Let Your Hair Down—Grooming Tips for Horses with Long Locks

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By Jane Carlton

Mane hair and tail hair and feather—oh my! Horse breeds with voluptuous locks such as the Gypsy, Friesian, and Andalusian are certainly easy on the eyes. With great manes, however, comes great responsibility. There’s no need to rip your hair out over the care of long locks. Check out our top tips for grooming the ever-hairy equine—your horse’s ‘do will be shiny, tangle-free, and flowing in no time.

Wet it down.
There’s a reason hairdressers always comb our locks after a mini-shower—wet hair stretches and is more forgiving than when dry, says Ruthann Smith, professional braider and founder of Lucky Braids. Using a wide-tooth comb to detangle manes and tails when they’re still damp is the best way to salvage every possible piece. 

Jeanne Schlenk, owner of Aunique Ranch in New Waverly, TX, that breeds Gypsy Cob Horses, combats snarls after using conditioner, but before washing it out. “[It] makes it a lot easier,” she says. 

Many equestrians have differing opinions on how often to detangle manes and tails. Every day? Only before shows? For the long-locked, it’s smart to stay on top of brushing, otherwise the tangles might get out of control. A light pass with a brush or hand picking every day or every few days should keep things smooth.

Keep it wide.
Tempted to tackle your horse’s lustrous mane and tail with a giant brush? Take it back a notch. A widetooth comb wrangles hair (while wet!) with less chance of breakage, even though the process might take a bit longer. And don’t even think about starting from the top. “The idea is that you start at the bottom and work your grip up the mane or tail,” says Smith. “Grip it four or six inches above the bottom, start at the bottom, work your way up to the grip, then move your grip up and start again.”

If it’s snarl city, gently pick the tangle apart with the teeth of the comb, starting below the problem area and working your way up. “A lot of people make the mistake of brushing from the top and end up pulling the hair out,” says Schlenk.

Watch your products.
It’s certainly tempting to try every new shampoo or detangler at the tack shop, but when it comes to keeping hair snarl free, simple is better. “Use a good shampoo that will actually enrich the hair, moisturize, re-feed the roots, and be easy to manage the hair instead of coating it,” advises Smith, who developed her own line of shampoo to tackle even the most wild of manes and tails. 

Conditioner is also an important factor in keeping locks silky, but the wrong formula—and using it too often—can weigh things down. “We don’t want something to stick to the hair,” Smith says. “I want the hair to breathe. I don’t want it hanging heavy; I want it looking full and fluffy. The whole ‘mane flowing in the wind’ thing—that romance comes from the mane moving, not from it falling heavy.”

With the right shampoo-conditioner combination, you should be able to simply shake the shavings out of a tail for a week or so.

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Be braid conscious.
To braid or not to braid—that is the question. In general, leaving a horse’s mane, tail, or forelock in a braid can reduce the need to constantly detangle. Be wary of the possible consequences, however. “When you leave the hair braided, the hair is kinked so the oils don’t move readily down the shaft to moisturize, enrich, and protect the hair,” Smith says.

In addition, if the horse is being turned out, one quick snag can rip out way more than just a few hairs, Schlenk warns. Long-term braids are better for horses that spend most of the time in their stall. 

Horses with longer hair, however, run into issues that braiding can alleviate. A nose-length forelock, for example, can easily be gobbled up during dinnertime. If you want to keep the forelock long, it’s not a bad idea to braid and tie it up, Schlenk says.

Make friends with scissors.
Don’t be afraid to don the scissors to keep things neat—especially with tails and feather. “We trim the tails so they don’t dock themselves,” Schlenk says. Snipping away excess hair doesn’t just help prevent unfortunate ripping-out episodes, but it can also make the tail look fuller, in true trompe l’oiel fashion. “If the bottom is well shaped,  whether it’s banged or a u-shape, it will look a lot thicker,” Smith says. “You can cut a lot of length off, if it’s scragglier at the bottom, and it will look bigger and longer because it’s fuller.”

Super-long feather can pose its own unique problem, as horses can actually trip over their fluffy feet. “I had this beautiful stallion that was running through the field this one time and all of a sudden [we saw] him do a head-over-butt flip,” Schlenk says with a laugh. The horse was fine, but a quick trim now prevents any impromptu somersaulting.

Look out for hair-dwellers.
A flowing mane and tail are gorgeous, without a doubt. Unfortunately, many critters seem to agree. A variety of different insects think luscious locks are the place to be, including midges—or no-see-ums—and other microscopic critters. “We’ll take mouthwash and water and mix it at a ratio of about one to four and we’ll pour that on their mane,” Schlenk says. “It will take care of any cuts, but it also helps take care of the midges.” 

For the extra-fuzzy, feather is also a big bug collector. Schlenk scrubs her horses’ feather with a dandruff shampoo to keep itching at bay. 

Get up to scratch on scratches. 
Horses with feather are easily susceptible to scratches, a painful infection of the heels and pasterns. Prevention is key, and luckily, not too hard to keep up with. 

Number one on the list of things to do? Keep legs as dry as possible. “When skin is wet or has been wet, it’s more vulnerable,” Smith says. “If you have wet legs and you turn [the horse] out or put them into a stall, the shavings or grass will scratch the skin and make these little micro abrasions.” Enter from stage left: fungus and bacteria. Be sure to wait to brush legs until they are dry, also—bristles can have the same effect.

The best—and most low tech—way to dry legs is with a good, old-fashioned towel. And not only is a rubdown efficient at drying things out; it’s also beneficial for overall health and soundness. “[A towel rubdown] creates good circulation so it’s really healthy and healing for the skin,” Smith adds. “The vigorous motion is really, really good.” 

With the right set of tools, a bit of patience, and a heap of TLC, your horse’s hair will soon be the envy of the barn.

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