This mane-banding method, which entails securing about 50-plus half-inch sections of shortened mane hair to the mane’s base via rubber bands, will make your horse look professionally turned out for halter, showmanship, pleasure, trail, horsemanship, and Western riding classes. Why the popularity? Banding makes a thick neck appear slimmer, and keeps a mane lying flat even on the windiest day. (For 15 steps to a show-ring shine, see “Show Grooming,” Horse & Rider, April 2002.)
Supplies You’ll Need:
A packet of rubber braiding bands, color-coordinated to your horse’s mane and forelock; a bucket of clean water; a stiff-bristled brush for wetting the hair; a small, fine-toothed comb for separating the mane-hair sections (the finer the comb’s teeth, the smoother the hairs will be); a stool or ladder so you’re standing level with your horse’s mane; a highlighter gel containing sunscreen to give the mane shine and help weigh it down (our expert likes Bold Accent Highlight Gel by Farnam); and about 40 minutes of your time–with practice, you’ll be able to do it in 20 minutes.
1. Shorten your horse’s mane so it’s in proportion to the length and thickness of his
neck. That is, if your horse has a pretty, trim neck, shorten his mane so it stops just above the big muscle that runs parallel to, and a few inches below, the crest (the actual length of the shortened mane will vary from horse to horse). If your horse’s neck is thick, leave his mane about a half-inch below that muscle, to help camouflage bulk.
2. Shampoo and rinse the shortened mane, but don’t apply any silicone-base hair polish–such a polish leaves hair slick, leaving you unable to hold onto the mane during the banding process.
3. Once the mane is shortened, gather your stiff-bristle brush and a bucket of water. Dip
your brush in the water, then wet and brush your horse’s mane flat; as you work, wet the hair whenever it dries.
4. Grab your fine-toothed comb and braiding bands. Place the stool on the mane side of your horse’s neck, even with his throatlatch. Standing on the stool, use the comb to separate a section of mane hair about a half-inch wide (directly face that section–if you’re off to one side, you’ll pull the section that way, too); comb through the section two or three times to be sure every hair is smooth and flat against your horse’s neck. Then secure the rest of his mane out of the way by slipping the comb into what will be your next section, so the comb lies perpendicular to his mane.
5. Take a braiding band in your left hand (you may be more comfortable using your
right; do whatever’s most comfortable for you), insert your left thumb and forefinger into the band, splaying it just wide enough that you can grasp the half-inch section of hair. With your right hand, hold the section of hair downward against your horse’s neck, keeping all the strands tight. Place the band, still held by your left thumb and forefinger, over the section, grasping the hair. Then take your right hand off the section, and with your right thumb and forefinger, grasp the band just below your left thumb. Pull the section of hair through the band with your left thumb and forefinger, raising the hair as little as possible. At the same time, take the band upward with your right hand. (Use your thumb and forefinger, or your forefinger and middle finger.) The rubber band should now be under the section, held in place above your horse’s neck with your right hand; the hair should be smooth, and held taut and downward by your left hand.
6. With your right thumb and forefinger, twist the rubber band once, then place those
fingers over the hair section again. This time, your left hand takes the band while your right pulls the hair through. Continue to twist and pull through, changing hands as you do so, until you’ve done five twists. (Changing hands makes each banded section lie tighter against your horse’s neck.) Finish with three full twists on the rubber band, without switching hands–this keeps the band flatter, giving a neat finish.
7. To tighten the bands, split the hair section beneath each band in half; grasp one half
each with your left and right hand. Keeping your hands low, and close to the neck, spread the halves apart to tighten the band.
8. When you finish banding your horse’s mane, band his forelock.
9. Apply highlighter gel to your horse’s mane and forelock, then step back and enjoy his winning look.
These four tips will help you get the most from your banding job.
- To visually lengthen a short neck, band smaller hair sections–under a half-inch–which will give you more bands per mane. Experiment with your horse–you want to make sure the sections don’t get so small that you only have a couple of hairs in each!
- If your horse has a long, thin neck, keep your sections at just around a half inch.
- If your horse has a thick, coarse mane, pull it to thin it before banding; keep your sections at about three-eighths of an inch, so the bands will lie flat.
- If your horse has a thin, wispy mane, you’ll need sections of about five-eighths of an inch, so it doesn’t look as if you only have one or two hairs in each.
The editors thank Mike Staples, assistant to top trainer Ted Turner, for his assistance with this article.