As with most things in the equestrian world, the braiding of a horse’s mane and tail is a blend of tradition and modernity. While braiding customs may come from the days of cavalry drills, heavy ranch work and foxhunts, today braids are most often seen in the show ring. Depending on the discipline, different styles can be seen and is a great way to show off a horse’s top line or hide any conformation faults with the horse’s neck.
Hunter (or flat) Braids
A staple at any A-rated show, hunter braids use yarn that closely matches the color of the mane for understated elegance. A throwback to tradition when an unbraided mane could get tangled out on a foxhunt, today’s hunter (both in the field in and in the ring) most commonly has a pulled mane to make this time-consuming braid a bit easier. Once finished, the neck line is clearly shown with an elegant presentation. Unlike some of the other types, hunter braids are numerous in quantity (sometimes as many as 45+ braids)!
Button (or Rosette) Braids
A popular choice for the dressage ring, button braids are a durable, forgiving braid. Button braids are traditionally done with needle and thread but can also be done with rubber bands or yarn. Mane hair that is five inches or so is the ideal length. Longer mane will make rounder “buttons.” The hair is sectioned off (each section is about the width of your hand) and as the braid is pulled up a ball is formed as it is sewn. Button braids that number 11-17 braids down the neck are considered appropriate.
This style works well with a thinner, short mane, the braid is braided straight up and then secured with a rubber band before its folded over in the opposite direction of the way the mane falls on the neck. Tape or other banding material is then wrapped around the braid. Banded plaits can add definition to a straight neck and is a striking look when a contrasting tape is used.
A French braid that runs down the neck, this braid requires a fairly long mane and is more commonly seen on Lipizzans, Andalusians and Friesians and other similar breeds.
This term is a slight misnomer as in this hairstyle the mane is actually woven rather than braided, and so the procedure can be referred to as Diamond Weave or Woven Mane as well. The arrangement works best with long manes as the completed look should extend about halfway down the neck. It involves sectioning and rubber banding the mane into equal parts near the neckline. Then each section is further divided into two parts with each half of the section being banded together with the half of the section next to it several inches below the initial banding. The dividing and banding process will result in a pattern that resembles netting.
With so many looks, today’s show horse can be seen with a variety of braids to show off the perfect topline or create the illusion of a longer neck. Next time you’re by the ring, be sure to check out the artistic work displayed!