“Wow!” That’s usually the first reaction people have when they see the long mane and tail of Smart And Shiney, one of the reiners in our barn (at right). The typical second reaction? “How do you get a mane and tail like that—what’s your secret?”
I’ll share it with you here. But don’t expect to read about a single hidden trick, because there’s no such thing. The “secret,” if there is one, lies in having and sticking to a manes-and-tails program. Read on for the do’s and don’ts that’ll help you develop the best tresses your horse can grow.
Lovely Locks: The Do’s and Don’ts
Good nutrition and regular care are the keys to keeping manes and tails as long and healthy as they can be. I can’t stress this enough. Based on heredity, each horse has his own individual potential for mane and tail length or thickness. However, it’s also important to provide the horse with the nutritional components to stay healthy, and to do your part with regular washing and conditioning. In addition, it’s crucial that you don’t comb or brush the hair every day, but rather, use your fingers to pick out shavings and shake the tail clean. Even if the weather is cold or your horse has a long layoff, you need to give frequent, proper care to his mane and tail.
Do provide proper nutrition. We use SmartPak (smarkpak.com) to customize our horses’ nutrition. We don’t typically use a specific supplement for hair growth; however, a multivitamin component gives the horses what they need to build a healthy body, along with a long, flowing mane and tail.
Don’t over-comb. We avoid combing or brushing manes and tails on a daily basis. We only comb or brush after bathing and conditioning or before showing—in other words, only when necessary. On other days, we just pick shavings out of the manes and tails, because a significant amount of hair is lost every time you comb or brush. We use a mane/tail brush with wide teeth, because it seems to remove less hair than other combs we’ve tried. There are lots of choices out there, but you need to be careful to choose one that’s not abrasive and doesn’t grab the hair and easily pull it out. Remember to check your brush for hooks in the bristles; these will pull out lots of hair.
Do use clean tools. Keep your brushes clean, and disinfect them periodically, particularly with new horses or with any noticeable skin issues.
Do bathe thoroughly. Each horse has unique needs, and we stick to what our veterinarians recommend to be safe and gentle. We wash and condition most manes and tails at least twice a week. We use white vinegar as a pre-rinse in light-colored tails to remove and keep out stains. A combination shampoo and conditioner could work well if your horse has a really tangled mane and tail.
Do follow a bathing routine. Every time we wash the mane and tail, we follow a similar process. It’s important to wet the mane and tail thoroughly, because leaving dry spots will cause you to miss removing some dirt. It’s also important to pay special attention to the tailbone and the base of the mane when shampooing. These areas hold extra dirt and dead skin.
Do avoid tangling. Try not to tangle the mane or tail while shampooing, and be sure to rinse all the shampoo out. To make sure all areas are shampooed, use your fingers to separate the hair. You don’t need to scrub back and forth as long as all the hair is reached. The only areas you’ll want to scrub are the base of the mane and the tailbone. Dirt gathers around the tailbone, and it’s an area that’s often missed when washing. To avoid itching and rubbing, it’s important to keep the skin on both the tailbone and the base of the mane clean and free of dead skin. When horses are simply rinsed off during hot weather, sometimes the sweat residue stays at the top of the tail to irritate the horse.
Don’t neglect the ends. When conditioning, pay special attention to the ends of the hair. They’re more brittle and need extra softening. Leave the conditioner on the mane and tail for several minutes to soak in.
Do rinse thoroughly. Be sure to rinse out all product. Conditioner left in the mane or tail will attract dirt.
Do braid as needed. Braiding our horses’ manes is mostly done for their comfort. A long, thick mane can be very hot in the summer, and some horses seem to get hot more easily than others. For the few horses that we keep braided, we take the manes down and braid them back up a minimum of twice a week. It’s important to let the hair dry before re-braiding. This is for both the health of the scalp, and to reduce frizzing of the braids. When braiding, we separate the dry mane into sections that are a few inches thick, and use rubber bands to secure the braids at the bottom.
Don’t let your horse’s tail get too long. Although our jumpers’ tails aren’t braided while they work, we do braid the reiners’ tails for schooling their stopping maneuvers. We also braid all our horses’ tails and put them in socks when we ship, so they don’t get caught in the dividers. We leave the tails down in the stalls, keeping them clean, healthy, and short enough to avoid stepping on them. We have found this to be the safest thing for the tails, and more comfortable and natural for the horses. I recommend that you avoid giving your horse an opportunity to step on his tail. Keep it shorter, or braid it up if your horse is at risk.
Don’t over-use tail bags. We don’t like using tail bags; we’ve found that they’re heavy and frequently responsible for extra breakage. Your horse’s tail is safer out of a braid when in the stall. Horses seem to find all sorts of things to catch their braided tails on, breaking hair off.
Colleen McQuay and her husband, Tim, own McQuay Stables in Tioga, Texas. The couple’s ranch has a breeding operation, a reining horse division, and a hunter-jumper division. Colleen is an accomplished hunter-jumper rider and trainer, with United States Equestrian Federation, Congress, and AQHA World Show championships under her belt. She now divides her time between training her English horses and helping the stable’s reining horse trainers, while teaching clinics and serving on boards and committees for USHJA, USEF, and NRHA. The barn has been home to such greats including Hollywood Dun It, Gunner, Hollywoodtinseltown, and Smart And Shiney (shown in this feature). Tim is a World Equestrian Games gold medalist. Tim; the couple’s daughter, Mandy; and her husband, Tom McCutcheon, are all NRHA Million Dollar Riders. Mandy and Tom will compete in the World Equestrian Games this month.