Ask the Expert: Mane Pulling Problems

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Q: My horse’s mane is super thick, and he hates having it pulled. Do you have any tips to help?

Sport Horse Mane

A: Thick manes are often a challenge to maintain. They tend to be wild, living on both sides of the neck. They are also tricky to braid! Pulling a mane is the best way to start to tidy it up and tame it for easier braiding. Pulling the mane removes small amounts of hair from the root, so ultimately the mane is thinner. However, many horses do not enjoy the process.

When working with the mane, you may find that your horse wants to back up, dance around, or have you nowhere near his ears. Be aware of your horse’s body language, and work to make the situation safer. Grab a friend to hold a lead rope instead of using cross ties, hang a hay net for him, or work on touching his ears and poll daily before you pull. He should not raise his head, move away, or otherwise try and escape. Only then can you try and pull the mane.

For horses that will not tolerate a long pulling session, incorporate mane pulling into the grooming routine. Back comb and pull two or three times per day, nothing more. Doing this daily desensitizes your horse, and also allows you to avoid a marathon session.

You can also pull the mane after your horse exercises. He will be tired, so less likely to pitch a fit. He will also be warm, which opens his pores and allows the mane to come out easier. If you give your horse a post workout treat, pull the mane once or twice before you give the treat. Throw him a party when he starts to be still for his mane to be worked on!

Try and work up and down the mane, like a typewriter going across a page. Focusing on one section at a time can be irritating, so move up and down the mane frequently.

You can also experiment with pulling down, or pulling straight up. You may find that your horse likes one way better. The same goes for sides: pulling on the left may be better than the right. Work slowly, praise frequently, and do a tiny bit every day!

Liked this article? Here are others on mane maintenance:
Video: English Show Grooming
Ten-Step Grooming Makeover
Upgrade Your Horse’s Braids

After many years of grooming for several Olympians, LIV GUDE saw the need to bring Professional Grooms of all disciplines together in a supportive, informative community. Liv founded www.proequinegrooms.com, which provides everything from grooming tips to job listings and blogs and welcomes all members of the horse industry and horse owners alike to participate.


This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

6 COMMENTS

  1. The fact that mane pulling is such an ordeal for so many should be a clear indicator that there’s something up. Horses don’t like it – it’s stressful and probably painful. And frankly, rather than trying a thousand things to get your horse to stand still, why don’t you just thin it with some scissors from the underside? You can achieve the same look without plucking hairs from the root.
    Something I keep seeing over and over in articles like this is the old folk idea that if your horse is warmed up and has exercised its “pores will be open” and this will somehow make pulling out hair easier. Hair follicles and pores are two totally separate things – hairs don’t grow from pores and you don’t pull them out of pores. This nonsense has been passed along from one well-meaning equestrian to the other for goodness knows how long – but it is just that, nonsense. Warmth does help reduce the pain – but it’s nothing to do with “open pores”. Think about what factors make waxing least painful – that’s also when it’s best to pluck a horse’s mane, if you’re going to insist on doing so.

  2. Agree with above commenters. Pulling is not necessary and is painful for the horse. I pulled manes for years and wish I could take it back now. One has to listen to the horse rather than “traditional” knowledge that it doesn’t hurt. Not being able to produce a ring ready mane with scissors is a reflection of lacking talent, and many braiders will tell you that a thinned blunted mane is much easier to braid than a true pull anyway. I cut my mare’s mane recently rather than pulling like normal and she stress-relief yawned the entire time.

  3. I fail to understand why people who allegedly “love horses” insist on changing their natural appearance for show? It’s the ultimate in arrogance and ignorance.

  4. My mini horse has the thickest mane ever. I cheat and use trimmers and actually cut the main thinner and pretend the outermost hairs are part of his coat. Much easier for me AND for him.

  5. Ditto Jeanette. Pulling is a stupid practice. If it didn’t hurt the animal he wouldn’t object. How would you like to have your hair yanked out just for the sake of “fashion?”

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