Mane and Tail Mane-tenance Tips

This article is part of our Guide to Grooming Awareness Campaign, brought to you by ShowSheen.

With a long flowing mane and a tail that almost reaches the ground, your horse makes a statement in the show ring. But how do you get him to the point where he looks like he’s ready to star in his own shampoo commercial? Here are some mane and tail tips that the writers at Horse&Rider swear by.

The Basics for Both

Feed well

High-quality forage (pasture or hay) is the basic, augmented with whatever concentrate your horse needs for his particular energy requirements. To make sure your horse’s feed is used to its fullest, be sure to maintain a good parasite-control program. A horse receiving all the nutrition he needs will have an easier time growing out his mane and tail. It is worth noting that some breeds or horses will not have a tail that drags the ground, or a mane to his knees. Know his limitations and do your best to keep what he does have – healthy.

Consider supplements

Work with your vet and/or an equine nutritionist to decide if a supplement may be helpful for tail growth. Hair, like hooves, needs certain nutrients in the correct balance to flourish. These include the B vitamin biotin; the essential amino acids lysine and methionine; and the trace minerals zinc, copper, and iodine. Hoof supplements that supply these nutrients will also benefit hair growth.

Tangle-Free the Right Way

Avoid ripping a mane brush through a tangled mane to try and get him knot-free. And don’t get busted using a metal curry comb on the mane or tail! Start with a good detangler, and gently work out the knots with your fingers first. Then, gently work a wide toothed comb or mane brush through his mane. Start at the bottom of the mane or tail and work up. This helps prevent breakage.

If you use a comb or brush, use your other hand to hold the tail hair tightly above where you’re working to prevent hair pulls that go through to the tail head and result in hair loss.

The Mane Event

Braid Carefully

If you opt to keep his long mane in braids, do so the right way. Start with small sections, each about two inches. Begin the braid by keeping it looser at the top, and getting tighter as you continue down. Don’t overdo it on the tightness, but a firm braid is suggested. By keeping your braid looser at the top, you prevent pulling on the mane, breakage of the hair follicle, and avoid putting stress on his neck. Re-do your braids every 7-10 days or as needed.

Wash Day

When it comes time for wash day, here are some helpful tips. First, don’t over wash. Doing so can lead to damage and breakage and strip his hair of natural oils. When washing a mane, flip it over and be sure to wash the underside, especially at the base of the mane. This is where most dirt and residue accumulate. Opt for a shampoo formulated for horses, that will be gentle on the hair.

Rinse both his mane and tail thoroughly (including the underside of the mane!) to avoid irritation. Go easy on the conditioner, oils in products can attract dirt if not rinsed out completely.

Let the mane and tail dry completely before brushing. This is a top tip from trainer, Cody Crow. Brushing out a wet tail and mane causes breakage. Avoid this if you’re aiming for growth! Allow the mane and tail to dry, work through knots with your fingers, and try out a detangler. Cody also notes that his favorite way to secure a tail braid is with electrical tape instead of rubber bands.

Attack of the Burrs

Burrs in the mane are not just an aesthetic issue, they can lead to skin injury or damage. Here are some steps to take, to remove burrs.

Treat the skin to soothe and protect it.

Select a liquid or gel wound treatment that has proven protective and healing properties. Using a clean, soft ear-bulb syringe (available at most pharmacies) or a hypodermic syringe with the needle removed, apply about three tablespoons of the product to the skin at the base of the tangled hairs/burrs.

Saturate the hair and burrs with a mane and tail detangler to lubricate them, making it easier for the caught hair to slide out of the burrs’ hooks.

Generously spritz or sponge the product onto—and into—the tangled mess until all involved hairs and burrs are wet. Wait a few minutes for the detangler to seep into the tight areas, then gently and gradually start sliding a few hairs at a time from the grasp of the burrs and knots.

Try a detangler on burrs to work them out gently. Photo courtesy of Nichole Chirico.

Tip: A small crochet hook can be helpful here. When you work each hair loose from the knots, be sure you’re pulling in the right direction—from the knots, rather than from the roots.

Dispose of burrs carefully. When you drop a burr, you’re potentially planting hundreds of seeds. And a carelessly discarded burr could get onto a blanket or saddle pad and cause a whole new set of problems.

Discard burrs in a secure container, such as a heavy plastic feed sack, and tie it closed. Find the source of the burrs and check local weed books to see whether the plants are on a noxious-weed list. If so, that means they’re not indigenous to the area and may require special handling by county, state, or federal authorities. Watch for regrowth next year and ask your county extension agent for environmentally safe ways to eradicate the weeds before new burrs develop.

Let’s Talk Tails

De-Snag His Living Quarters

 Check stall walls, gates, and fences (plus trees or brush in the pasture) for obvious places where tail hair might become caught and pulled out. And, to avoid the ultimate disaster…be sure your horse is never turned out with a tail-chewer, equine or otherwise!

Ditch the Itch

Rubbing demolishes tails. Protect your horse from anything that might cause a tail to itch, including harsh cleaning products. Also keep your horse’s underbelly, sheath or udder, and fold between the hind legs clean, as itching in these spots (where your horse can’t scratch) can cause tail-rubbing, too. Identify and deal with any allergy problems your horse may have and protect him from the tiny biting midges (culicoides) that can lead to serious rubbing.

Wash Wisely

For best results, use a hair shampoo (for horses or humans—no dishwashing or laundry detergent), and be sure to fully rinse all the suds. (A vinegar rinse helps.) Apply a good conditioner sparingly, rinsing the tail head completely but leaving some product on the tail hairs. Finish with a detangling product to increase the tail’s silkiness—it looks great plus helps fend off knotting.

Avoid over-washing; shampoo often enough to keep the tail from becoming filthy (at which point it tangles and breaks easily), but not so often as to dry it out.

For the tail, try putting some of your shampoo in a bucket filled with water. Then, dunk his entire tail in the bucket (after wetting it) and swish it around. This can be a great way to evenly distribute shampoo. Be sure to really scrub the tail dock, as again, lots of residue builds up here.

Trim It

Blunt-cut the tail straight across at or just above the fetlocks to keep it from being stepped on when you back your horse up.

Braid and/or Bag It

These options offer additional protection. One long braid or, for thicker tails, two or three braids hanging down work well for some horses in some environments. Always start a braid below the tailbone, keeping the braids relaxed to avoid discomfort and rubbing. Secure the braids with hair-friendly elastic bands. Placing the braids within a commercial tail bag protects from snags and can extend the effects of conditioners. (Caution: Never fasten anything around the tail bone itself, as it can cut off circulation and lead to tissue death.)

Fend Off Flies

Practice scrupulous fly-control measures to moderate tail swishing, which can lead to breakage and hair loss. This is equally important whether you leave the tail down or braid/bag it.

[Bath Day? Try These Tips!]

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