Braiding a horse's mane for a show helps to improve the clean, neat appearance of the horse, which may help show off its conformation enough to affect the placings that are handed out. There are a few types of braids that are easy to learn and quick to do; base the type you choose on the horse's breed and the discipline that you're showing it in.
Button braids are commonly used on jumpers and in the dressage ring. These are quick to do because there are usually only eight to 12 braids done along the length of the neck. These fat braids are plaited and sewn back onto themselves, creating an evenly spaced, slightly notched pattern along the horse's crest.
A running braid is usually used on horses with very thick, long manes with hair that cannot be pulled or trimmed for button or hunter braids. The running braid is a half, or one side, of a French braid. It starts at the top of the mane and adds in small chunks of hair to the same side of the braid with each twist. At the end of the mane, the braid is finished off in the same manner as a regular braid and banded at the end.
Hunter braids are traditional in the hunter ring, but are often seen in equitation, jumper, eventing and hack divisions, depending on the competitor. Hunter braids consist of a series of plaits that are doubled up underneath themselves and tied so that a small bump appears at the top. They are evenly spaced along the neck and there may be as few as 20 braids or up to 35, depending on the length of the neck and the thickness of the mane.
Braids for Gaited Horses
A gaited horse at a show will often have a single braid put into the very top inch or two of its mane, where the long bridal path ends. A length of ribbon is braided into the braid with long ends left hanging, so that it floats in the breeze created when the horse moves and catches the onlooker's attention.
A continental braid is usually done on Arabians and other breeds with long, flowing manes. Small chunks of mane are banded together into thin ponytails. Each ponytail is then divided in half, a few inches below the band, and combined with half of the ponytail next to it, which is banded again. The process is repeated until there is no more length left to split and band. The number of layers of banding will depend on the length of the mane and how much length the groom leaves between the layers.
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