How to plait a horse’s tail

How to plait a horse's tail

In her new book Modern Horse Management, showing supremo Katie Jerram gives a step-by-step guide to get the perfect tail plait

If you want to plait your horse’s mane but prefer to leave him with a full tail rather than shaping or pulling it, you may want to plait the hair in the dock area for competing so the horse’s hind quarters are shown off to the best possible effect. This only works if the hair at the top of the dock is long enough to get the plait started.

How to plait your horse’s tail

Step one

Take a small piece of hair from each side at the top of the tail. Cross them over, then take a third piece from one side. This gives you the three sections of your plait.

How to plait a horse's tail

Credit: John Henderson

Step two

Take in extra hair each time you pass a side piece over the centre one, so you build bars of hairs down each side of the tail, with a central plait. The key points for making a neat tail plait are to take the same amount of hair each time and keep the plaiting taut. If you let it slacken, your side bars will be lopsided and your centre plait will veer off to one side.

Step three

If you pass the side sections over the top of the centre one each time, your central plait will lie flat. If you pass the side sections underneath the centre one, you will create a raised plait.

Step four

Plait down until you reach a level that suits your horse’s conformation: usually, about two-thirds of the way down the dock. Carry on plaiting, but don’t take in any more side hairs.

Step five

When you get to the end, double up and stitch, then pass the needle from front to back. Double up the long plait to the bottom of the side bars and push the needle from back to front. You can either leave the plait as a loop, or stitch down so it lies flat.

How to plait a horse's tail

Step six

Having plaited a tail, you can put a tail bandage or tail guard on your horse to travel him as usual, but you will need to unwrap it to remove it. Don’t forget and pull a bandage down from the top, or you’ll spoil your work.

Continued below…

Katie Jerram-Hunnable: 11 steps to create your horse’s best ever plaits

In her book ‘Modern Horse Management’, showing supremo Katie Jerram-Hunnable looks at how to get the perfect plaits to suit

How to plait a horse's tail

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‘Mud tails’

Some people like to make ‘mud tails’ – also known as mud knots – for hunting, fastening up the hair below the dock so it doesn’t get wet and muddy. I’ve occasionally done this when we’ve been hunting point-to-pointers to qualify them, but wouldn’t do it on a sensitive horse. The tail becomes solid and heavy and, if the horse swishes it, it can hit them on the flanks and provoke a sharp reaction.

There are several ways to make a mud tail. The method I prefer is to plait the top of the tail as described above, then braid the long hairs below the dock into a single plait, stitch the bottom to secure it and finally double up the long plait and stitch it down the centre as with a mane plait.

Aussie Heavy Horses’ Tail Plaiting Page

The instruction files here are of two types-a photo sequence in a gallery arrangement, and some movie files of parts of that sequence.
The movie files are mostly in two versions- a higher resolution video, and a lower resolution one.

There are two different files above of the same actions, as the camera battery went flat during the filming, so we started again
and included both versions. They are best looked at in conjunction with the still photos in the gallery link below.
The batteries went flat again before the fifth video, so it has a new background!

Some assorted tail plaits of various types-traditional and newer-from clydesdales seen at Australian shows in the 2005-2010 span:

How to plait a horse's tail How to plait a horse's tailHow to plait a horse's tail

How to plait a horse's tail How to plait a horse's tailHow to plait a horse's tail

How to plait a horse's tail How to plait a horse's tail How to plait a horse's tail

Here’s a photo from about 1940, at Brisbane Royal Show, of Bill Evans plaiting Caringal Jessie’s tail, which was ‘long’:

How to plait a horse's tail

Below is St Helens’ Bold Dignity, sired by Worawingeth Dignity, with a ‘short’ tail, plaited up much the way most in Australia were until about 2005. The photo is taken from the St Helens’ stud dispersal catalogue from 1936.

Tradition used to dictate seven or nine plaits along the neck and one for the forelock. Nowadays you can choose however many suit your horse, though too many tiny plaits can look fussy and too few thick ones tend to resemble a row of golf balls.

Clever plaiting can minimise some of your horse’s weak points. If he has a slightly weak neck, set the plaits on top of his neck to give an illusion of bulk.

The easy way to do this is to roll up the plaits tothe neck, but push back as you stitch them in place.

If his neck is too heavy, set them to the side as you stitch.A horse who is slightly short in the neck will look better with a larger number of plaits. On the other hand, if his neck is too long, using fewer plaits will make it look more in proportion.

Fashion styles

Traditional plaits are de rigeur for the show ring and acceptable for all disciplines. Dressage has its own fashions, notably mane plaits secured with white tape or plastic clips.

The technique with these is to plait down and secure the ends as usual, then fold rather than roll the plaits up and line up the tape or clips along the horse¨s neck.

Beautiful braids

Plaits can be practical as well as decorative. If you have a horse whose long mane sometimes gets in the way, a running or Spanish plait keeps it neat and looks good.

