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August 10, 2005

In The Tack Room With Ruthann Smith

Q. Kelly, Christiana, Tenn.
I have a young draft cross that I am bringing along to compete in eventing.  I work very hard, from a grooming/trimming perspective, to keep him neat and tidy, but can't do ANYTHING with his mane.  This is the thickest mane I've ever dealt with, and the consistency of the hair is very, very coarse. 

I can pull it all day and never get it thin enough where it will lay neatly.  I have tried pulling it short, pulling it and leaving it a bit longer, thinning shears (never again!), conditioning it a lot, training braids, you name it.  His mane always looks like a family of mice had a party in there.  What can I do to have a neat mane? 

I also have concerns about braiding it, because it is so thick.  Any training braids that I have done looked horrible.  Any tips there?  I had considered roaching it, but my instructor wasn't comfortable with that, so our current compromise is a neatly trimmed "mohawk."  Help!

A. Dear Kelly,
The trick to a “Trojan Mane,” as we say, is two-fold.  First, you need to thin it.  The key is not how much, but how often.  Leave it 6 inches long or so.  It will need the length to wrap around itself for braiding.  Plus, the length will help it fall to one side. 

If you pull too much at once, you make it short and thick, which is worse.  Plus, if in a while half the mane is 2” long, the braids won’t lie straight.  Hair that should be anchoring the braid will be pushing the braids out of line.  So, you want it growing back in many tiers. 

That means pulling a little bit all the time.  Roaching is the very worst thing you can do.  It will grow back much thicker and like a wire brush.  If you use scissors, the mane will always be too blunt to hold a knot.  The best thing to do is pull regularly.  If you do it after the horse works, his pores will be open and resistance low. 

Actually, I like your mice family image.  I might use that one!  If the hair is coarse, drying it out will make it rougher.  So, be sure to use a soothing, non-irritating shampoo without salt or petroleum elements. Don’t worry about how training braids look.  They are an at-home tool.  Work on pulling regularly and you should be on track to a beautiful and manageable mane.

Q. Barbara, Charlotteville, Va.

My Hanoverian mare is lovely, but boy does she have big ears (think Rocher). Braids make things look even worse. Can you suggest a more flattering ‘do’ for her?

A. Dear Barbara,
If your horse has lop ears like Rocher, you should thank your lucky stars!  Lop ears have long been considered an indication of great intelligence.  Plus, they are endearing.  

One way to make them look smaller is to trim straight across the tip instead of following the outline closely.  It will make them appear a bit shorter.

If you are showing in braidable disciplines, you should braid.  It is the tradition for being most effective at creating the optical illusion to make the neck look long and round.   And, with a killer braid job, no one will be looking at her ears!

A stellar braid job can stop people in their tracks.  So, maybe polish you braiding for that perfectly clean bottom line (think playing connect the dots under the bottom folds of the braids).   Anyone can braid beautifully. So, have fun and love those ears!

Q. Julie, Chicago, Ill.
I am a fairly competent braider, and can complete a nice mane and tail, but I have one niggling issue with my braids.  When I braid down, they slant down the neck (to the left).  I can fix it and make them straight when I tie the braids up, but I’d like to be able to braid down straight.  I know it has something to do with one hand pulling tighter, but the more I try and think it through, the more pronounced it gets…

A. Dear Julie,
You’ve got it!  Tying up makes or breaks the braid job.  The important thing is achieving the straight bottom line below the braids.

What is likely happening is that one hand is stronger than the other.  Or, you have more leverage as you initially twist the left side.  What you need to do is be cognizant of the first couple twists that pull on the top right side.  I like to start all braids by holding the center and right piece in my right hand.  I hold at the roots and pinch the outside right piece between my thumb and index finger.

I hold the center piece between my index and middle finger.  Then I twist my wrist to turn the right over the center piece.  This starts the braid with leverage on the right side, which may be enough to straighten out your braids at the base. When you are braiding down, hold the braid perpendicular to the crest.  And, make sure you are not twisting on your ladder.  Concentrate on those first few twists and keep everything straight and twist on!

Q. Mark, Wellington, Fla.
What tricks do you have for helping a horse—especially a chestnut!—lose that just-clipped look.  You know, the pumpkin look.

