At the moment, braiding is a controversial subject in the hunter ring. Some prominent trainers would like to see the practice minimized or stopped, claiming it’s expensive and unnecessary. While we’re not going to debate this issue, we do know that you can learn to do it yourself and save some money. You may even come to like it.
Ruthann Smith has braided over 12,000 horses in her 27 years as a professional braider. Naturally, the more you braid the better you get, but a few lessons can’t hurt, since braiding, like riding, requires understanding the basics before graduating to the upper levels.
While braiding looks deceptively simple, it shouldn’t make your hands cramp. If you use a leverage system between your fingers, you don’t need tense hands. Breathe well, drop your shoulders, and take time to stretch your arm, shoulder and leg muscles.
Slow braiding isn’t necessarily better braiding. Once you’ve mastered the technique, speed makes the best braids. Braid uniformity comes from a steady rhythm, and the faster you go the more evenly you braid. A mane and tail takes 45 minutes.
More braids aren’t always better. What’s important are braids that stay straight and flush to the neck. Too many braids can become unstable and break the clean bottom line. Braids should be tight, uniform in width, sturdy and fine.
The most important part of a braided mane is the bottom line. If you play connect-the-dots with the bottom folds of the braids, they should make a straight line. If your horse has an arch or dip in its crest, your braids may be varied lengths. You can compensate for a conformational flaw by braiding a line that creates an optical illusion, drawing the eye away from topline irregularities. ’Cheat the angle’ by making braids slightly longer toward the poll than withers. By changing proportions, braids make necks look long and refined, or short and thick.
Pro braider inside tricks include:
1. Part Clean: A straight part helps anchor a sturdy braid. Hold the comb parallel to the crest and pull the comb toward you while making your part.
2. Reduce ’Whispies’: Two things prevent those stray hairs, hair that is wet and hair that is well-organized. To keep hair in line, smooth out the sections periodically. Pinch and run your fingers down the piece to organize the hair.
3. Knot Loose Hair: Leave an inch of loose hair below the knot. Properly managed, this acts as an anchor to hold braids flush to the neck.
4. Knot Into Crest: Stabilize each braid by placing the knot in the crest just above the hairline. You should feel the knot ’snap’ into place if the top of the braid is tight.
5. Pick Out the Pieces: To avoid cutting hair when unbraiding, wet hair to separate it from yarn. Don’t cut the bottom knot. Instead, roll it downward between your pinched fingers like milking a cow then pick the largest section of hair out from above the knot and unravel the braid.
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