Written By: Sierra Sneath, Professional ‘A’ Circuit Braider and Owner of Twisted Tails
Photos By: Cassandra Belisle Photography
Check out Part 1 First: CLICK HERE
Braiding manes and tails has been done for many years. Foxhunters would braid their horses to keep manes free from burrs and branches while out on the trails. Today, it is has more aesthetic purposes that are used to showcase a horse’s topline and enhance their overall look. It is also done out of respect for the judges, as it is considered part of the “uniform” for hunter and equitation classes. Many jumpers also braid, but it is not required and does not factor into a judge’s overall impression, and thus, score of the horse!
TOOLS YOU WILL NEED
- Step ladder
- Rug Hook
- Mane Comb
- Quality pair of Scissors
- Bucket of water
- Brush or Sponge for wetting hair
- Strong Yarn (Note: Sierra uses a brand called Big Twist from the US. Vanna’s Choice, sold by Michael’s, would be her next pick. Choose yarn that is hard to break, but not so thin that it will slice into your fingers! This is very important as it will enhance the quality of the braids, and ensure they last for at least as long as your classes!)
BRAIDING THE MAIN
- Start by wetting the mane with your wet brush/sponge. Make sure to wet the underside as well as this will help with frizz and braid tightness. Wet 8-10 inches of mane at a time – the wetter, the better! Depending on how fast you braid, you will need to re-wet the bane as you go along. Professional braiders may wet the hair every 6-8 braids, but beginners may need to wet the hair every 3-4 braids.
- Place your ladder next to your horse in a position that allows you to begin braiding at the poll. Make sure you are at a comfortable height, as having to reach too far up will tire your arms quickly!
- Make a part for your first braid sectioning out a chunk of hair that is 1-2” wide. Thin manes will need slightly larger sections of hair than thick manes. When you part your section, make sure the part is nice and straight so that your braids will look neat and tidy.
- Use your comb, or a hair clip to keep the mane you aren’t currently braiding out of the way. Using the comb will cut down on the items you are juggling in your hands, and allow you to work quicker if you have multiple horses to braid! Sierra’s trick for having the mane comb stay in place to pull the hair away is to have ¾ of the comb hanging out on the opposite side of the neck, with the first ¼ tucked into the hair I’m keeping out of the way!
- Section your chunk of hair into three even parts to begin your braid. For the purposes of this guide, start the braid by crossing the right side over the middle, and then the left side over the middle. Each time you cross one piece of hair over another, is 1 crossover. The key to even braids is to COUNT EACH crossover!
- After you have made your 5th crossover (which should be from the right hand side), you will add your piece of yarn. Hold all three strands in your left hand using your thumb and forefinger to keep the braid in place, and make sure to keep each strand separated as best you can.
- Grab a piece of yarn in your right hand, holding it in the middle with both ends hanging even in length. Lay the yarn over the braid placing it so the next piece of hair you cross into the braid will cross over the yarn and anchor it.
- Continue braiding down until you have 21 crossovers in total. Try to keep your yarn in the first sections of hair that you initially added it to.
- Once you have completed 21 crossovers, grab the yarn with your left hand and gather the ends of the hair with your right. Use your right forefinger and thumb to hold the bottom of your braid from undoing/unraveling. If you have counted correctly, your yarn should be on the left hand side.
- Once you have separated your mane from the yarn (yarn should be in your left hand) you will wrap both pieces of yarn around the bottom of the braid. Before the yarn is fully wrapped around, pull it through itself to secure. (Similar to doing a quick release knot, but pulling the ends all the way through!)
HOW TO SECURE THE BRAID AS EXPLAINED IN STEPS 9 AND 10
- Pull down each piece of yarn to make sure it is as tight as possible, and then knot once. (For this knot, think of the first step you make when tying your shoes.)
- Once the mane has been completely braided down, pull all of the yarn through to the top of the braid. Start at the withers and moving towards the poll. Pulling the yarn through all at once is a simple step to both save some time and maintain a rhythm, which creates a more pleasant experience for the horse! Insert your rug hook through the top of the braid at the crest. Make sure you are in the middle of the braid and that it goes straight through, or else you will have crooked braids. Keep the braid itself straight while pulling yarn through to the other side, and let the ends of the yarn hang on the left side of the neck out of the way.
HOW TO PULL YRN TO THE TOP OF THE BRAID AS EXPLAINED IN STEP 12
PULLING THE KNOT THROUGH
Once the mane is completely braided, I start to pull the braids up into a loop in order to pull the knot through and secure the braid. You will have just finished pulling yarn through at the poll, so this is where I recommend beginning this step!
- Hold the bottom of the braid where your knot is with your left hand. Grab the ends of the yarn that are hanging on the left side of the neck with your right hand.
- Start to loop your braid by pulling the yarn all the way through so the bottom of your braid (the knot) is snug to the base of the crest.
- Use your left hand to help guide the braid straight into the loop and direct the ends of the hair that are below the knot to the right side of the loop, and pointing towards the ceiling.
- Once snug at the base, use your thumb and forefinger on your left hand and place them on either side of the loop (braid). With the yarn still in your right hand and your left fingers guiding the braid, pull the knot that tied the bottom of your braid through the top/crest. If you do this slowly, you will hear/feel a bit of a tug/tear noise. Once you do, stop pulling the braid through.
Pulling the knot through is a trick that helps to anchor the braid. You should not see any hair sticking out the top of the mane, just the yarn. If you find that you are pulling through the hair, make sure to put the loose ends to the right of the mane before pulling the knot through. If your braid has pulled through crooked, pull it back out straight and try again.
TRYING OFF THE BRAIDS
- Take one piece of yarn in each hand. Cross the yarn underneath your braid. Do NOT knot here, only cross the yarn over. Have it snug to the crest/base, but not super tight. It will be tightened on the next step.
- Tie a surgical knot – this knot is very important. (A surgical knot is like the first step of tying your shoes, but instead of looping the yarn once, you loop it twice.) This knot helps to hold the braid in place better until you are done tying it off. You will want to guide this knot across the top of your braid, to approximately the 6th/7th crossover (just below where you first inserted your yarn into the braid). As you tighten the knot, use your fingers to adjust the braid slightly to make it straight and even to the other braids as you go along. It is very important to pull as tight as you can here, without breaking the yarn.
- Once you have tightened and adjusted the braid to the desired position, make another surgical knot. This time, directing it to go underneath the braid. Pull tight and evenly from both sides.
- Tie two regular knots below the braid.
- Place all of the yarn to either the right or left side of the braid, and after all braids are tied off, cut the yarn off all at once.
ALL DONE THE MAIN!
NOW, THE FORELOCK BRAID
- The forelock is French braided until all hair is in a braid.
- When there is no longer any hair to add to the French braid, add your yarn the same as when you were braiding the mane, in the 5th/6th
- Braid 9-11 more crossovers, and then tie.
- Take the remaining ends and twist them around into a tight little curl (think rolling a hose).
- Insert the pull through at the top of the French braid (by the bridle path) and slowly push it down until it comes out the bottom.
- Add yarn to the rug hook and close.
- Slowly pull the end of the braid through the French braid. Keep the ends that are rolled into a curl twisted up and tuck it into the French braid as you pull through the French braid.
- Pull the string all the way through to the top.
- Insert rug hook horizontally from the right ear to the left ear at the top of the French braid by the bridle path
- Grab 1 piece of yarn and pull it back through to the right ear.
- Knot on top.
- Cut so the ends are approximately ¼-½ cm long.
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