Monday, May 16, 2016

Braiding How To: Sew-in and a Long Mane Solution

When I went to the barn Sunday, I popped a couple braids in Penn's mane and took some pictures. I'd need another person there with me to video, but I uploaded a ridiculous number of pictures so hopefully it's enough for everyone else to get started! Unfortunately nothing of the forelock, I'd really need someone to video it. I'll try to describe what I do though.

Old T-84 blade, Smart Tails rake, waxed thread, sewing needle, scissors, spacing comb, hair clip (not pictured: pulling comb, seam ripper).

First, let's go over what I use to prep manes:
  1. Pulling comb (not pictured). I don't think anything beats a pulled mane. It can be done without upsetting the horse. When you pull, don't take too much hair at once and split up the mane over a number of days (if it's so thick or long that you can't get it done in a reasonable time). Also, pull it every month at least (depending how fast it grows)- you'll end up pulling out less hair each time, so it gets done faster, which means less time for the horse to get upset, which means happier mane pulling sessions, for both you and your horse.
  2. If you're not into pulled manes or can't pull them, PLEASE DO NOT SCISSOR THEM. That is probably the worst thing you can do if you want to braid. Use my next two options instead:
    • Smart Tails or Smart Manes rake (the only difference between the two is that the mane comb is wider). If your mane is too thick, take the rake to it. Take the mane over to the wrong side of her, comb it with the rake until you reach a thinness you like, then flip it back over (this essentially shortens the underside hairs). I did it without combing over to the wrong side and was disappointed- the short hairs I created ended up on top and became difficult to braid in later. This is an excellent video of how to do it, and then a way to use the rake to shorten the mane after thinning. I never found it effective to shorten the mane with the rake though (it doesn't look like the lady in the video found it effective either).
    • An old T-84 clipper blade. I just learned a trick with that to shorten the mane- act like you want to pull it (take hair, tease the short stuff back) then use the blade in a downwards motion to cut the hairs on an angle. The hair ends up looking more natural instead of the blunt scissor look, and you don't have to rip any hair out.
I bought the Smart Tails rake to "pull" my last horse's tail. He had some weird longer, but not full length, hairs near the top of his tail that didn't move with the rest of it. I really like the neat look that a pulled tail gives. I refuse to pull the tail, and I found the rake a very nice alternative. It also worked in cleaning up Penn's stupid short dock hairs that insisted on growing straight out.

The other items in my braid kit (well the kit is much bigger, but these are the ones that see the most use):
  1. Waxed thread. Specifically this waxed thread. I've found that all waxed threads are not created equal- some are more waxy than others. I prefer the brand Schneider's sells.
  2. Sewing needle. I walked into Jo-Ann Fabrics and bought a couple sewing needles with eyes big enough for the wax thread. I only use metal, I hate plastic. I find the plastic needles are too thick to push it through super tight braids. Be careful, they are sharp! I've stabbed myself many times. You'd think I'd learn!
  3. Scissors. Just make sure they're sharp enough to cut thread or yarn. I suppose you could use safety scissors, but I don't. I actually found these super sharp pointy ones useful for cutting out the hunter braids I did- just slide the tip under the yarn and it split with little pressure, not risking the mane at all.
  4. Braid Aid Comb. I don't know where I got mine from, but you can order one from Schneider's with your waxed thread. I use it to space braids so each one ends up exactly the same width (within reason, more on that below). It's also super helpful in taking out braids that are thin or super tight.
  5. Hair clip. I prefer the clips with "jaws."
  6. Seam ripper. Make sure it's sharp, and replace it when it stops being sharp.
  7. Spray and Braid or Quick Braid or water. Any work, but I prefer Spray and Braid. Anything that wets the mane (besides show sheen or a detangler!)

Alright, on to the braiding (shown in an obscene number of pictures)! I like dirty manes (but not as dirty as Penn's mane is in these pictures!), and make sure there is NO detangler or any conditioner in the mane.

