…That is the question!
Many people are wary of hogging a horse's mane. Indeed, it takes the best part of a year to grow back and looks scrubby and messy in the meantime. Some horses and ponies don't like having the clippers run down their neck. And then of course there are the people who are die-hard fans of the natural look; long, thick and flowing locks.
So why hog at all? It's true horses (and all animals, humans included) do tend to look best the way nature intended but anyone who's worked in a busy yard will sympathise with how long it takes to clean mud and muck out of a horse's mane to get it ready for work. No riding hack client wants to reach forward to hug their new found horsey friend or grab the base of their mane in panic to be met with a sodden clumpy mess. With your own horse, daily management and fortnightly baths are easy to maintain a beautiful, glowing natural mane but in a busy yard, when you only have 15 minutes from bringing in to mounting your client, it hardly leaves time to thoroughly clean a mane. Add on the bad habits of the weekend pony-clubbers, who take the plastic curries to the mane not understanding why that's wrong and you end up with split hairs and thinning patches all over the place. You wouldn't leave your hair like this so why your horse's?
In addition to the practicalities on a busy yard, it can look very smart in my humble opinion and beautiful on cobby and native horses. No need for extensive plaiting come show day or the indignity (on all sides) of mane pulling. Furthermore in cases of sweet itch and other skin conditions it can prove to help the skin get aired and recover and can severely reduce the risk of mites in thick rooted manes. Also, regrowth can be trained to be neater and usually grows back thinner.
Gentle warning: as with any form of clipping, it needs to be counteracted by way of rugging, particularly in the winter months (there's a reason native breeds are so hairy!). Also, in a riding school, it is recommended that any hogged hack that doesn't have a martingale wears a neck strap as a safety blanket for nervous and novice riders. Personally I think the horses probably prefer a grab on a neckstrap to a grab on the base of their mane.
So far, so good and you're all ready to take your clippers out and begone with that pesky mane! But whilst I am all for it, do think long and hard as to whether it's the right choice for you, your horses and your yard. Any of the points above can be argued to the opposite effect. Maybe your yard is famed for its hairy cobs, with full manes and feathers, in which case cutting them off would be fruitless and bad business sense. If you're not prepared to keep it short or live through the messy grow back, don't do it! Just as with your own hair, going for the "pixie" or "no.1" requires more regular maintenance! If your horse is shy of the clippers, especially on his face, maybe this is not for you. Also, I have been talking about cobs and native horses. Light horses, arabs and ponies would probably not look so good and as they are much thinner haired anyway would not reap the practical benefits (polo ponies excepted).
So are you ready to hog? If you are going to go for it, cut the bulk of the mane away first with scissors. Then thoroughly wash the base of the mane right down into the nape of the neck, massaging the skin. This stops you getting any dirt in your clippers and means the hair lies straighter. Then get the clippers and hold them near your horses side until he his happy with the noise, as you would with any other clip (you know your horse) then gently run it down his neck from the poll to the top of his withers. Do it slowly and keep a steady hand to keep it as even as possible. Use a body brush between strokes to flick away the shaved hair. Some people like a box cut - flat on the top, like a zebra's mane, and others prefer to shape it either side of the neck like a tent. Again do what you think suits your horse. Remember, you can always cut more off, but can't stick it back on!
Brush him down, put the plaiting bands away at the back of the tack room and voila! A beautiful and slightly less hairy horse!
Thank you for reading my humble opinion (I do not confess to be an expert, just a practical realist) and I would welcome all comments.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.