Sunday, September 13, 2015

what is the human's obsession with horses' manes?

This morning someone in a Facebook group posted a photo of her horse's gorgeous mane, thick and lovely, falling on both sides of his neck. She wondered if she should try to train it to one side and got many responses, some saying train it to the right. others train it to the left, pull it, thin it, some saying leave it alone.

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.


Kate said...

All that stuff about what manes on different sides mean is just hooey, IMO. Manes fall the way they do due to genetic predisposition - like markings, which also don't mean anything about the horse or its disposition or physical structure.

I used to show hunter/jumpers, and found the mane/tail fussing/pulling/training/braiding just plain silly and not much fun for the horse. All my horses grow as much mane as they'd like, on any side they'd like. I don't even clip bridle paths.

billie said...

Bridle paths! I totally forgot about those. Obviously not something I do either! Nor whiskers nor ears etc.

Kate said...

I don't do ears or whiskers, either - they need those to find their way around (whiskers) or to keep the bugs out of ears.

billie said...

Yes, it's so true.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I clip Val's bridle path. His mane is so thick and abundant that his bridles don't fit right without some maintenance. I also bang his tail, or he would tear it out stepping on it. He's funny though - loves having his mane pulled or his hair messed with. Puts him into a trance.:D

billie said...

I definitely trim tails when they start dragging the ground! Usually trim to fetlock level.

Grey Horse Matters said...

With our herd each horse has a different preference concerning their manes and tails. Dusty loves to be brushed and brushed and brushed...I've never seen a tail as thick as hers and it takes forever to brush out. I have to bang it or it will drag on the ground. Blue needs to have his mane cut with scissors or clipper because he hates it pulled. I know this from taking him to a few shows in his youth and trying to braid it. Mellon hates his mane or tail brushed but will consent to it if the mood is right. And on and on with each horse.

When we used to show a lot they were pulled and braided because they needed to be. Some were ok with it some not so much. I obviously don't braid anymore but sometimes those that need it will get a bridle cut to help their bridles fit better. And sometimes they will get a trim of their manes. I guess everyone has their own preferences and as long as it doesn't cause discomfort to the horse I think it's fine to have your horse look the way you think is best.

billie said...

Yes, Arlene - comfort to the horse is the main point here. I remember being told in early years of riding that horses did not have any feeling in their manes or tails so you could do what you wanted or needed to do without worrying about their comfort. I don't think it's true that they don't feel anything but we can certainly watch and pay close attention to them if we need to trim or clip.

Mine all get tails trimmed to fetlocks and manes trimmed very short each fall. I have not had a need to trim bridle paths as I find it easier to smooth the mane beneath the bridle path.

The talk in the group was all about how to and whether to "train" the mane to do one thing or another. I can't imagine going to great lengths to get a mane to lie on one side of the neck if it resisted a simple brushing to one side. I would not have done well on the show circuit, obviously!! :)