A. Dear Mark, 
To avoid the proverbial pumpkin look, start with a clean, healthy coat.  Make sure he has a healthy diet that includes an oil, such as wheat germ or the less expensive corn.   The most important thing is not to let the hair get too long before clipping. Even still, the color can be different each time you clip as the coat reflects the internal being.  Many factors impact the coat, including: over bathing, stress and medications.

The second recommendation is to rub on him regularly. Vigorous daily grooming before and after work will yield big shine by bringing oils to the surface to nourish the roots, moisturize the skin and protect the hair.  If you don’t usually spend a lot of time grooming, work up to it.  You don’t want to make him sore from it.

If you can bathe him, choose your shampoo well.  Most strip natural oils and may leave a film that will dull and heat up your blades, costing you money and time--perhaps even burning him and teaching him to resist clipping.  A shampoo pH balanced for horses (different than people), with a saturation of aloe vera, lots of Vitamin E, and no salt or elements of petroleum will best serve your purposes. 

A quicker option for bathing without water is to use an enzyme to dissolve the impurities.  The Lucky Braids Dry Wash/Whitener Spray is for ANY color coat.  It is not a bleach or detergent. Just spray on, let sit, wipe off and you are golden. 

No matter what cleaning route you choose, clip before the hair is too long and make vigorous grooming part of your daily program for optimal post-clipping color and shine.

Q. Sue
For a horse whose mane is not going to be pulled (and is thick), what’s an effective method to thin it sufficiently for braiding.   I am experimenting on one horse with clipping (roaching) the underside of the mane, and have also tried thinning shears.  As with pulling, it initially looks good, but over time gets lots of short, spiky hairs.

A. Dear Sue,
I understand your angst, but the worst thing you can do is roach or clip the mane.   Roaching makes it grow back like wire.  Clipping along the hairline takes away the anchor for the braids so they’ll twist.  Truth is, there is always hair growing in.  You probably notice the short hairs more because you have pulled too much at once or the clipped hair is growing in thicker and strong enough to stand up.  In this case, the hairs need to be trained to lie flat. 

Train the hair by braiding it over, then wet brush the bottom and top of the mane down at least two times daily.  If the horse is on the crossties, leave a damp towel over the crest.  Pull down on it as you slide it off one side.  With some work, manes can look painted on.

If the mane is really thick, the only viable answer is to pull it.  I’d leave a thick mane about 6” long.  Without extracting some hair, the braids will touch and look like a mat on the neck.  Plus, clumpy braids do not draw your eye down the neck to make it look long and round.  If the mane is thick, you need to pull a little bit all the time and often.  Otherwise, it will get short and thick.  Or, you’ll have too much growing back at once. 

Hairs growing in gradually are not a problem if you wet the mane well as you are braiding.  Wet hair stretches and will fold into the braid.  Just keep the hairs organized by pinching and pulling on sections to comb out the pieces periodically as you braid.  If hairs stick out of the side of the braid, don’t worry.  The most important part of the braid job is the bottom line, below the folds of the braids.  If that line is straight, it will attract the eye.  Fly-aways will become essentially irrelevant.

Q. Chris, Louisville, Ky.
What can you do for a horse who just doesn’t seem to want to shed out completely?  He’s healthy, so no question of Cushings, etc., but he always seems to have a thicker coat than he should.

A. Dear Chris,

The solution to your problem is the same as for so many.  Rub on ‘em!  Curry, curry, curry.  Choose a flexible rubber curry or mitt and work in circular motions, in the direction of hair growth, so your horse will love it.  This will extract the dead hair and refine the new hair.  Vigorous daily grooming, and I mean currying that comes from your back and shoulder rather than wrist, promotes your horse’s health on many levels. 

You also want to brush him lots.  I like to use a brush in each hand and get a nice rhythm to it.   The other piece of the equation is nature. Warmbloods tend not to shed out like Thoroughbreds.  Some people have thick hair and others don’t.  Even so, if you get into grooming, he’ll sport his best coat.

