Chat: Braiding Expert Ruthann Smith

Here's a helpful online discussion on braiding tips and techniques for horse manes and tails.

Welcome to’s chat with elite braider Ruthann Smith!

Ruthann Smith: Hi everyone – I’m glad you’ve come and let’s get started!

Katie:how do you get the braids to lie flat on the neck?
Ruthann Smith: Thanks for asking Katie…I teach a formula for braiding and the key is counterbalance so the braids are sturdy and comfortable on the horse’s neck. One thing that could make the braids NOT flat are the knot underneath is not tight to the hairline and the little bit of a bump helps leverage it so it lies flatter on the neck.

CharHorse:Why do you call your service “Lucky Braids”? Aren’t all braids the same?
Ruthann Smith: People say that I ‘braid luck into the manes of horses’ because so many that I’ve done have gone on to win.

Katie:what is better, yarn, thread or bands?
Ruthann Smith: Good question, Katie. All the top braiders use yarn. Because you can get them tighter to the neck and the yarn stretches and accommodates the braid better. The downside of thread is that it can shred your fingers and with bands, they just aren’t as tight and don’t control the bottom line of the braid.

SBL:How do you deal with a horse that is fussing, throwing its head etc.
Ruthann Smith: For a fussy horse, the first thing I’d do is back him into the corner of his stall. The trick is in the timing – you need to intercept the horse’s thought about tossing its head. Be quick and consistent for awhile and the horse will begin to settle because a lot of horses move because you want them to do NOTHING. They’re conditioned to your asking them to do SOMETHING. Don’t get upset with the horse, just be very clear and intercept the head toss before it starts.

old mare:I don’t show my horse, but am interested in any thoughts, helps you could give for braiding for summer heat while pastured. My horses have long manes.
Ruthann Smith: I would put a French braid down the neck along the crest. Don’t put it too tight because you don’t want the hair to pull out when he stretches his head down to graze. That should help. A lot of Endurance people have said they want to braid to help minimize heat problems. So Arabians are now wearing more French braids!

Katie:what is the proper (best) length for a thickish mane to be for the best braiding results?
Ruthann Smith: When the mane is thick you do want it to be longer an inch. I would say the mane, from the crest to the bottom of the neck should be no more than four and a half inches long. If the mane is really thick then I’d suggest it should be thinned or pulled because you want braids to look refined on the neck, not clumpy. The thing is you just want to do a little bit at a time when you’re thinning/pulling – don’t pull too much at once! Pulling can stress a horse – don’t do too much at once.

DressageGirl:Braiding makes me think of hunters, jumpers or dressage. What other disciplines braid?
Ruthann Smith: Driving, combined driving is one. Also combined training (or 3-day) vaulting, race horses, plus parade horses, too.

laura:how would you do a french braid on a horse’s tail?
Ruthann Smith: It is complicated to describe, but I have a video coming out soon that will demonstrate it in detail. Come visit to see it demonstrated clearly. Laura, briefly I’d recommend that you start really high so the braid is high and tight at the top. Don’t pull DOWN. Try to keep the braids the same size all the way down, and you can finish the bottom in a split up from underneath, or you can do a pin wheel from a 7-inch braid below the dock.

Katie:When braiding the night before a show (I don’t braid show mornings) should i get a hood for my mare to wear to protect the braids? And if so, what do you recommend?
Ruthann Smith: It’s my feeling that hoods break the hair. When the horse’s head moves, it pulls on the braids and rubs from inside the hood. Don’t use a hood. Just give your horse some hay and keep her relaxed and comfortable. When you’ve developed your braiding technique, it should take only about 30-35 minutes and you can do it as a way to relax yourself and the horse.

laura:Are there different braids for different breeds & what would you suggest for a thoroughbred?
Ruthann Smith: The braiding objective is the same across breeds and disciplines. A clean line makes any horse’s neck look longer and rounder. Beautiful braids signal to a judge, right off the bat, that you know what you’re doing, you care about your horse, you’re ready for the competition and you respect the judge… that crosses all breeds and disciplines.

Mary:What types of things does your video cover?
Ruthann Smith: It covers more than my formula for braiding a full mane and French forelock, including teaching the horse to stand still, to go to the ring relaxed and ready to win, safety issues and specifics of braiding that no one has outlined before, specialized tools, how the mane should be to start braiding, and training yourself to braid FAST.

Katie:Do you hold braiding clinics? And if so, when and where?
Ruthann Smith: I certainly do! I hold them all over the continent and if you want to be invited to a clinic, the best way is to go to and fill out the Contact Us form and I’ll let you know when I’m teaching in your area.

crazyhorse:How long should it take to braid a mane?
Ruthann Smith: It takes me about 35 minutes for a mane and about 7 minutes to braid a tail. But it should take as long as needs to, to look good. Top braiders agree that we do a better job when we braid quickly – the rhythm and uniformity is essential… With a streamlined formula and tools, you can do them well and quickly.

laura:do you recommend braiding for a schooling show? I go to some schooling shows where the horse’s mane isn’t braided.
Ruthann Smith: Yes! You should braid because you’ll look better than everyone if you braid, you’ll gain credibility and show respect for the judge. Even at the schooling show level.

Katie: what is the best method for braiding tails? The inside braid, or outside braid, and finishing it with a pinwheel or just tucking it under?
Ruthann Smith: I would say the inside braid leave less whisps of hair and less surface area. And if you can do a GOOD pinwheel, they are the going fashion… Other fashion favorites right now are braids that can articulate the line of the horse’s neck best.

SueHorsey:Have you braided drafters or ponies? Are cresty necks harder to braid?
Ruthann Smith: Good question… I love the braids they do for heavy draft shows – to date I’ve braided Warmbloods in different disciplines, but no heavy draft shows… As for the cresty necks part of your question, if you keep up on the mane, by pulling and thinning on a regular basis, then a cresty neck isn’t all that bad. Sometimes the hair is wirey and harder to hold, but if you do your upkeep on a mane, a cresty neck isn’t a problem.

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