...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.
This week, we will discuss Hunter horses and their show turn out.
Hunt Seat classes today have a variety of breeds participating; Show Jumper horses can be Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, even Morgans, while on the 4-H level you will see Quarter Horses or Appendix types.
In the early days of fox hunting, the Thoroughbreds always went out with braided tails and manes, both out in the field and on the racecourse.
Cold-blooded hunters, or draft types, had their manes completely roached off, therefore, braiding meant “good quality or good blood.”
These days, braiding is used to show off or emphasize a great looking neck line when the horse is presented in-hand, while jumping or even on the flat.
It is not mandatory to braid either the tail or the mane when showing, but it is usually customary to braid at least the mane.
The horse can have just the forelock and mane braided, and not the tail, but, if the tail is braided, then the forelock and mane MUST also be braided. (1)
Most Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds have their manes pulled to a short length of 3 ½ to 4 inches, and it should lay on the right side of the horse’s neck.
The bridle path is cut very short, at about 1 inch back, and the first braid should start as close to the poll as possible.
The tail is left long or banged off (cut square) at the bottom of skirt (tail.)
Braiding demonstrates that the exhibitor cares about his horse’s turnout appearance and good braiding can show off nice conformation.
English hunt traditions dictate 7-9 large plaits, American Huntseat calls for more plaits and of a smaller size. Strict hunter die-hards call for the number of braids on a stallion and gelding be of an odd number, and an even number on a mare. (2)
When fastening braids, use rubber bands, thread or yarn, always the same color as the mane and tail. Your objective should be a conservative, classic and correct appearance.
Braiding in the tail for fox hunting originated in England where thorn fences and hedges were commonplace in the fields. Tails were cropped short in a Hackney style or braided to prevent thorns or brush tagging on to the dock.
These days, with so many animal activists stating their cause, fox hunting is usually a “paper chase,” with a rider dragging a scented cloth along the ground for miles, giving the hounds something to follow.
You do not pass the Master of the Hunt in the field while riding, you must be invited by a member with some pull in the Club, and the “Whippers In” keep track of the hounds.
While braiding, you should use a leverage system between your fingers, and keep your hands relaxed to prevent cramping. Remember to breathe and to drop your shoulders down to remain relaxed.
Braid uniformity comes from steady rhythm. Find yours and do it speedily; slow braiding isn’t necessarily better. A tail and mane shouldn’t take more than an hour.
It’s important for the braids to stay flush and straight on the neck. You are looking for a clean line and the braids should be fine, sturdy, uniform and tight.
Keep your “parts” clean as you braid, as this helps anchor a sturdy braid.
Wet hair helps reduce “whispies” and by smoothing out the sections with your fingers, it helps to keep the hair organized.
To avoid breaking hair when unbraiding, wetting the hair separates it from yarn inside. Don’t cut the bottom part of your knot-tie-off, instead, pinch your fingers together and roll the knot, then pick out the largest section of the braid from just above the knot and begin to unravel the braid.
Remember, practice makes perfect.
Some tips for grooming or braiding professionally:
Always allow yourself extra time when braiding for any unexpected surprises, like changes in show schedules or unruly horses. It is tremendously stressful to run out of time as your class approaches and
you can hear the announcer reading off class numbers.
Extra time gives you the chance to catch up and still make it to the show ring.
If you are braiding or grooming in exchange for money, set your fees in advance, make an invoice and be sure to mail it to the client, and always show up for your scheduled appointments.
Be safe: Establish a work space; either on crossties in the aisleway or stall, or back the horse up into a rear corner of the stall for better control and security.
If you work alone at night in barns, is there barn security, other horsemen and lots of lighting? Some grooms bring their dogs for protection to different stables.
Do not leave yarn or thread lying around. Barn cats can eat it and so can horses, and both can get very sick or choke. (3, 4)
If you have more than one client at a barn, do the easy, quiet horses first and save the unruly, difficult ones, or ones who rub their tails and manes for last.
Braiding adds a formal, classy touch to your show ring Hunter, emphasizing a fine neckline and nice hindquarters. It puts a smooth clean look on your horse and the time you take with your braiding and show turnout will reflect these qualities.
TallyHo! and Good Fox Hunting, in drag, to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”
(1, 2) “Grooming to Win,” by Susan E. Harris
(3, 4) Horse Journal