Q. Marie
I would love to know what to do about a Paint with a white mane, tail (with black streak) and legs regarding keeping them white.  Seems to be not so bad, except the bottom half of the tail has what I think are old stains that don't want to come out with deyellowing stuff--Quiksilver, etc.  I haven't used dyes and don't want to affect her tail health or get rid of her streak.

A. Dear Marie,
Tails stains are a pervasive problem, but there is a reliable solution.  Any tail can be bright, shiny white.  Do you use detangler?  Chances are that drying shampoos are making stains stick and the detangler is locking stains onto the tail.  Even still, there is hope. 

As common as they are, I would not recommend any of the products you have proposed.  They will only strip the shine to leave hair thirsty and grabbing onto the impurities.  The best solution is to change your hair care paradigm on a few fronts.  As a braider, I was acutely aware of such issues and the lack of healthy solutions.  So, I worked with a holistic vet to develop healthy alternatives.  I recommend an evolved tail care paradigm.  

Lucky Braids Whitener/Dry Wash Spray is an enzyme, not a bleach or a detergent.  It does not coat or strip the hair, but simply separates the hair from the stain.  Douse the tail and let it sit to work at the bond.  I like to wet a tail with the spray and tie it up.  With less surface area, the tail will stay wet longer.  When the enzyme dries, it dies.  So, let it soak. 

You want to be careful to use a shampoo without salt or petroleum.  Those are standard ingredients that ultimately set you back by drying out the coat.

Once your tail is clean, you can go without a drying detangler.  Just comb the clean wet tail gently, holding it and starting below your grip to work up.  Once it’s dry and fluffy, just pick or carefully brush it.  The natural texture makes the hair want to separate instead of wrap around itself, thereby reducing tangles.  Use the Whitener Spray again if dirt keeps you from organizing the hair. 

If the hair is healthy, it is bright and easy to keep clean.  So, do your groundwork for a bit and then enjoy your horse’s glorious tail.  After all, beautiful tails sing competence.

Q. Marie
Also, any suggestions for keeping her from rubbing her tail?  Her udder is kept clean and so is the area under her tail.  I checked for ticks.  I wash with Head and Shoulders and use Gold Bond powder on the dock.

A. Dear Marie,
In my experience all tail rubbing can be stopped.  First, be sure she is properly wormed. 

While many topical products can kill irritants, they also dry the skin, leaving it vulnerable to irritation.  Some mares need their teats and dock wiped really well every day.  I suggest using aloe baby wipes without alcohol.  You don’t want to dry her out.  Oily products will attract drying dust.  Geldings and stallions should have their sheaths cleaned monthly (at the very least every six months) and under the tail daily.  Brushing and toweling skin under the tail and between legs daily will also help bring protective oils to the surface. 

You don’t want to apply a product that will dry out the skin, but then again, you also don’t want to use an oily product, which attracts dirt and the sun, parching the skin.  A soothing salve, which cools, moisturizes, and nourishes the skin is what’s needed.  Tea tree oil is a natural, non-dryiing antiseptic which helpes eliminate the irritant.

If the horse is in the habit of sitting on his tail, it may take a few days for him to stop.  You need to break the itchy cycle with soothing and natural antiseptic treatment. The other thing is, don’t use the other drying shampoos or the detanglers.  Instead, gently comb the clean wet tail.  Hold it and work your way up.

It will be very gratifying to offer her relief from tail rubbing.  Enjoy.

Q. Susan, Duncannon, Pa.
I have a couple of horses that detest their braids. They take every opportunity to rub--they use a hind leg to scratch like a dog in an attempt to rub. Any suggestions to make these horses more comfortable and accepting of their braids? 

A. Dear Susan, 
A common myth that perpetuates rubbing is the idea that a mane should be dirty to braid.  This is not true.  Braiding dirty manes dries out my hands and makes them hurt.  So, a dirty mane must be uncomfortable for the horse as well.   They are showing.  The mane should be clean. 

Be careful though, because most shampoos make manes slippery because they use petroleum products to create shine and salt to create lather.  However, they strip the natural oils and make the mane slippery. In such cases you not only lose the shine and parch and irritate the skin, but also suffocate the hair, making it brittle.  Use a shampoo—such as my Lucky Braids shampoo--which has soothing agents such as aloe and tea tree oil in it. 

