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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.
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 www.luckybraids.com