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Tell The Judge Here Comes the Winner Without Saying a Word

Guest Post: Tell The Judge “Here Comes the Winner” Without Saying a Word

Guest Post by Mary Beth Rohaly, Founder of Braid Secrets and the Frugal Equestrian Blog

Did you know that judges form their first impression of a horse in just seven seconds? What message will your horse’s turnout send to the judges this year?  Passionate equestrians create turnout that reflects all of the hard work they put into riding and caring for their horse. One of the ways they achieve this is by transforming their horse’s mane into perfect braids.

The key to creating perfect hunter braids on your horse is knowledge. I too struggled with braiding — but I was fortunate to find professional mentors who taught me their secrets and I worked hard to perfect my skills. I already knew how to braid when I met them, but what I didn’t know was what details to focus on each step of the way, and their braiding secrets. That’s what I’m sharing with you. So, let’s get started improving your horse’s turnout with some tips on mane evaluation and preparation, and how to braid down the mane like a pro.So what’s holding you back from achieving top-notch turnout of your horse? Are your mediocre braids detracting from an otherwise pleasing picture? You can change that starting right now!

Tell The Judge Here Comes the Winner Without Saying a Word

Evaluate Your Horse’s Mane

What type of mane does your horse have? Is it thin or thick and coarse? Evaluate your horse’s mane so that you can use the best approach for preparing the mane for braiding.  Here’s what you need to know about preparing three different mane types:

Average Manes – Count your blessings!  Average manes are not super thick or thin and they are easy to prepare for braiding. If your horse has this mane type, you’ll focus on perfecting the mane thickness and length. I’ll share some tips on mane preparation with you in the next section.

Thin Manes – If your horse has a thin mane, the good news is you won’t need to pull it!  But you’ll need to keep the mane shorter – about four inches long after clearing the crest.  Since braids on a thin mane have less hair anchoring them, they have a tendency to twist easily. This is especially true when the mane gets long.  Keep a thin mane shorter and the braids will lay straight all day. Just don’t go too short or you’ll risk the mane being unbraidable.

Example of a Course Mane Braided
This is a photo of my large pony, Finnase, who has a very coarse mane.

Coarse Manes   Proper mane pulling is super important if your horse has a coarse mane.  Whenever possible, I prefer to pull a coarse mane a little at a time (over a couple of weeks) so regrowth doesn’t become a braiding problem later. This strategy is less stressful on your horse, too!

When pulling this mane type, focus on thinning the entire mane evenly across the neck, so that it’s more manageable. Don’t over pull the mane or try to make it thin — you’ll create all kinds of braiding issues if you do. Here’s a hint: Pull the mane after riding your horse. The pores are open after exercise, so the mane is easier to pull. This tip is also helpful for horses that don’t care for having their manes pulled.

There’s another thing you need to know about preparing a coarse mane for braiding: leave the mane a little bit longer — about six inches long after clearing the crest. The added length makes it easier to braid down tightly. Coarse manes are challenging to braid, but there is an upside! Braids on a coarse mane look amazing in the show ring and they stay put all day.

How Do You Prepare Your Horse’s Mane for Braiding?

If I could do only one favor for you, I would help you with mane preparation. Unprepared manes are more difficult and time consuming to braid – even for a pro.

Here’s my mane pulling advice: always address the mane thickness first, and the length second. Most manes are thickest in the middle portion of the neck and thinner at the poll and withers. When thinning a mane, be sure to back comb the hair up to the scalp, then wrap your pulling comb around the hair close to the scalp. Pull down briskly to remove the hair. This technique allows you to remove the entire hair shaft instead of breaking the hair off. Continue this process working across the mane until the mane thickness is even.

Now you’re ready to shorten the mane to four-to-six inches long after it clears the crest.  The length I choose depends on the mane type, as I previously mentioned. For an average mane, you should shorten it to about five inches long after clearing the crest. There are several ways to shorten a mane, but my favorite is a technique I learned using an old pair of clipper blades. This method is quick and doesn’t create blunt ends and it leaves the mane perfect for braiding. I demonstrate this technique in a free video – Five Secrets for Perfect Mane Braids. The video also shows how to properly pull a mane and some of my braiding secrets.

