A neatly pulled mane and tail can put the perfect finishing touches to a horse’s appearance. But if he objects to the pulling procedure, or breed showing guidelines specify a more natural look, there are ways to smarten up in safety.

Standard advice is to tidy manes and tails after exercise, when the horse is warm and hairs come out more easily. Freelance groom Denise Southwold says that if this isn’t practical, equip the horse with a neck cover, tail bandage and tailguard.

Denise finds that the angle at which the hair is pulled out can make a difference and advises that you try pulling just a few hairs in an upward, rather than a downward, direction.

“If the horse objects to you using a pulling comb, buy some of the rubber thimbles bank staff use when counting banknotes. I use three: on the thumb, first and second fingers of my right hand. Brush down the mane with the left hand, tweaking a few hairs at a time in between each stroke. The thimbles help your grip, and the brushing takes the horse’s mind off the tweaking.”

Mountain and moorland specialist Lucy Maddon competes in both breed and open working hunter pony classes, so cannot pull her ponies’ tails.

“If I don’t want to plait, I can get a reasonable ‘pulled’ look by dampening the hair at the top, putting on hair gel and bandaging,” she says. “If you leave the tail bandage on until the very last minute before you go in the ring, the effect lasts long enough, especially if the hair isn’t too coarse to start with.”

Another approach is to use a thinning knife incorporating a razor-type blade. When held at an angle and used to shorten a few hairs at a time down the sides of the dock, it can create a similar appearance to a pulled tail in skilled hands when combined with regular bandaging.

As an alternative to pulling manes, especially on fine-coated horses whose manes need shortening rather than thinning, show producer Lynn Russell uses an old clipper blade, backcombing the top hair and nipping off a few hairs at a time from the underneath section with the blade, to give a neat but natural line.

Scissors can be used as a last resort, but the right technique is essential to avoid an ugly “club cut.” Showing groom Sarah Parfitt uses a pair of round-ended scissors and cuts into the mane from underneath, at an angle.

“Snip just a few hairs at a time and comb down the mane after every cut before you move on to the next hairs,” she says. “Snip at an angle or the effect is too blunt. And if you want to thin a mane, breaks the rules and use a metal comb every day on the underneath section and you’ll take out hair without even trying.”

  • This “Tricks of the trade” feature was first published in Horse & Hound (18 November, ’04)

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