The Spanish plait uses the same technique as the running, but follows the line of the crest rather than curving down and round.

Plait as for a running plait, but keep it pulled tight from the base as you progress along the neck.

If your horse or pony has a particularly thick mane, you may prefer a double Spanish plait – part the mane down the centre so that an equal amount of hair falls down each side of the neck, and plait each side along the crest.

Tail plaiting

Plaiting a tail is even more of an art than plaiting a mane. The easiest type to plait is the full tail of a Thoroughbred type; cob types with thicker docks can be more difficult.

The hair at the dock must be long enough to start the plait. If your horse has a pulled tail that is growing out, you will have towait until the hair is an appropriate length.

There are two types of tail plait. The easiest is where the centre plait lies flat. The other is where it stands out in relief, which involves plaiting the sections underneath instead of over.

This often looks more attractive, but is more difficult to do until you get used to the technique.

Plaiting tips

  • If you want your plaits to stay, do them as late as possible. Plaiting the night before runs the risk of the horse rubbing them out or getting bits of bedding stuck to it.
  • Sewn plaits are neatest and strongest.
  • Plaiting will not damage the hair, but be careful when you remove the plaits. Use a dressmaker’s stitch unpicker rather than scissors – this will break the thread, but not the hair.
  • Rubber plaiting bands can be used in an emergency. Remember to choose the colour nearest to that of the hair.

    When you get to the end of the plait, fasten it with aband. Roll up the plait up and secure with a second band.

    Whenever you groom your horses tail you pull out lots of hair or break the hair halfway down the tail. Which is why most horses tails are thicker halfway down the length than at the bottom.

    Horse Grooming

    • Horse Grooming Health
    • How to Groom a Horse
    • Laying a Horses’ Mane
    • Improve a Horses’ Tail
    • Grooming Tools

    Every tail hair that is pulled out will take around two years to re-grow and broken hairs will take a very long time to reach full length.

    Grooming a horses tail is only cosmetic, unlike full body grooming, which has health benefits and conditions the coat and skin.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    So, there is no real need to brush the tail every time you groom, apart from the bone (dock) at the top of the tail.

    The more you brush the thinner the bottom of your horses tail will become.

    How to improve your horses tail – grow it thick and luxurious

    Your horses tail will need washing occasionally and it is after washing that you should brush it.

    • Use a good quality baby shampoo to wash it thoroughly. Baby shampoo is good for horses with sensitive skin.
    • Rinse all the soap out and dry as well as possible, but do not rub too briskly as this can break hair too.
    • Most experienced riders will grab the tail hair just below the dock and spin it through the air to dry it.
    • Once dry rub in a good coat conditioner or mane and tail detangler; then with a good quality human hairbrush, very gently brush out one tangle at a time.
    • Do this slowly starting from the very bottom and working your way up the tail.
    • If you start at the top you will be trying to brush out several tangles at once instead of one or two.
    Make sure you have organised plenty of time to groom your horse’s and try to use it as a time for bonding with your horse as well as improving how your horse looks.

    In the winter it is best to keep your horses tail trimmed nice and short.

    Try plaiting it just below the dock to the bottom like a childs hair as this will help keep it clean and tangle free.

    Then in the spring, just in time for the showing season, you will have a nice thick, luxurious tail.

    Plaiting a Horses Tail …

    A picture paints a thousand words, as they say, and this video presentation will demonstrate how to plait a horses’ tail better than any words could.

    Plaiting a horses’ tail helps to show off the buttock, the line of the hindquarters and emphasise the movement of the rear legs.

    In this expert guide to producing the perfect plaits that suit your horse, we outline your plaiting kit essentials, showing supremo Katie Jerram-Hunnable shares some top plaiting tips from her book Modern Horse Management, and dressage rider Sarah Millis demonstrates how she plaits her dressage horses in an exclusive video

    Top show horse producer Katie Jerram-Hunnable says knowing how to plait a horse’s mane to make the animal appear at their best is an art, as the number of plaits and the way they are set on to the neck can help maximise the horse’s conformation. It can even create an optical illusion, as when setting plaits on top of the neck adds the appearance of extra substance to a neck lacking muscle.

    Plaits can be sewn or, if you are practising techniques or in a hurry, fastened with rubber bands or yarn. Stitching looks neater and will keep the plaits more secure. To undo stitched plaits, use a dressmaker’s stitch unpicker rather than scissors as there is less risk of cutting into mane hair.

    Conventional (hunter) plaits are acceptable for most disciplines, with the proviso that some showing categories — native ponies, pure-bred Arabs and cobs shown as traditionals — specify that manes must be natural.

    Even then, it’s important to check breed and society guidelines, as some allow a degree of thinning and shortening. The rules are taken to extremes for pure-bred Arabians, where the fashion is to cut an exaggeratedly long bridlepath.