1. Measure out the width of the braid using the braid aid comb. For schooling shows, I do 3 widths of the comb. Recognized shows gets two widths. The hunter braids get 3 teeth to one width, depending on mane thickness. Take less hair if you have a thicker mane, more hair if you have a thinner mane. I don't recommend more than 3 widths of the comb.
2. Braid down. Keep the braid as tight as you can, pulling the braid down close to the neck as you braid (not out towards you). After braiding as far down as you can, stab your needle through the braid.
3. Pinch the tail of the braid and the tail of your thread in your pointer finger and thumb. Tie off the braid using a slip knot.
4. Pull the slip knot down below where you stabbed through the braid. I picked this up after pulling my knot out in overzealous attempts at tightening the braid when tying it up and then having to start over.
5. Stab up through the base of the braid, as close to the crest as you can. Make sure you come out between the right and left strands at the start of the braid- you don't one to split one of the starting strands.
6. Pull the knot up to the base of the braid. See if you can get the tail of the braid to hide in the fold you just created. Don't panic if you can't, I can help you minimize it in the next few steps (encourage the tail off to the left if it's poking out of one side).
7. Stab the needle down through the tip of the braid. Don't stab too far away from the tip!
8. Push the needle back up through the base of the braid where you did the first time. Encourage the loop to be off to the right.
9. Pull the thread up and TIGHT. You now have an estimate of the final nub size.
10. Come back around and stab the needle through the braid where you stabbed the tip before, encourage the thread off to the left this time, and pull tight. If you have a tail sticking out, catch it in this loop so it sticks straight out in a horrible, awful manner.
11. Come back around to the right and go through just the base of the braid at the crest- don't stab the braid itself. Pull tight.
12. Come back around to the left again. If your tail has been misbehaving, make sure you don't grab it in this loop. Encourage it to fold back on itself and encourage the thread loop to lay right next to first loop you put to the left.
13. Pinch the braid as hard as you can to squash it to the crest. Do not crush it down! You'll make the braid stick out. As you're pinching it, stab the needle straight down through the braid to help encourage it to keep the squash and not unfold at all.
14. Finish up by stabbing straight through the middle.
15. Cut off the thread near the braid. No knots necessary!

Whew! That was a lot of pictures. Anyway, I always do an even number of braids for a mare, odd number for a gelding. Just something I latched on to when I read Grooming to Win about 15 years ago. Anyway, english horses' manes should be on the right, western horses' on the left. Another thing I've held on to from the same book. I can't let it go, so I had to train Penn's mane over to the right.

Alright, so how do you take these braids out without wanting to shoot yourself in the face?

1. Remember the two loops you did to the right and two you did to the left? Cut those strands at the top of the braid using your seam ripper. Be VERY careful you don't cut the mane.
Post cutting. (I didn't realize this pic was blurry, sorry)
2. Uncurl the braid with a couple tugs. Pull out the thread pieces.
3. Pull the slip knot out (the braid aid comb sometimes helps here).
4. Pull out the braid itself! The braid aid helps here too for super thin and tight braids.
5. Wet down the mane to get the kinks out. Apparently this helps the mane recover from the abuse of being braided and prevents future damage (like what I did to Mikey's mane where it had a permanent crimp and frizz).

This sew in braid is super flexible- it works well for longer manes, thin manes, thick manes. I haven't met a mane that doesn't take it well. Mind you, thick manes make thick braids, however they're all usually even.

What about manes that you could do a running braid? Glad you asked! One of the boarders brought in her very long maned (and thick maned) horse and I asked to borrow him for an experiment. (this one is for you Emma!)

The braid didn't turn out too badly, and this was just me messing with it for 2 min real quick (I had talked to the owner right before she starting tacking up so I wanted to be out of her hair quickly).

Follow the steps I listed above with the following modifications:

I absolutely would not take any more hair than 2 comb widths. This sample braid is 2, and it would have to be less in the middle.
In step 4, do the slipknot, then take the tail of the braid and wrap it around the braid itself. Then put another slipknot over it to help hold the twist in place. I think a longer mane will end up with longer tails (you lose the thickness of the braid towards the end which is no good either).
Do the first set of right and left thread loops like normal, however, when you do the second set of right and left loops, put the needle through the end of the braid again so it folds one more time. This will take some finagling. The first fold up will want to pop out one side of the braid (seen above). You may have to actively push it back in until you get to secure it properly. I was hurrying, so I didn't do as good a job as I should have. You want to squish the second fold enough to encourage the braid to hug the neck. When you get the braid set right, use step 13's stab straight down to hold the first fold inside the second fold.
A secret to working with long manes is to try and leave a gap between the tip of the braid and the crest when you do the first pull through. This gives the braid a little extra room to curl into the neck when you do the second fold and pull through. I didn't experiment with that today though. I would fold the tip through a half inch max away from the crest (aka don't push the needle through the crest, put it through a half inch into the braid). It'd be something to try!
Just an idea of the mane I was working with- thick, very long. Also very conditioned and slippery.

If anyone gives this a try (ahem, Emma), let me know how it goes, and post a picture of it! Let me know of any other modifications you make!

Forelocks can be tricky. This is what I did the last time I braided Penn's forelock. I'll try to describe it since I couldn't get pictures.

