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So much goes into getting prepared for shows, but it seems like most people are just expected to know how to prepare. We’ve got some (hopefully) handy tricks and video demonstrations to help make show day a breeze!

Give yourself plenty of time!

Preparing your horse for a show can be stressful enough without having to do it against the clock. So it's very important to make sure you give yourself enough time (and more!) so you can take it at your own pace without feeling rushed. Trust me, you'll be grateful you did once you get to the plaiting stage!

Washing your horse for a show

For showing shows where you need to bath your horse and have your horse tack and turn out ready, your best bet is to wash your horse the day before. Don’t wash the mane with shampoo, unless you have some next level plaiting spray (NAF 'Plait It Up' is great); a slightly greasy mane is so much easier to plait!

How to hot cloth your horse

What we do for dressage and eventing – if we aren’t dealing with a grey, of course – is just hot cloth the horse. Hot clothing is much quicker and easier than bathing and it often makes the horse just as shiny, if not more so! Hot clothing brings the natural oils to the surface so you don’t want shampoo, just a simple ‘no rinse’ wash. Barrier make great ones, or Steed and Soul whose soaps and oils are amazing!

1. Put a small amount of cold water into the bottom of a bucket, add in your chosen wash and top up with boiling water until the water is hand hot (the hotter the better – it should only just be comfortable to put your hand in). 

2. Once everything is mixed in the bucket, drop a tea towel, flannel or cloth in and wring it out thoroughly (you don't want to make the horse too wet). Then run the cloth across the coat in quick, smooth strokes, following the natural direction of the hair and rinsing out your cloth regularly.

3. Leave to air dry. If you've used too much water, don’t worry, you can buff it out with a soft brush or dry towel.

After washing your horse, you can give them stable bandages and you could also bandage their tail to keep your plait clean. A clean, dry rain sheet is ideal to keep your horse clean overnight and protect against stains from lying down! A snuggy hood will also keep your plaits secure... Which brings us to plaiting!

Plaiting your horse for a show

If you're showing – whether in-hand or ridden – plaits are an essential part of your horse's turn out (unless you own a native, in which case they are expected to be turned out in their natural state). Although it isn't mandatory to plait your horse for dressage, eventing or showjumping, most people choose to as it generally makes your horse look a lot more presentable.

Traditionally, plaits are finished using a needle and thread, but today we're using bands, as it tends to make the process much quicker and easier. Plenty of people still choose to use thread to secure the plaits in place (and you'll still need to for best turn out), or even a combination of the two methods, to ensure a neater, more professional look. But bands were introduced as a more modern technique and the advantages mean they are more commonly used nowadays where sewing them in is not required.

You'll want to thin and pull your mane before starting to plait; this will keep your plaits from becoming too big and taking over your horse’s neck.

How to thin and 'pull' your horse's mane (without actually pulling)

Our before and after pulling pictures aren’t the most spectacular because we like our manes a little longer, and because our horses mutually groom, so Lucy here is missing a chunk, but you can see it’s shorter and tidier.

Not everyone knows that you can thin and ‘pull’ without ripping your horse’s mane out, so we have a video to show you how we do it with a SoloComb and SoloRake. This is a particularly good method for horses with pink or sensitive skin and is much easier and gentler than using a pulling comb.

How to plait your horse's mane

So, after pulling and neatening up your mane, you’re going to start plaiting. Before you start, you'll want to make sure you have the correct colour of bands for your horse's mane and tail, to ensure they're not visible.

1. Brush your horse's mane over to the right hand side, using a plaiting spray to dampen the mane. Brushing it through with water will also do the trick if you don't have any special products to hand.

2. To ensure your plaits are of equal size and relatively evenly spaced, first divide the mane into even sections with your bands. It's more important that there's the same amount of hair in each of the sections than it is to make sure they are an equal distance apart. You're aiming to end up with an uneven number of plaits in the mane – usually 9, 11 or 13 – and one in the forelock. The number of plaits and how big you make them will depend on your horse's size and conformation.

3. When starting to plait, it's advisable to begin at the top of the mane and work your way down, as your horse is likely to get more fidgety as time goes on and it's easier to plait the bottom while they're moving their head about (you'll see that we didn't actually take our own advice in our video demonstration below)!

