A neatly shortened mane is a classic sport horse look that gives your horse a tidy, well-groomed appearance. Shortening the mane so that it’s all the same length and thickness also makes it easier to braid for showing. Hunter/jumper, dressage and eventing horses usually wear a short mane. This is usually achieved by pulling the mane, but alternatives are possible as well. Learn how to tidy up a horse’s mane.
What is Pulling a Mane?
“Pulling” is the traditional way to shorten and thin a horse’s mane by hand. This technique involves pulling out the longest hairs from the underside of the mane with the help of a small metal pulling comb. A pulled mane lies nicely against the neck with a natural looking edge.
Whatever you do, never shorten a horse’s mane by cutting straight across with scissors. This choppy “bowl cut” may be adorable in your kindergarten photo, but looks suspiciously unnatural on a horse.
How to Pull a Mane
1. Grasp a small bunch of mane hair at the very bottom, between your thumb and forefinger.
2. While holding the hair taut, backcomb it up toward the roots with your pulling comb, using short, brisk strokes.
3. You should be left holding a few of the longest strands. Wrap them around the comb and give a swift tug to remove.
4. Repeat the process up and down the neck until you reach the desired mane length. The ideal length for a pulled mane depends on what is most flattering to the horse’s conformation, and if the mane will be braided.
5. About 4 inches (the width of your hand) is a length that looks good on most horses and should work for most braiding methods.
Ouch! Doesn’t That Hurt?
The skin along the crest where the mane grows is quite thick and has fewer nerve endings, which makes it less sensitive. That’s why it’s OK to grab mane if you need to when you are riding! Pulling a horse’s mane isn’t the same as someone pulling your hair. It shouldn’t hurt the horse.
Still, some horses dislike—or maybe even hate—having their mane pulled. To make the process more comfortable, pull fewer hairs at a time, or do a little bit each day instead of one big session. If you pull the mane after your horse has been ridden, while the skin is warm, the hair may come out a little more easily.
If your horse will not calmly accept the job but he must have his mane thinned out for braiding, you can have your vet administer a sedative or turn the job over to a pro groom.
Alternatives to Pulling
If your horse has a naturally thin mane, or you don’t need to braid for shows, there are other ways to shorten the hair.
You can use a mane knife or an old clipper blade (detached from the clippers) to razor the hair. Backcomb as in the steps above and slide the blade down to shorten the hair.
There are also specialty combs designed to trim the mane for a natural look without pulling. Many horses that object to mane pulling find one of these methods tolerable.