A horse’s mane and tale

Don’t underestimate the value that a long mane and tail will add to your horse, says Kim Dyson.

A long thin tail is not very beautiful. Most tails that are long lack volume. Even if you’re not keen on a very long tail, you still want a thick, vibrant tail.

All beautiful tails start inside your horse. Biotin is promoted as a supplement for hooves, but it will also help your horse to grow a beautiful mane and tail. A high-fat diet will ensure that your horse’s hair is shiny.

Protein encourages good hair growth. Horses are designed for survival. If you feed food low in protein, fat and nutrients, the body will prioritise muscle, bone and the metabolic systems over coat and hooves.

Breakage is another cause of short hair. Keep the mane and tail well-conditioned. Avoid conditioners containing alcohol. Natural conditioners will also help to keep the hair moist and able to stretch. Never brush a mane or tail. Use your fingers to gently detangle the knots.

Plaits please
Horses snag their manes on trees and fences. They keep their tails short by stepping on them. It’s for these reasons that many people choose to plait manes and tails. This can help keep a mane out of your reins and prevent the hair from getting pulled out. But it’s essential to re-plait every two weeks after washing and conditioning. (Plaits get dry and the hair breaks off, defeating the whole reason for plaiting in the first place.)

Take care not to plait too tight – this slows down the blood circulation. The plaits should be small enough so that when the horse stretches its neck to the ground or around to the opposite side of its body, the top of the braid will not stretch so far that it will stress and break the hair. On the other hand, you don’t want the plaits to be so small it takes you forever to complete one braid and ‘over-kink’ the hair.

Mane lines
Traditionally, manes should fall on the right side of the horse’s neck. You will not be disqualified from any show for a wrong-sided mane, but it looks odd to eyes used to a right-side mane. Never plait a wet tail – the hair will rot. This is extremely important if you intend wrapping or bagging the tail. Make a bag out of spandex as it is soft and breathable. I attach small strips of cord at the end of the bag, so that my horse can swish flies away.

Plait loosely about 5cm from the end of the tail bone, roll up and secure with a crepe bandage, then fit the tail bag. Redo the tail every four to six weeks. As with the mane, the less you interfere with it, the more chance it has to grow, but check for rot and feel within the bag to make sure that the hair has not loosened or become matted (redo the plait if it is wet).

The weight of the tail bag will aid in encouraging the growth of the tail, as will the monthly massages when you re-shampoo and condition the hair.