Take your first section of mane out of the holding band and brush it through again using a short toothed pulling comb. Divide the section of hair into 3 even pieces, aiming to keep the length of the pieces as even as possible so that you'll be able to plait right down to the very end. Plait that section, keeping the plait nice and tight, paying particular attention to the very beginning of the plait.

Plait the section as far down as you possibly can and then secure it with a band at the bottom. Fold the very bottom of the plait up, to tuck away any loose ends, and secure with another band.

4. Next, you want to fold your plait under on itself, bringing the end of the plait up to the top of the plait underneath so you are doubling it, and then continue to fold or roll in the same way (2-3 folds should do it) until you end up with a little bun. Secure it with a band or two to keep it in place.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have plaited every section of the mane into little balls and then finish with a fixing spray (if your horse doesn't mind).

Our plaits weren’t the best because Lucy was fidgeting and we were in a bit of a rush (see the first point where you give yourself enough time)! You need to pick between being slow and neat and being fast and effective. If you’re slow and your plaits are rubbish, practice until you can do them nicely, or just speed up the job. If you’re fast but your plaits are rubbish, either take more time, or practice until you can do them quickly and neatly. Lauren (today’s plaiting expert) is very, very fast (so much so that I joked that she didn’t have to do the video time lapse herself!), but her plaits are still tight and similar in size, despite Lucy’s funky mane.

Top tip: Clever use of plaits can help disguise conformation weaknesses; more plaits will make the neck look longer, while fewer plaits help create the appearance of a shorter neck. Similarly, plaits that stand up above the horse's neck can help make a weak neck appear more developed or those plaited tightly into the neck will help reduce the appearance of a strong crest.

How to plait your horse's forelock

Ideally, you want someone to come out and hold the horse for the forelock plait; it’s even more ideal if they bring gin for you and treats for the horse!

1. Dampen the forelock, as you did with the mane, and brush the hair down the horse's forehead.

2. The forelock plait is a French plait, so you want to start by simply crossing two sections of hair over one another, near the top of the forelock. Then take your third section from one of the sides and cross it over into the middle of your first two sections. Keep taking sections from each side alternately and working them into the plait, gathering as you go.

Again, plait the forelock as far down as you can, making sure to include all the hair, and use a band to secure it at the end.

4. Tuck the end of your plait up and under, and fold as many times as needed to create a tidy ball and then secure it with another band.

How to plait your horse's tail

We never touch the top of our tails with scissors or anything because we can’t think of anything prettier than a tail plait, and pulling is a bit like hogging; you do it once and you have to keep doing it because it never really grows out. If you like a hogged mane and pulled tail then that's absolutely fine, but it’s just not for us, and anything you do to neaten the top of the tail will make it harder to plait.

1. As you did with the mane and forelock, start by dampening the tail, particularly at the top where you're going to begin your plait, and brush out any knots.

2. Like the forelock, the tail is also a French plait, so you're going to start by taking a small section from either side of the tail at the top and crossing them over each other in the middle. Then, take even sections from each side of the tail alternately and work them into the plait, gathering as you go.

It's crucial to get the start of the plait right and make sure you are taking very even sections from either side as you work your way down. Keep pulling the plait nice and tight as you go.

3. Keep working sections into your French plait until you have plaited all the way down the dock. How long you make your plait is ultimately based on your own personal preference; we like to have ours plaited down to a couple of inches under the point of the horse's bum, but you can judge yours visually as you're doing it.

4. Once you get to a length you're happy with, you can stop taking sections in from the sides and simply continue to plait the top section down so it sits in the centre of the tail. As we did with our mane plaits, make sure you plait this section as far down as you can and secure the end with a band.

5. Take the end of your tail plait and tuck it up and under so that the end of the plait sits underneath the end of the French plaited section, and then secure it in place with a couple of bands around that bit of the tail.

And there you have it; your horse is ready to go!

Plaiting is one of those things where practice really does make perfect, so don't be disheartened if your first few attempts aren't brilliant! If you want to feel more confident in your plaiting skills, we suggest plaiting and re-plaiting regularly on days you don't need to, in order to get more comfortable (and faster) with it.

We really hope that this has been of some help to people looking to enjoy this season and get back out there! If you have anything that you would like to see us do in a vlog or blog, please get in touch!

Hesteyri Horses
Horsemart Brand Ambassador
Published on 2021-06-04