Most western performance horses are worked with their manes braided in order
to prevent the mane from getting tangled in the reins. The key to comfortable
braids is the width of each braid and the tension.
“You don’t want the base of the braids to be wider than four fingers,” says Pip-
er. “Too wide, and it pulls the hair horizontally, which can be uncomfortable for
the horse. Too narrow, and your braids will be too thin, which is time-consuming
to braid and unbraid.”
To braid, place your hand flat at the beginning of the mane right behind the
bridle path. Piper clips back the rest of the mane so it’s out of the way.
With your sectioned-off hank of hair, divide it into three even sections, and
begin braiding. Avoid making the braid too tight—your horse could start rubbing
the mane if it’s uncomfortable—but too loose could come undone.
Finish with a banding rubber band; Piper uses black bands for every horse. If
he’s planning to braid part of the mane at the withers for showing, he’ll match
the band to the mane. Repeat the process for another four-finger width section
until the entire mane is braided.
Horse shows are where beautiful manes can really shine. Piper keeps his horses’
manes braided up until the day they show—then the braids are taken out, the
horse is bathed from head to toe, the mane and tail are conditioned and rinsed, hair
polish spray is applied, and then he combs out the hair. Piper prefers hair polish for
shows over leave-in conditioner because it doesn’t weigh the mane down.
He often finishes up by blow drying the hair if the horse doesn’t have hours to
dry before performance. “Blow drying definitely gets the mane and tail looking
full,” he says.
During the colder months, Piper’s horses wear a stretchy hood over their manes.
He recommends keeping the mane braided under the hood to avoid tangles.
“If you leave a slinky on too long with unbraided hair, it doesn’t take any time
at all to have a big knot,” he says.
Some horses rub their manes, usually because the base of the mane is itchy.
Piper keeps a sharp eye on his horses and if he sees one rub, he’ll work to treat
He applies rubbing alcohol to the itchy spot to address the itch right away, and
then he’ll apply an antifungal oil. He also recommends using a hot oil treatment
meant for humans to moisturize the mane from roots to tips.
Look over your horse’s living space to make sure there aren’t protruding nails
or damaged fencing that can snag the mane and pull it out. Turnout is one place
where horses can rub out their manes. Piper watches the horses in the pasture to
make sure they aren’t reaching under the fence to graze. If so, he may move the
horses to a different pen where they can’t rub their manes.
Beauty from Within
Finally, if you want to encourage your horse’s hair health, consider his diet. In
addition to hay, Piper feeds grain that contains added fat, such as coconut oil,
canola oil and flaxseed oil.
“I think oils help the hair look better,” he says. “The hair is shinier and healthier, and it grows better.”
ABIGAIL BOATWRIGHT is a freelance writer and photographer based in Texas.