Another factor that makes for rubbing is an uneven braid job. Few horses will rub a good braid job because they are comfortable.  Usually I can tell from the eye if a horse will rub regardless.  I find people rarely get the hair organized evenly before they start braiding.  To start the braid, I cut a part and then repeatedly smooth the hairs out by running all my fingers together, parallel to and over the crest several times.  Smoothing or "combing" the hair in this way helps all the hair enter the braid evenly. I don’t believe the problem is the pressure as much as getting it relatively even along the crest.

Finally, I would always leave hay and water with the braided horse to keep him happy.   Before the class, and not for too long, tie a horse that uses his hind hoof to scrape braids so he can’t quite put his head to the ground.  This way he can’t get his hoof to the crest.  Jam hay into one of his water buckets and he should relax.  Use string on the halter so he can break free if there is a problem. So, by getting the braids even, hay available, skin cleansed and conditioned, they should be happy braided.

Q. Anastasia, Nashville, Tenn.
I know that nice braids depend on a nicely pulled mane.  But how do you deal with horses who hate to have their manes pulled?  Mine gets really upset!

A. Dear Anastasia,
A well-pulled mane does make it easier to braid well.  However, a good braider can hide a lot.  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 the horses that have had bad experiences in the past.  When done properly, pulling does not hurt. 

This is a very involved topic as reactions to pulling can vary widely, so I have posted a detailed how-to—please click here to download the pdf.

Pulling is largely a handling issue.  Make it easy for your horse to have a good experience with careful positioning, timing and technique.  Be careful and enjoy.

Q. Annika
What are some good last-minute touches you use before entering the arena, or jog up? There are some horses that just glow--and I think it’s probably those last minute things that make a difference.

A. Dear Annika,
There is nothing like a glistening coat.  Truth is, it comes from a healthy diet and daily grooming.  Vigorous grooming every day brings the oils to the surface of the coat.  Curry, curry, curry: that is the secret weapon.  Choose a flexible curry or conventional mitt and go to it.  If you don’t do a lot of rubbing now, work up to it.  If you come out of the gate too strong you can make the horse sore.  Quick fixes can’t compare to big, layered, natural shine.  It builds in the barn.

Choose your shampoo wisely.  Many strip the natural oils, leaving the hair porous; thirsty and grabbing onto everything.  If you use a shampoo that actually moisturizes and nourishes the coat, it is even easier to keep clean.  Dirt wipes off easily.  Standard in equine shampoos is to use salt to make the lather and petroleum for shine.  Their approach actually works against our interest in the healthiest glow.

As far as last minute touches, it still comes down to fundamental care.  They clean up easier when hair is healthy.  I like to send them to the ring with a thin veneer of hoof dressing, not hoof oil.  If you put it on like shoe polish with a paper towel, the footing does not stick.

You want to wipe your horse and boots with a towel before entering the ring.  Most horses get lather wiped off their mouth and body if it has dripped.  In dressage, however, lather around the mouth is considered to be an indication of softness in the bridle.  So, leave it on dressage horses.  Just be sure they don’t eat something that would discolor the lather. 

Typically, when you towel or brush the legs at the ring, footing sticks to their legs.  A quick spritz with Lucky Braids Dry Wash Spray enzyme and a swipe of the towel will yield a bright shine.  In fact, it does not coat the hair but leaves a temporary charge.  If you use a brush to knock it into the clean coat, dirt and dust just won’t stick as much.

So, congratulations on wanting to meet a high standard.   Your practices begin in the barn, and your horse will glisten with a swipe of the towel.

Q. Jen, Chantilly, Va.
I've asked and searched on the internet about how to properly tie a mud knot, but haven't had any luck.  Can you help explain it?

A. Dear Jen,
Ah, mud knots.  I love them!  Old pictures of Native American and European heavy draft horses show essentially the same style as field hunters.  Basically it is crossing the hair in front of and behind the dock repeatedly and finishing by knotting the ends of the hair in a slip or half hitch knot. 

