There are many, many different ways of plaiting the mane and tail of your horse or pony, and sometimes tack and turnout requirements for showing will dictate that your horse be presented plaited (if they are not hogged) or at least, it is generally considered appropriate turnout and good etiquette to plait for certain showing classes and events. A well-presented and neat tail plait can look incredibly impressive, as can the small bun-like mane plaits generally seen in showing. However, to the novice or first time plaiter, they can also appear incredibly difficult to do; but don’t be put off, you may find that plaiting your horse or pony is easier than you think! A tail plait is the same as a French plait on a person; if you can already do a French plait, a tail plait will be simple!
There are lots of pictorial guides and step-by-step instruction charts available both in equestrian books and on the internet to guide the first timer through the plaiting process, so our top tips for plaiting the mane and tail are simply designed to give you a few pointers and a little trouble shooting advice. Whether you’re plaiting for fun and for practice, or if you’re trying to earn that coveted Tack and Turnout class rosette, this might make things a little easier! Read on to find out more.
Should my horse or pony be plaited?
In showing classes for native horses and ponies, it is expected that natives will be presented in their natural state, with the mane and tail flowing freely. There are some exceptions to this rule though; certain native breeds have their own traditional plaiting styles, such as Shire horses and Clydesdales which have their own elaborate and unusual mane and tail plaiting patterns which look quite different to the normal showing plaits used for show jumping events and ridden classes.
This article is aimed at people who wish to be able to perform a standard tail plait and mini-bun plaiting of the mane, either for fun and to practice their skills, or if required for showing. Of course, nobody has to plait their horse or pony, and very few competitions are likely to have a firm rule on plaiting as standard, or be willing to exclude an un-plaited horse or pony. Nevertheless, for some showing classes, plaiting is the norm, and so it is a handy skill to have.
Preparing to plait
Before you get started with your plaiting, make sure you’re prepared!
- Washing the mane and tail just before plaiting can make things more difficult, as the hair will be more flyaway and harder to manage. Wash the mane and tail (if you wish) a few days before plaiting.
- Have you got some plaiting bands (and plaiting thread, if you’re using it) in the appropriate colour? You’ll also need scissors, a needle (if plaiting with thread) a spray bottle of water, possibly some gel or hairspray, and a mane and tail comb approximately four inches long.
- Don’t be put off using a needle and thread in favour of plaiting bands because you think using bands will be easier; generally, plaiting with a needle and thread is often easier, and much neater, than using bands. Using a combination of both bands and thread is also perfectly acceptable!
- Can you reach to the top of the mane and forelock? Consider finding a box or crate to stand on, as plaiting is more easily done from above where you can look down on what you are doing.
- Make sure your horse or pony is well secured, and that you can work safely while plaiting them.
Top tips for plaiting the mane
- Unless your horse of pony’s mane stubbornly refuses to sit on the right hand side of their neck and you have no choice but to plait on the left, plaiting for tack and turnout is correctly done on the right.
- Section off the mane before you begin, to make sure all of the plaits are the same size and that you don’t have a stray tuft of hair left at the end!
- Use your plaiting comb to measure off the hair into equal sized sections and wrap a plaiting band loosely around each one to keep them separate until you’re ready to begin.
- Begin from the withers and plait upwards, finishing with the forelock last.
- Hold the hair out from the neck at a 45 degree angle as you plait.
- Make sure that each plait is firm, but not too tight so as to pull on the skin.
- As you band up or sew off the bottom of the basic plait, tuck the ends of the hair into the loop so that you get a rounded end to the length of the plait rather than tufts of hair.
- Curl the plait up to sit on the neck tightly, rolling the plait inwards rather than outwards so that it sits along the line of the neck and doesn’t stick up too much.
- Sew or band off the plait along the line of the neck.
Top tips for plaiting the tail
- Make sure the tail is completely free from knots from top to bottom before you begin.
- Use your fingers to divide the top sections of the tail into equally spaced sections.
- Wrap a plaiting band around the middle section at the top of the tail to keep any stray hairs in place while you’re plaiting.
- As with plaiting the mane, hold the hair out at a 45 degree angle from the tail and make sure that the plait is firm but not pulling.
- Once you reach the bottom of the area you wish to plait (generally, plaiting to the bottom of the dock is the norm) finish off the length of the plait and either band off or sew off the bottom. Again, as with plaiting the mane, tuck the bottom of the hair under the band or thread to give a neater, rounded appearance.
- Once you have finished the tail, you might want to gel or spray any stray hairs into place. Do not be tempted to snip them off with the scissors, as this will only make plaiting harder next time! You should now also snip off the band or thread you used to secure the top of the tail. If it is particularly flyaway, gel or spray it and tuck any stray hairs in first so that they stay in place after you remove the band.
Remember that if you are intending to plait your horse or pony for a showing event where presentation counts, you are unlikely to get it right first time if you haven’t practiced first, so make sure you have a few dry runs before the day itself. Good luck, and happy plaiting!