I'm not a horse show person, really, so my focus when it comes to manes has to do with health and practicality. I've never pulled a mane or a tail and although I've braided for fun, it doesn't last more than a few minutes because I'm not willing to pull the braids tight enough to hold. I remember all too well the times in childhood when someone pulled my hair into a ponytail that was too tight and how crazy it made me. Ouch!
My habit with the November Hill herd is to give them what I call a "sport cut" once a year, generally in the fall once the flies have died out. I don't use electric clippers. I use a pair of scissors and I trim so the mane stands straight up, as evenly as I can get it. This gets the mane out of the way for the return to regular riding as the heat of summer leaves us, and allows me to see their muscling more easily. They all look very fancy and happy - I'm sure this has more to do with the change in weather than my trimming the manes - but it's easy to conflate it all into that one fall chore.
By the next summer the mane has grown out and gives them protection against flies.
The reasons given for training the mane to one side were interesting. Some said training to the right is a habit left from horses being used in warfare and the need to keep swords from tangling when mounting from the left.
Some quoted more contemporary "rules" - to the off side for shows, to the right for this discipline or to the left for that one.
One person said the mane grows the way it wants to grow and why would anyone feel a need to change that? I lean toward this notion myself.
Keil Bay's mane tends to fall both ways and I love it that way.
I've read that if the mane goes one way and then the other along the neck, the place where it changes is a place where the neck is "out."
Today I read that the mane falls to the weaker shoulder and so if it's even on both sides that is evidence of a balanced horse.
Others said it falls to the dominant shoulder.
When I go to tack shops I marvel at the section devoted to manes and tails. All kinds of combs and thinning blades, rubber bands, thread, special devices to hold the mane so one person can braid it without a helper, sprays and shampoos and conditioners to make the mane shiny or soft or even to dye it the color someone wants it to be.
I have a good stiff brush, a special hair brush, and a small comb. Period. I discovered from years of grooming Salina, spending hours with her because she was retired from riding, so the grooming was my way of spending time with her, that a tail goes from average looking to stunning if you take about half an hour to thoroughly brush it from dock to ends, gently working out any tangles, and then brushing and brushing and brushing to pull the natural oils from the dock down into the longer hair. It takes a lot of effort and it takes a long time, but the result is the most wonderful, rich tail you've ever seen.
The same goes for the mane. The conditioner is at the roots - you just have to take the time to brush that down to the ends. And the best part is they LOVE it. It's like our scalp massage.
This morning it's so cool outside, with a rolling breeze bringing in more cool air. It really does feel like fall. It's not time for manes to be trimmed back, not until the horse flies of August are gone, but it's getting closer. Until then, the manes fall where they will.