You may also braid the two ends together and tuck them under the top rung of the mud knot.  I start by splitting the tail in two and tying those pieces at the bottom of the dock like you are beginning to tie your shoe.  Pull both pieces behind the tail and simply cross them.  Come to the front of the tail and cross again until you are almost to the end of the tail.  Really crank it tight at each pass. 

The next part of “proper” has to do with your venue.  If you are schooling in a muddy ring and want to drop the tail at the in-gate, separate the end into two thin sections and tie them in a slip knot.  If you want to be sure it stays, I’d braid the ends together for 5 inches, add two strands of yarn and braid at least 4 more twists before knotting with a double half hitch knot. Then add another twist like you are tying your shoe to be sure.

Pull that braided tail behind the top rung with a latch hook and tie the yarn around the tail, knotting several times to close the deal.  If the tail is thick, I’d tie a few extra strands of yarn around the mud knot to cage and support it, just to be sure. 

If the horse is a hunter, I would first braid the tail as usual with the bottom finished plain like the French forelock.  Then I split the length in two sections.  Each section gets braided forward as it will lie across the front of the dock.  Braid yarn into the bottom and knot as you would the mane.  If the tail is thick, you may need a second knot. 

Braiding in the direction it will lay keeps the bottom of the mud knot from being bulbous.  Criss-cross the sections front and back until you have a few inches left to each piece.  Then tie those pieces together like you were tying your shoe.  Cross the yarn to the other side of the dock and knot that.   I use two surgical knots--like your shoelace knot, but two or three twists per knot.

Then use the rest of the length to cage the braid and knot again.  You may want to add a few strands to cage other parts of the mud knot.  You know, don’t let the baby fall out!  Nonetheless, a mud knot is a relatively simple (if you can understand this without images) and surely smart solution to many situations.

Q. Polly
I have a big fleabitten grey Thoroughbred who always sleeps on his left side, on his pee spot. It doesn’t matter how deep his shavings are. His entire shoulder is yellow. Bluing, Quick Silver, Wisk for whites and colors, Cowboy Magic Green Spot Remover have failed.......Can you help?

A. Dear Polly,
This is one of my favorite topics: the myth of whitening shampoos and stain removers.  Believe it or not, those products make him dirty!   Have you noticed how they strip the natural oils and shine to leave the hair dried out?  They make it porous--thirsty so it grabs onto everything. 

In my experience, if you use a shampoo that genuinely moisturizes and nourishes, the hair is bright, shiny and clean, and stays cleaner longer.  I’ve never met a stain I could not eradicate. 

The program is simple.  First, I’d spray the area with Lucky Braids Whitener/Dry Wash.  This is not a detergent or bleach.  It is an enzyme that dissolves the bond between the hair and the dirt. Don’t rub it, just let it sit wet.  Most stains dissolve immediately.  Old stains may take a few sessions.  I’d back up the spray with a shampoo that actually moisturizes and nourishes to brighten the coat, such as Lucky Braids.

I’d use a mitt as well to wash and exfoliate the skin as well as allow the shampoo to fortify the roots.  The third thing I’d do is rub on him lots.  Choose a mitt or flexible soft rubber curry and curry, curry.  Be sure to work in circular motions, in the direction the hair grows.  The brush and towel will also help bring out those natural oils to encase the hair shaft and substitute that stain for big shine. 

I would say the trick is not to use many products.  More is not better. Finally, and most importantly, pick out his stall as much as possible, especially before bed.  No urine or manure, no stain. I have no doubt you can get your guy glistening in short time.  Then, revel over that bright shiny shoulder.

Q. Kyra, Vancouver, B.C.
I’ve read on the Chronicle bulletin boards that some people clip their horses while wet, and they claim it’s easier and makes for a more even clip.  What are your thoughts on clipping a wet horse?

A. Dear Kyra,
I never heard of clipping a wet horse.  I don’t understand why it would work, since wet hair sticks together.  If you want an even clip, start with a clean, well-groomed horse and sharp blades. Vigorous daily grooming will bring natural oils to the coat.  This is pivotal before and after clipping to yield a nice coat as well as seal the hair shafts.  Doing so protects as well as promotes a healthy shine on a smooth coat.