Braiding Down the Mane – The Base of Your Braids

Next, I have some tips for you on braiding down your horse’s mane. These tips will also make the next braiding steps (pulling the braids up and tying them down) easier.For tighter braids soak the mane

For Tighter Braids Soak the Mane: To get started, soak the area of the mane you’re working on. The mane should be soaking wet for braiding — not just damp. Continue to wet the mane frequently as you work down the neck, so the resulting braids are tight and neat.

  • Pro Tip: Using a stiff brush to wet the mane helps to quickly organize the hair before sectioning.

For Even & Identical Braids, Be Section Savvy: Now use a large clip to section off two fingers’ width of the mane (make a vertical part and clip back the remaining hair) before you start to braid down the hair shaft. Each time you section off the mane for the next braid, focus on taking even sections of hair for the best results and even braid spacing. This is where your mane preparation pays off —  even mane thickness = even braid spacing.

  • Pro Tip: Taking large sections of hair when braiding down often results in looser braids that fall out easily. On the flip side, taking very thin sections of hair results in weaker braids that tend to twist.
Braiding down the Mane
This photo is from my Digital Guide for Mane & Tail Care and Hunter Mane Braiding

For the Neatest Braids Pull Up When Braiding Down: Now you’re ready to start braiding down the mane. Divide the hair you sectioned off into three equal pieces.  (I’m going to assume you know how to make a basic braid). As you begin braiding down, use this braid secret to create your best braids: every time you cross hair over the braid from the outside, pull up slightly on the (new) outside section of hair:

  1. To do this, cross the hair in your right hand over the braid and hold it with your left thumb (as shown in the photo). Then pull up slightly on the new outside section of hair on the right-hand side of the braid.
  2. Then continue braiding down the hair shaft pulling up slightly every time your cross hair over from each side. Keep your hands close to the neck for braids that lie flat.
  • Pro Tip:  Once you have this technique down, you’ll do it without thinking about it. This technique makes the core of the braids tighter, which improves the finished look and neatness of the braids, no matter what type of mane your horse has.

I demonstrate these braiding techniques in the free video I mentioned earlier – Five Secrets for Perfect Mane Braids. The video will allow you to see and learn them up close.

Get the Turnout You Deserve

Action Steps: Evaluate your horse’s mane to determine the type. Then based on the mane type, prepare your horse’s mane for braiding by pulling and/or shortening it. Next, throw a few braids in your horse’s mane once a week to practice the braiding techniques we discussed.  These steps will set you up for success and ease when you braid your horse at your next show.

If you’d like to learn more about braiding, I’m sharing my knowledge! Get the knowledge you need to create the turnout you and your horse deserve so that the next time you enter the show ring, the judge’s first impression will be “Here Comes the Winner.”


Mary Beth

Mary Beth RohalyAbout the Author:  Mary Beth Rohaly is a professional braider that teaches other equestrians how to create perfect braids fast on their horse or others to make money. She provides instruction via digital products and braiding clinics available at She is a featured braiding expert on Jane Savoie’s Dressage Mentor website.  She also holds a cosmetology license and a Bachelor’s degree in Science. You can connect with Mary Beth on Facebook and Pinterest.  If you’re looking to get the most satisfaction for every equestrian dollar spent, check out The Frugal Equestrian blog on her website.


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

4 thoughts to “Guest Post: Tell The Judge “Here Comes the Winner” Without Saying a Word”

  1. One of these days I’ll get perfect hunter braids put on my horse just for shits and giggles haha – they look so great when done well, and I definitely agree with the assertion above that turnout can affect the judges first impression.

  2. Great tips, but I’m counting myself lucky I do jumpers since I do not have the patience to put all the practicing in.. but I *LOVE* the look of really nicely done hunter braids!

  3. I never did learn how to braid. Just paid–someone else who was a mane artist to do that. I have not been to fancy enough of a show yet with Knight to have him braided. He’d probably look pretty foxy. I admire anyone who can braid like that. Fun post!

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