  • Get the forelock wet and VERY brushed out. Tangling when taking hairs for the french braid is the biggest problem I have with the forelock.
  • Take two small strands from the poll area, cross them over.
  • If you cross right over left like I do, take a small section (1cm down or less) from the left side of the forelock, and not the whole width of the forelock. Treat this piece like your third strand.
  • French braid like normal, never taking more than 1cm at a time and when you bring in a new piece, give it a twist so it covers the old strand completely. This really gives it the nice look. Make sure every piece you take is perfectly smooth as you lay it down- NO BUMPS OR PULLS! Don't neglect the tightness of the braid either!
  • Braid down to the end and slip knot it like you did for the mane. Maintain the tight braid as you near the bottom of the french braid and into the regular braid (this is key because we're not coming back to wrap anything around it).
  • Take your needle and carefully push it up from the bottom of the french braid through to the top where your original two strands came from.
  • Very gently pull the tail of the braid up underneath the french braid. Pull it up as far as you can- the more braid you can get under the french braid, the better and more secure your braid will be.
  • Now that your thread and needle are on top near the poll, go down a twist/strand/fold in the french braid and between strands, insert the needle horizontally through the entire braid from right to left (so it goes in the right side and out the left side). Do not split any strands!
  • Now that your thread is out the left side, push the needle back through the braid and down out the bottom of the french braid. Feel free to attempt to stab the regular braid part on your way back down.
  • Cut off the thread and you're done!

Trouble shooting:
  • Don't feel like you have to strictly keep to the comb width you choose- only perfectly pulled manes that are the exact same thickness and length from bridle path to whither will handle that. Use the comb as a starting width- if the hair is thinner, take an extra tooth or two more hair. If the hair is thicker, take a tooth or two less hair. You want the braids to be the same size at the end of the day. If they're exactly the same width apart, that's just a fantastic bonus. Of course do it within reason- you don't want the braids ending up 3-4" apart at the base of the neck because your horse has rubbed out his mane in a spot!
  • Always encourage braids to lay flat by never pulling them straight out from the neck.
  • Braid as tightly as you can. Loose braids flop and fall out. Tight braids hug the neck!
  • I bought this mesh sleazy from Chick's Saddlery. I braid the night before, pop this on, and it helps to encourage loose hairs to flatten and keeps the braids firmly pushed against the neck. It's also cooler than regular sleazies since it's mesh. I got Penn the medium- and it fits him well everywhere except his jaw and nose. He's cob sized, but his jaw is horse sized... and his nose is petite... I ended up sewing in a couple darts so the nose didn't gap so much. There is a better fitting (and more expensive) mesh hood out there, but it only came in white and the poop stains don't wash out.
If you have any questions, ask! If my response gets too long, I'll do some edits below this line in the post. Let me know if you try these braids!


  1. LOL! I totally just put together a braiding tutorial for this week's posts, too. Different style though. It's clearly braid week in the blogosphere!! :)

    1. YAY!!!!!! Finally! I want to know how you do your braids!!! I tried on my own and they were umm, not good. Haha!

    2. Lol. Well, you'll just have to wait! I'll tell you first of all that I scissor my manes, when I do anything with them. A pulled mane is not going to be your friend if you want big fluffy braids. ;)

    3. Ah! Foiled by my own method. I shall never have your braids then!

    4. Lol. Yup. Totally foiled. I added a note at the beginning of my tutorial explaining that anyone wanting to pull their manes or not use scissors should probably check out your style. They're basically incompatible. Haha

    5. Thanks for the reference back! I wonder if your version of braids are so popular because most upper level horses I see unbraided have that blunt edge of a cut mane?

  2. What do you do if your horse tries to lick your face the entire time you do his forelock? ;) Cuz I just give up and do an ugly, regular braid and he wears his man bun with pride.

    1. Lol!! I've never had that... but the horse I did Friday tried a crotch shot on me that just about pushed me off my step. At that point I was just like, you're going to get whatever I can manage to put in!

    2. Licks my face. Every. Freaking. Time.

    3. That's hilarious. You should wear your helmet cam sometime while you braid to record it for the rest of us!

  3. This is awesome! And slightly overwhelming. Thanks :)

    1. Haha! It's very easy once you get the hang of it, don't let it scare you!

  4. Ah - this is essentially what I did last time, only with yarn and I braided the yarn halfway in. Fiction's mane was a tad too long so they didn't turn out as nicely. I need to get some thread :)

    1. I love thread and hate yarn! I can't get yarn tight enough, it just doesn't hold up well. I've never had a thread braid come out, but I've had yarn ones loosen or come out.

  5. Ooh, I'll practice my forelock braid this week! Hopefully I can clean it up with your tips!

  6. I would only have the attention span for like one of these. They look really nice though!

    1. You have the attention span for all of them! They're not hard- each one takes me only a minute or two to do!

  7. Well. Obviously I have no choice but to try this now!! Will obviously report back with appropriate media!! (Hopefully not to jeers tho lol)

    1. Never to jeers! First attempts are to be applauded! Let me know how it goes!

  8. Speedy's forelock is so long that I can't get it short enough even when I fold it under. I need to work on it. I can't quite picture how you sew the top to the bottom to keep it from separating ...

    1. I'll try to get some pictures of wrapping it up. I can show you how I used to wrap it up that holds the bottom a bit more (but doesn't look as nice).