Horse Manes: the Why and Care for Hair

Written by Beulah Martin

Can you imagine a horse without a mane? He would not look as near perfect as he does with one. But why do they have them? I looked it up, but there was no definitive answers, just a lot of speculation.

Why do horses have manes? The mane protects the horse from insects, bugs and flies. It can be flicked from side to side with the shaking of the horses head to shoo away insects and avoid their bites. The mane offers protection when it rains and allows the water to run off the horses coat.

There was a lot more ideas that were presented. Some of them make sense and some of them seem a bit of fantasy. I will share them with you and see which ones make sense to you.

Horses were bred to grow a long mane

Horses were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. The horses in the wild did not have as long and luxurious manes as the horses do today. A theory is the people who began breeding the wild horses for the characteristics which they desired were interested in creating breeds that had long natural manes and tails. The main reason they wanted long manes is not known for sure.

Possibly because they thought it was more attractive. The manes were prettier when they were full and fell down the side of the neck really showing the neck off to good advantage. That does sound like a good idea to consider when choosing which animals to breed together.

Another idea put forward, is the earlier developers of the different horse breeds felt like if they had a strong and sturdy growth of hair on the neck, the rider could grasp it and hang on a lot better. There is no way we can know for sure if that was true or not.

We can’t argue with the fact that many a novice rider has had to grab for a hunk of hair to hold on to to keep from falling off. It’s also helpful when you want to mount a horse bareback, to grab the hair at the withers and swing yourself up. I think we can agree that there is a good reason to accept this idea as a valid reason to grow a horse’s mane.

Since Stallions usually have longer and fuller manes then the mares do, some horsemen believe that it is to attract the opposite sex when mating season arrives. After all, that is true in many different animals, like the lions and peacocks to name a few.

A better reason for the Stallions full mane I was told, is for protection when he has been challenged by another Stallion to a fight.

If you have seen this in person, or in pictures, it is obvious that one of their greatest weapons of war is their teeth. They have very sharp teeth and strong jaws. They try to bite the neck of their enemy where they can do the most damage. The mane offers a lot of protection against this tactic and can help avoid some serious damage.

Another advantage of a full mane on horses out in the wild where they might have to fight off predators, is it makes them look larger and more dangerous. Hopefully, scaring away the puny ones who will go in search of something weaker to attack. Don’t know for sure, but it does make some sense.

Different styles to choose for your horse’s mane

With all that hair to have to take care of, you will need to make some decisions on how you are going to style it. Many horsemen just leave their horse’s mane to be natural and take care of it by keeping it clean and brushed.  Some people braid the manes, others  keep them cut short. Most of the styles depend on the breed of your horse and how you are going to use it. Each style requires different ways of grooming.

Styles vary even within breeds. A 5-gaited Saddlebred usually wears a full mane while a 3-gaited Saddlebred has a roached mane. A roached mane is one where the mane is clipped close to the roots at the neck. The forelock is left long and there is a lock of hair left long at the withers to make it more prominent.

There is a reason for each style. Braided manes prevent the reins from getting tangled,  while a roached mane is to refine the appearance of the neck. Quarter horses used to all wear roached manes, now most wear pulled manes. Thoroughbred horses almost all wear pulled manes because it is the best way to keep a mane short and neat.

Almost all manes are styled to fall on the right side of the neck. However, most stock horses that are used for roping, wear it on the left so that it will not interfere with the cowboys rope.

When trying to grow your horse’s mane to wear it full length, hand pulling is required. It reduces the breaking and split ends your bound to get with all the brushing and combing. If your horse has fine hair this is the only way to groom so it will grow long. Some owners use a comb to separate a few hairs & pull down the hair to thin and straighten it. I don’t believe you should ever use a comb. You should only do it by hand. And never pull down or out – but hold it up and upwards. Does this hurt the horse? I believe it does, how could it not because just like humans the horse has nerve endings at the roots of his hair. Pull a hair out of your own head and you will know how it feels.

Some horses tolerate it well, others fight it. Owners who have learned to do it in a way that the horse does not mind it, swear by the ability to keep their manes neat and tidy and easy to be braided because of its uniformity. Repeat thinning about once a month.

Pulling it to about 5 or 6 inches. Never use scissors to cut it. If you don’t think this is worth it, you can choose to ignore this practice and choose a style that does not require it.

Care for the hair

Keep the hair clean and brushed. Brush the mane first on the underside and then down in place. Start at the bottom. Don’t use a metal comb on the mane unless it is extremely matted as it can break off the long hairs. With skimpy manes, encourage growth by gentle brushing.

Don’t wash the hair every week, you will destroy the natural oil in the hair. Wash only about every 2 weeks. You can keep the mane clean by the grooming and brushing you do before and after a ride.

The main thing is that you never brush the hair when it is dirty without some sort of hair product in it to help you brush through the tangles without ripping any hair out. Use a conditioner or shampoo like Mane N Tail or Cowboy Magic, which are both available on Amazon. These good products will help detangle your hair and keep it in condition and healthy looking. A good mane is a sign of a healthy horse.

To braid or not to braid

At first it seems like it would be very difficult to learn how to braid your horse’s mane. But like everything else, practice will help you to become a master of it. There are many “how to” videos available on Youtube that show you step by step how it is done.

Many events require you to have your horse’s mane braided.  Hunter and Jumper events definitely require braids. Dressage competition also require braids. All English competitions would expect braids

You can get by without braids in most of your western riding events. Although, there are some of these that it would be OK if you wanted to braid. Trail riding and pleasure riding of course would not require braids. Even the competition of Endurance Riding allows you to wear your horse’s manes natural. All rodeo competitors would not be encouraged to braid, most of these horse’s will have roached manes or natural looking locks.

There are so many different types of braids used on horse’s manes that it would be impossible to name all of them. Here is a list of a few of the most common braids to show you the diversity and possibilities to choose from.

  • Button Braids
  • Hunter Braids
  • Knob Braids
  • French Braids
  • Continental or Macrame Braids
  • Scalloped Braids

This is a short list. You need to do a little study if you want to become familiar with any of them and to find directions. It use to be a tradition that the males braids were done with an odd amount of braids. While the mares braids were an even number. This tradition is no longer followed.

After all is said and done, horses manes are beautiful. They do cause you to have to put in a little work and thought to manage them and have them complement the horse. What would a horse be without a mane? I hope we never have to find out.

Related Questions

What other animals have a mane? Besides a horse the giraffes and zebras have a pretty good looking mane. However, their manes are shorter and tend to stick straight up and are quite stiff. The wildebeest and oryx antelopes also have a mane somewhat like a horse.

Do horses manes keep growing? A horse’s mane can grow from one half an inch to 1 ½ inches in a month. After roaching your horse’s mane it will take about 9 months to grow back in full and be able to lay down.