Q. Joy, Charlottesville, Va.
How often do you advocate for bathing?  I’ve heard that it’s better for a horse’s coat to be bathed less, but in the hot, humid Virginia summers, daily baths are necessary.

A. Dear Joy,
There are old and new answers to that question.  Conventional wisdom is not to bathe often because traditionally shampoos strip the coat’s natural oils.  Plus, hooves can soften if the horse stands in water too often.  However, I don’t think bathing is detrimental if you use a non-drying and fortifying shampoo.   Of course, if the pores are not clogged, you can always just rinse them without using soap.   I think most show horses get soaped once a week, depending on conditions. I like to bathe with a rubber mitt. 

If you want to get him super-clean without bathing, try what we call “The Queen’s Treatment.”  It was learned from a groom that worked for the Queen of England… and Peter Wylde.  Here’s how: get a bucket of hot water, a large towel and medium brush.  Wet the towel well and wring it out.  Fold the towel and hold it in one palm.  In the other hand, work the brush.  Every time you stroke the horse, swipe the bristles over the towel.  You won’t believe how much the hot brush pulls off the coat. When the towel is dirty, re-fold to swipe another surface.  Replace with clean water as needed. A relatively clean horse can sparkle with less than a bucket of hot water--dirty horses may need four buckets.  Regardless, you can get them sparkling clean without getting them wet or dried out.

Q. Lynn, Aiken, S.C.
My baby green hunter, who has some Arabian blood in his pedigree, carries his tail high. While it’s not a big deal right now since he shows in unrecognized divisions, I plan to move him up to the greens next year. Will using a fake tail help mask this trait? And, if so, what’s the best way to attach a fake tail without braiding it into the tail? I’d like to practice with it at smaller shows where I won’t necessarily be braiding him.

A. Dear Lynn,
A full tail always looks better, and most horses can have them naturally.  I know there are a lot of wigs out there these days, but the trend is out of hand. There is nothing like the real thing.  Detanglers and drying shampoos generally promote tail breakage.  To help it grow thicker, only pick the tail or at least hold it and work your way up by gently brushing below your grip and from the bottom.  Keep the tail clean and only use quality products. 

I cut the tails blunt to make them look thicker, even if it is a bit short.  I like them to hang at the top of the ankle when the horse carries it to work.  This punctuates the hind end and makes him look more engaged behind.

I would recommend braiding hunters, even at small shows.  If you learn how to do it well, it can be quick and relaxing.  And, you’ll look better than the competition.  Plus, the judge will appreciate your respectful efforts.

If you choose to go unbraided, you can still braid in the fake tail, under the overlying tail hair.  This method will help the tail move with the natural hair when braided as well.  Use a tail that does not have a plastic knob at the top.  Figure out at what height the top should lie against the dock, so it never touches the ground and hangs above the ankle when the horse works.  Use a clip to hold the hair above out of the way. 

Start a French braid along the tail bone, under a thick section of hair, which will fall over the braid and conceal it. The braid should be sturdy, 1-2” wide at the base.  Do a few twists and then braid the top of the fake tail into the French braid.  That is, put a section of hair through the loop and keep braiding.  For a few passes, continue to take some of the fake tail hairs into the braid.  This way you are creating a braid that cages the fake tail and makes it sit flush to the dock.  Knot securely.  Sometimes I begin with two pieces of yarn on the wig’s loop and braid them in as well.  This system will be super-sturdy and look as natural as possible.  And, that’s the goal.

Finally, if your horse is well turned-out and mannered he’ll prove he is prepared to do the job.  Bring out the best in him and have fun.

Q. Morgan, San Francisco, Calif.
What do you do if your horse HATES having his tail braided?  Mine carries his tail really high and swishes it a lot when it’s braided, but I’d really like him to look his best in the ring.  Is there a way to make it more comfortable for him?

A. Dear Morgan,
We try to braid tails at home a few times to get horses used to the feeling in a relaxed setting.   Maybe try doing it loosely for a bit, just to see if he’ll chill out.  It is very rare that they won’t tolerate the braided tail.

In my mind there are three potential trouble spots regarding tail braid comfort.  They involve the start, taking from the sides and the bandage. 

