I am a perfectionist through and through (I could do a perfect hunter tail braid at the age of 12 due to lots of practice and sheer will power). The perfectionist in me wants to have a heart attack not only if my horse Ace’s mane is getting too long, but when it comes time to make that first cut.
Once you get started trimming your horse’s mane, you’re committed. It’s so difficult to make it even but natural looking, short enough without getting too short, parallel with the slope of of your horse’s neck. From years of practice on lots of different manes, here are my top 5 tips for shortening your horse’s mane.
1. Determine the correct mane length
Horses who generally have shorter manes are those competing in eventing, hunter/jumpers, or dressage who require braided manes as well as in western disciplines who frequently band manes. Breeds like thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses often look better with short manes, while Arabians and gaited horses prefer long.
Optimal length may vary from horse to horse, based on how big he is, how thick his neck is, what looks right with his overall body shape and build.
But a good general rule of thumb is that a shortened mane for braiding and banding purposes should be 6 inches from root to tip.
Don’t have a ruler handy? Use the width of your hand as a general guideline. Lay your hand flat against your horse’s mane just below the crest of his neck, and aim for 1-2 inches below the width of your hand. Here’s Ace’s mane after I shortened it:
2. Start longer than you think you should
One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is to always always make those first few cuts longer than you think you should. I would measure out my perfect 6-inch mane, only to end up with one that was only 4-inches long because I tried too hard to make it perfectly even. You will have to go back and do some clean up. And somehow you’ll always end up shorter than you intended. You can always take more mane off. You can’t put it back on.
3. Use a stripping blade (it’s my favorite shortening tool!)
Here are the tools I use:
Pulling comb: As if it wasn’t difficult enough, Ace has the longest neck and the thickest mane I’ve ever had to deal with. But I’m not a huge fan of pulling manes, because even if Ace doesn’t have nerve endings in his roots, he still shows obvious annoyance/discomfort. I also know that if I ever want to braid him for a show, I’m going to have to thin it out. Over the last month I’ve carefully pulled 4-5 chunks out each time I’ve groomed him. But it was just getting too long for my taste, so I knew I had to forgo the pulling for a while and just get it trimmed. (not to mention we have some visitors coming tomorrow and I wanted him to look his best!)
Stripping blade: The stripping blade has sharp teeth and a wooden handle and is used similarly to how a hair stylist uses a razor. All you do is hold a small chunk of hair tight in one hand, and slice downwards with the stripping blade in the other. I like it because it’s very simple to use and leaves a more natural looking edge. You can also get it for under $5.
4. Only do very very small chunks at a time
If there’s one thing you should take away, it’s that you need to only trim tiny chunks with each swipe of the stripping blade.
The smaller the chunks, the more natural looking and even your horse’s newly-shortened mane will be.
To keep it even, I will grab a short chunk and a neighboring long chunk in my left hand, pull it tight, and slice the long chunk just below the shorter mane.
5. Don’t wait until right before the show to shorten your horse’s mane
If you’ve never shortened your horse’s mane before, the day before the show is not the time to start. I can almost guarantee that it will end up too short on your first try, and you will have a heck of a time trying to get it braided.
I’m not showing this year, so I usually let Ace’s mane get this long before I shorten it:
It took three months for his mane to grow to this length from a respectable 6-inches. you can see here how much I trimmed off:
If you want to maintain a well-kept, short mane, you’ll need to trim it at least every 2-3 months. If you are showing, it will need done more frequently in order for it to be braid-able.
Moral of the story: practice in the winter when you can afford to mess up and it has time to grow out. (or if you don’t show and just like a short mane, do it whenever you want!)
What other tips, tricks, and tools do you have for keeping your horse’s mane beautifull shortened? Or if you don’t, why do you prefer to keep it long?