- Hair clip to hold back the rest of the mane
This seam ripper has a magnifying glass. Because you will need it.
Now I’m ready to braid!! Here are some tips for braiding - so you are totally prepared when you get to the show…
- When using a spray or gel product, I like to avoid spritzing directly on the mane. Many horses become afraid near their ears, and it can drip or overspray onto the neck and become sticky and goo-ey. You can also find Mane Mousse, which won't drip or overspray and doesn't get super crunchy.
- If the mane has some fly-aways that you can get your fingers around, grab them with a few longer hairs and twist together before you section into three and braid.
- For fly-aways that don’t twist into your braid, use a bit of product to mush down or consider using a pair of safety scissors to trim.
- Take your time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so do a few here and there and some today and some tomorrow and you will get the hang of it.
- You may want to practice braiding with yarn in a different color so that you can see your work clearly and learn from it. Save the same colored yarn and elastics for show day.
- The more you practice, the more your horse will get used to it. This goes quadruple for the forelock - a very tricky french braid in a tricky location!
- If you are practicing a running braid, get as high up as you can so that you are totally above the mane. The best running braids sit on top of the crest, not on the side. Getting high up there lets you french braid down the crest by staying on top - super classy result!!
- Seam rippers are great for taking it all out when you are done!
For a quick video tutorial about dressage button braids, you can reference this article.