Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Braiding 101

Kat and I made it to the schooling show on Saturday and I did braid him for it. Although it was not one of my better braiding jobs, I did manage to get a few pictures of the work in progress but none of the finished results. 

Starting out with a mohawk and brushed out mane.

Clipped up, starting to braid and go for neatness. I shut the flash off for this pic since it was bleaching everything out otherwise, hence the blue-ish coloring.

I was a bit rushed and he can be a bit of a prick about things at times.  For one, when braiding his forelock, when you reach the end of the braid and have a few hairs in each section to work with- he will jerk his head away to look at something. The whole time your braid is unraveling... When working on the braids near his poll, he will keep turning his head around towards you, trying to grab your sleeve if possible, etc.   A well placed elbow usually works well for that but he still tries.  Again this is usually by the time you reach the bottom of the braids and don't have a lot to hold onto.

Cross ties would put a stop to a lot of this, but we don't have them. Part of your job requirements as a good groom, you must learn to work with what you have and how to deal with each horses issues, while still doing a good job to make the horse look their best. Not everything goes as planned and this is not a perfect world.

Under the ADS rules, braiding the horses mane is optional. However many people agree when it comes to your turnout- it makes for a much neater appearance and becomes almost rather mandatory.  Similar to the Sport Horse ring, tails are not braided. There are a number of different braiding techniques and I will try to address each of them as we go, making this a series of sorts. I will also address braiding tails.

For Kat's forelock, to maintain its length, I French braid it, then turn it under and pull it out through the top using the crochet hook. I then bring it back down , laying it on top of the French braided part, turn it under again, then bring the strings around both sides, tying it off on top.  Depending on the length of the forelock, it can be turned under and tied off or turned up, then run under the French braid and tied off. It is all about working with what you have and learning how to achieve results when there is little to work with. 

The mane can be braided into the small hunter braids,

 rosettes or button braids,

french braids or running braids

and even 'woven', or what some people call a continental or diamond braids.

Some of the different types of braids go pretty quickly, but the small hunter braids, you you might be there for a while. Once you get a rhythm down and have done it enough, some people are able to braid a mane in hunter braids in about 30 minutes, some people manage to do it in 45 minutes while the rest of us might be looking at 2 hours to get it right...  I didn't time myself, but it was around 11pm before I got back into the house. 

And just as you may do a good job braiding the horse, not all types of braids work for all types of horses.

To me, this horse with this style of braids, it is just not as flattering as it could be. The horses neck development shows through a lot here. Notice the 'hollow' spot where the top of the neck and shoulder meet? Maybe a running braid, tight along the crest or even coming down a bit could cover that and make it less noticeable, changing the appearance and bringing different results.

If you are braiding for other people, you probably need to do the style of braids as they choose. If you can appeal to their better senses and do a different braid, you can change the appearance of their horse for them in a way they might not have imagined.

The main thing though is to practice.  When ever you have a bit of spare time and just want to practice, do it.  There is also a product available called the Braidpal. You can pretty much practice any time, anywhere and no horses will suffer. 

This photo is someones first attempt at button braids, so while it doesn't look show ring ready- they are making an effort to improve and get it right. I cannot knock them for that. We all started somewhere and our first attempts rarely look great. I know mine didn't. 

I will post more on braiding and move towards the 'how to' in future posts.  Any style in particular I should start with?


  1. I love braiding, don't know why. Don't like DOING it, but I like a nice finished project. It just exhausts the arms, especially if you have to stand on a bucket for big horses, who don't stand still. That's the part I don't like.

  2. I love the look of Diamond braids but no clue how to do it.I do think the button braids when done well to finish the look well

  3. I would love to know how to do a running/french braid that follows the crest! Have a guy with a lot of hair that I don't want to hack off for the couple of H/J shows we do.

  4. Mikey- I hear ya there. The finished look is beautiful when it is done right. Just gorgeous. Doing the work though can be tedious and time consuming until you practiced enough and can just whip it out in nothing flat. Some of the pro braiders can do hunter braids, mane and tail in about 45 minutes. I am sooo not there yet... lol

    FV- I am trying to think of which horse we have I can do the diamond braids on. A lot of ours- their manes are pretty short at the moment. That is one of the easier 'braids' to do and doesn't really even involve braiding.

    Appydoesdressage- Do you know how to french braid already? For thicker manes, I have seen them parted down the middle and braided along both sides. It looks pretty cool.

  5. I suck at braids, except a French braid. That one is a cinch for me. 15 minutes TOPS on an average Arab. Now, the last little bit at the end, that can be tricky for me.

    But I LOVE fat button braids on a stout horse with a big neck. I think they look classic and flattering, like something from Sam Savitt or C W Anderson.

    On a horse with a long, think TB kind of neck, I prefer the small hunter braids, the more the merrier. Sewn down with thread. Nooo, I've never accomplished this.

    I used to pull my hunter mare's mane too thin, and the braids were just horrible. HORRIBLE. But no one ever helped me learn better. *sigh*

    So I guess if I ever show again, I'll need an Arab, Morgan or something, because that's all I could braid. ;-)

    Tails, now, those can be tricky if your horse likes to rub its tail, or it gets chewed on, or just has a lot of broken off hairs. Also, my current horse has a crooked tailbone that curves OUT. He also has a tail that looks like a 1970s stock horse. Short & thin.

    I hate fake tails, however.

  6. It does not help to practice if your technique is not able to yield a perfectly clean bottomline. That is the most important element of a braid job. To learn to braid like a pro- to make consistently gorgeous braids quickly and with no cramped hands- check out the Grooming Resource for tips and the how-to DVD/Tool at http://www.LuckyBraids.com. Find more tips and ask questions at Lucky Braids for Top Turnout on Facebook and follow Twiotter.com/topturnout. I hope to help you be a great braider! ~Ruthann

  7. CP- I have my better days at braiding. Sometimes it turns out fine, others... well it shows I was rushed or things just didn't go well. lol

    Ruthann- I have to say I am a fan. I have been on the Lucky Braids website a few times. You are AWESOME at braiding. No, I haven't yet ordered the video. (hangs head in shame...)

    For anyone wanting to learn the fine art of braiding, and it truly is an art- I recommend going to Ruthann's website. Lot's of information to be found there.

  8. how interesting, love the briefing on braiding. I do mainly hunters (the polo ponies just have their manes roached), and those itty bitty hunter braids are a pain in the you know what. If I don't do them myself (which, lets be honest, is not rare) it is upwards of $60 for one horse! crazy! I think the diamonds are pretty... I'm starting an appendix QH 5 year old in jumping this weekend (she is trained in polo already), so maybe the QH in her will let me get away with some creating (non-hunter) braiding!