First, to start the braid, stand exaggeratedly high on the ladder.  The top can slip and pull down, even the hair out.  So, you need to hold your hands very high to start.  I take larger pieces initially so there is less stress on each hair at the top. 

Secondly, when you add pieces from the side, be sure to get them all entering the braid with even pressure.  I do this by pinching the hair at the roots and pulling the section into the braids.  This essentially combs the hair into the braid.  Also, I always keep my hands close to the dock.  Add the section to your thumb when it is still too short to reach.  A short piece is a tight piece.  Don’t worry.  It’ll loosen.  The process requires some cranking.

Thirdly, it may be the bandage that is bothering him.  I knew one horse who tried to colic and was fine when we took the bandage off.  Try schooling without a bandage.  Wet the tail instead of the bandage.  I wet a dandy brush and flick the water onto the front of the tail.

Then, use an extra long 4” cotton ace-type bandage. Add it by starting at the bottom of the dock and working up. Otherwise it’ll slide down, whereby breaking the hair and potentially becoming less comfortable.  Just lay the bandage on with light pressure.  Go way up over the top of the braid.  There will be a couple wrinkles, but you never want to do the tail too early (never the night before), so it won’t be on long and has little pressure anyway.  Start back down and twist the bandage above the point of the rump.  This will centralize the pressure on that pass to keep it from slipping.  On the next round or so, tuck the end in to finish. 

Morgan, if you braid and bandage very well and give your horse time to understand, chances are, your horse will not be bothered by the braided tail.  If he still does not want to play, leave the tail unbraided and don’t fret.  This happens once in a while.  Just be sure everything else is done well and keep your chin up.  A lot of this game is working with horses’ quirks.  So, do all you can and enjoy.

Q. Laurie, Windermere, Fla.
What are your favorite daysheet/body sleezy materials/brands?  Also…do you have a favorite daily spray/conditioner for tails and manes (I have an arab with a long mane and tail) that doesn’t end up greasy or doing damage to the hair?  Finally…do you have a favorite type of body brush?  My mare is thin-skinned and only the softest of brushes will do…but they don’t always do the job.

A. Dear Laurie,
The right products can certainly make a big difference. 

Clothes:  The Clothes Horse makes beautiful custom horse clothes and bandages.  I’m not into sleezys.  In fact, 50,000 horses winter in Wellington, Fla., and I don’t think I have ever seen a sleezy there.  I say wet the mane over every day to train it to lie flat and braid well.    No sleezy is needed.

Buccas has a relatively new advanced fiber product that is very versatile.  It can be a cooler, blanket liner or sheet.  The material is somewhat like lycra, so it stays pretty clean.  Plus, it breathes and wicks well.  It is not too hot or bulky.  I think it is a breakthrough in dressing horses.

Conditioners: You are right that most conditioners ultimately dry out the hair.  They coat the hair and it hangs heavy instead of full.  Plus, the detanglers make the hair brittle to break.  Some are even toxic.

In my experience the best route to a glistening and fluffy mane and tail is not a spray. If you use a healthy shampoo and comb the wet long hair (hold and work below your grip), it will reduce tangles, strengthen hair, and improve shine.   In fact, you’ll see more layers to the shine in just one bath!  More products are not better.  Just keep her clean and groom her lots. 

Brushes: To begin, I like to use a soft rubber curry with nubs along the ridges or a conventional rubber mitt.  If you get her blood going first, she may be more tolerant of a medium brush.  I like to use a wooden handled dandy in each hand and go at it.  The rhythm itself can be relaxing.  Some horses are sensitive, but good grooming is not optional.  Do what you can for her, but still groom vigorously.  It is important for her. 

Ruthann Smith is a top braider who has used her years of experience grooming and braiding elite show horses in this country to start the Lucky Braids empire.  Now, Ruthann travels across the nation conducting clinics on horse management, turn-out and braiding.  She's also started a line of horse healthcare products.  No one is more qualified to answer your questions about those frustrating grooming and braiding questions! 

To see more about the Lucky Braids products Ruthann mentions, and to check out her instructional braiding DVD, please visit www.luckybraids.com.

 
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