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Perfect Plaits
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Perfect Plaits

There is nothing like a neck of perfect plaits to add a professional finishing touch to your show day turn-out. It's not as easy as it looks however and despite our best efforts, most of us have ended up with an uneven row of hairy golf balls on show mornings more than once!  With a little practice and some top tips however, we can all produce plaits to be proud of.

When giving your horse his pre-show bath, do not be tempted to wash his mane. A freshly washed mane is slippery and difficult to work with. If you're concerned it will look scurfy and greasy, wash your horse's mane a couple of days before you are going to plait it and obviously don't use conditioner or show shine.

When you are ready to start, comb the mane through to remove any tangles then damp it or spray it with plaiting gel to give you more grip. Beginning at the poll, divide the mane into even sections using the mane comb's width to ensure that the sections are even and make the partings very clear. Secure each section with a plaiting band. This will help to keep the unplaited sections from getting in the way as you move along the horse's neck.

Using elastic plaiting bands

Plaiting up with bands is generally quicker and less fiddly than using thread although it can look less professional and well-finished.  If you are competing in showing classes, you should really use a needle and thread and sew your plaits.

  1. Place a few plaiting bands around your index finger.
  2. Comb the first section of mane down; damp it using a sponge then divide it into three equal strands. Plait down, making sure you keep the plait as tight as possible right from the top.
  3. Wrap a band around the end making sure to catch as much of the hair as possible.
  4. Fold the plait in half up to the base of the neck then roll it up pinching it at the base. Place another band around the base of the plait as close to the neck as you can and wrap it round two or three times to secure the plait.If you wish, you can finish the plait by wrapping a piece of white plaiting tape tightly around the base to conceal the band and conceal any wispy bits of hair.

Using needle and thread

Although it's fiddlier and more time consuming, sewn plaits are more secure and the result is usually neater. You can save time by cutting and knotting lengths of thread before you begin. Even better, find a willing volunteer to pass you the bits and pieces you need! Wear an old top; you will be pinning the needle to it during the plaiting process.

  1. If you're using a needle and thread, always plait up outside if possible. If you have to plait up in the stable, make sure you put the horse's bed up out of the way before you start. Losing a dropped needle in the horse's bed is obviously very dangerous.
  2. Using a special thick, blunt needle designed specifically for the job, thread it with a short length of plaiting cotton and tie a large knot in the end.  Pin it to the front of your top.
  3. Divide the mane as previously described. Plait down firmly and tightly from the top.
  4. Take your threaded needle and push it up through the bottom of the plait. Wrap the thread around the bottom of the plait three times trying to catch as many of the wispy hairs as possible.
  5. Push the needle back down through the wrapped thread. Fold the plait in half up to the base of the neck. Bring the needle up through the plait to the top and pull the thread tight.
  6. Roll the plait up into a little ball then pass the needle up through the plait, close to the base. 
  7. Bring the needle to the right; down through the plait then back up again. Take the needle to the left, down then back up again. Finish off by taking the needle down through the centre of the plait and snipping off the thread.

Handy hints

When you've finished, add a final finishing touch by using hair gel to fix any stray wispy hairs and blend them into the rest of the mane.  You can make your horse's topline appear more crested and muscular with clever plaiting. Simply keep the plaits looser at the top and lift as you plait the length. If your horse has a very long neck, use fewer plaits and make them larger. Do the opposite if his neck is on the short side.

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  1. PonyGirl
    Boy, this brings back memories! After graduating high school, I attended a riding academy. For my stable management final, I had to braid the mane (using thread and needle) and tail of a hunter who was going to be ridden in a fox hunt the next day. I passed the final, but boy!- did I worry all night that the horse would rub the braids out and look a fright in the morning. Even the eight hour written final was a breeze after sweating that out. :D
    1. autumnap
      Lol! Something I forgot to mention in the blog is that you can fix a stocking over the plaits right down from top to bottom using bands around each plait. This stops them being rubbed. x
  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. LOL at hairy golf balls. I never did this for any of my competitions, but I have seen some gorgeous work by others. It always amazes me to see the different styles on both mane & tails.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you! Yes, there are some spectacular braided examples. Folk with native breeds and arabs whose manes aren't pulled use them I think. x
  3. threeceltichorse
    I've been showing for over 35 years and still hate to plait my horses mane. Alot of times I know it does come down to how well your horse is turned out to win a class. If you do braid use the thread and needle method as it is the best and looks the best.

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