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Peaceful Mane Pulling

Ruthann Smith, Lucky Braids

No matter what your riding discipline, everyone knows a horse that hates to have his mane pulled. Yet, this need not be the case. Professional braiders only have trouble with about 3% of the horses, mostly for the horses having had bad experiences in the past. When done properly, pulling does not hurt.

Picture two stallions fighting in the wild. One wins because he pulled the other’s hair? Horses do not have nerve endings like people do. People inadvertently teach horses to hate having their manes pulled, largely because pulling does not work like other training principles. Here are some tips to shortening and pulling manes to instill confidence.

1. Shortening vs. Pulling

I use the term “pulling” as a blanket term. Sometimes we actually pull the hair out. Other times it just needs to be shortened. If the mane or part of it is too thick, then pulling from the roots is best. If the mane or part of it needs to be shortened, then there is still a trick to it.

You don’t want the mane blunt or falling in unnatural-looking clumps. So, scissors do not suit our purposes. To shorten, I use a large clipper blade (Oster 84 AU) to comb, tease and cut the mane. This tool, even if it needs to be sharpened, works far better than any other. The bottom of the mane needs to be tapered to fall, band or braid well. I taper the last couple inches of the mane so it falls to create a clean bottom line.

To shorten, grab a few pieces across a broad area, tease above the desired bottom of the mane and push the large clipper blade toward the floor to cut the mane. It is very straight-forward.

2. Keep it simple

The most efficient pulling technique is to hold your hand parallel to the crest to grab a few hairs along the bottom of the mane. Tease the people comb right up to the crest. Grab the hair by pressing your thumb against the comb’s spine. Keep your thumb against the spine as you pull the comb and hair as one unit. In this way, your thumb uses the comb to leverage the hair to pull from the roots.

3. Decondition

If your horse shakes his neck when you comb the mane, the problem is in his head. He is resisting his idea of what you might do. So, comb his mane all the time to build confidence. Once he does not anticipate trouble, periodically pull out one or two hairs as you are grooming. No big deal: just do it once and move on. This will also help desensitize him.

4. Not too much

The solution may be as simple as pulling less hair. I pull about 15 pieces across a broad area at a time. If you are wrapping the hair around the comb to pull, you are teaching the horse to hate it.

5. Spread it out

I use a people comb as pulling ones are only problematic. They are hard to hold, cut my fingers and sound terrible when they drop. Plus, a thicker spine to the comb helps you leverage the hair so it takes less effort and does not break the hair.

I do not recommend starting at one end. Pull from here and there to both reduce the horse’s anticipation and keep from making a mess. If you get half way done and the horse has had enough, you want to stop. In such a case, if you pull in an irregular pattern, you would not stop with the mane looking worse than when you started.

Reprinted with permission from Lucky Braids. Visit