To create perfect plaits, you need a mane that is in good shape and a co-operative horse. But when things go wrong, there’s no need to resort to the clippers.
The worst presentation nightmare is the horse who has rubbed out a chunk of mane or has a forelock too wispy to plait. The answer, says show producer Lynn Russell, is to make a “horse hairpiece”.
“You need to make a false plait from the horse’s tail hair,” she explains. “Cut a section from underneath the dock inside the main body of the tail, so when the horse carries its tail naturally you won’t see there’s a piece missing.
“Sew the hairs together really tightly at the top with waxed thread and plait down as you would normally. Roll the plait into a ball and secure it with a couple of hidden stitches.
“In most cases, when a horse rubs its mane there are some wispy hairs left at the base. Gather these together in a rubber band and stitch your false plait to them.
“Don’t leave the plait on for longer than you have to: stitch it on just before the class and take it off immediately afterwards. If you let the horse graze, stretching the neck down will pull off the plait.”
If your false plait is needed to make up for a lack of forelock hair, you can also stitch it to the bridle sliphead for extra security.
Lynn says that frequent plaiting doesn’t weaken hair, but using scissors to cut the stitching thread often results in hairs being cut accidentally. To avoid this, she uses a dressmaker’s stitch unpicker, which costs about 60p from any sewing shop.
The other common plaiting problem is the horse which throws its head up and down. Jenny Fisher, a groom who has worked in hunting, point-to-point and showing yards, believes that there are two reasons for this.
“Sometimes, it’s because the horse dislikes having its mane pulled and thinks that’s what you’re going to do,” she says. “Then there are a few horses who associate being plaited with something exciting happening.
“If you start plaiting near the ears rather than the withers, you get the most difficult part done first, hopefully before the horse gets restless. If this fails, I sometimes tack up the horse with a roller and leather headcollar and fit a short standing martingale – when they can’t chuck their heads up and down and realise plaiting isn’t going to be uncomfortable, they usually settle.”
With the horse who associates plaiting with exciting times, Jenny suggests putting in stable plaits every night until that idea is lost.
She wears a cotton stockman’s coat with pockets for scissors and thread when plaiting.
“I thread a separate needle for each plait and fasten them in a row down the front of my coat,” she says. “I look like a pincushion but it makes the job much quicker, which also helps with a bored or awkward horse.”