    Traditionally, there were seven or nine plaits along the neck with one for the forelock. In the UK, it’s accepted that you should not need more than eleven; in the USA, riders sometimes opt for many more. Tailor the size and number of plaits to suit your horse’s conformation – for some reason, most people still opt for an odd number along the neck.

    A heavyweight hunter type looks better with relatively substantial plaits (not ‘golf balls’) spaced apart whilst smaller plaits set slightly closer together complement a finer type of animal.

    What you need in your plaiting kit

    Whether you prefer to plait your horse’s mane using a needle and thread or use rubber bands for convenience, you need a lot more than that in your plaiting kit to make the process quick and easy. Here are our recommended items for every plaiting kit:

    • Waxed plaiting thread in the correct colour to match your horse’s mane
    • A number of large flat needles with large eyes
    • A small, sharp pair of scissors for cutting the thread into lengths
    • A pack of small but strong rubber bands in a colour to match your horse’s mane – if you don’t use these to secure your plaits, then they are useful for securing the mane into equal sized sections before plaiting begins

    How to plait a horse's tail

    You will also need:

    • A sturdy stool of a suitable height to stand on so you can work comfortably on the mane
    • A mane comb to brush the mane through and divide it into sections
    • A soft brush or sponge to apply water to the mane as needed
    • A plaiting gel, spray or wax to help keep the hair tidy and secure
    • A clip to keep any loose hair out of the way as you work
    • A stitch unpicker to remove thread from plaits afterwards

    We recommend keeping your plaiting kit together in either a suitable clean plastic tub with a lid, or even better having an apron or similar you could wear around your waist, ensuring everything is kept clean, tidy and is easy to find when needed.

    How to plait a horse’s mane with thread

    Katie walks us step-by-step through the process she follows when plaiting her horses up for the show ring…

    1. First, get everything ready and in place: it’s annoying to reach the end of a plait and realise your threaded needle is out of reach. We prefer to plait on the morning of a show, even though this may mean working in the dark. You need a brighter light than most stable lights throw, so I wear a cap with a torch attached to the brim. This allows me to focus on the precise area I’m working on. To save time, I thread lots of needles with plaiting thread the night before and keep them stuck in a small sponge so I don’t lose them. The sponge, plus some plaiting gel and a clip to hold loose mane hair out of the way as I make each plait, go in the pocket of my plaiting overalls. Once organised, the process is as follows:

    2. Apply plaiting gel or, if you prefer, wet the hair and divide into even sections. Experienced plaiters can do this by eye, but it you’re unsure, section the mane and secure each section with a band or hair clip.

    3. Start plaiting at the poll. If a horse becomes restless during the plaiting process, it’s easier to finish off plaits near the withers than those near his ears.

    4. Divide the section into three equal, smaller ones and plait all the way down. As you plait, keep the tension taut but even. However, if you want to set each plait into a ‘hood’ of hair on top of the neck, to give an impression of more substance, don’t pull your first two crossovers as taut as the following ones.

    5. Turn up the end of the plait and bind it with your knotted cotton to keep loose hairs secure.

    6. Thread the needle through the base of the plait from front to back, then take the needle through the top of the plait from back to front, so the plait is doubled up.

    7. Stitch down the centre, following the zigzags made by the hair sections so the stitches are hidden.

    8. Take the needle from and through the bottom of the plait from front to back. Next, pass it through the top from the back to the front, so you are doubling up the plait again.

    9. Stitch backwards and forwards three times to keep the plait secure. If you want to set the plait in a hood to give an impression that the neck has more substance, push it into place and hold it there as you stitch.

    10. Knot the thread underneath the plait and cut it. Stand back and admire your handiwork, but don’t be tempted to pull out any stray hairs that have escaped or you’ll eventually end up with a ragged fringe along the crest.

    11. If you find it difficult to make a neat forelock plait because your horse has short hairs on either side, or has a long forelock that you don’t want to shorten, make a French plait. Plait down as normal for a few turns, then take in a section of hair from each side every time you cross over.

    How to plait a horse’s mane for dressage

    In this video, dressage rider Sarah Millis shows how she plaits her dressage horses’ manes ready for a competition.

    So, after so much discussion about pulling manes, we are now at the other end of the horse and will tackle pulling tails, and other ways to groom tails.

    • Keep in mind, this may not work for every horse or every owner. Just like pulling manes. But it’s nice to have options, right? Many horses have zero objections to having their tail pulled. Some horses do object. There are other ways to get a tidy tail top, like using scissors or clippers, this is just one of them.

    The main reason for pulling or clipping the dock of the tail is to present a tidy tail top.

    • This also can really flatter a horse’s butt, which can really show off your horse in the ring. It’s very common in eventing, where the naturally sleek and torpedo-like horses can use some help in the “how does my butt look” department. In other disciplines, the tail tops are natural or braided. For the horse with large buttocks. ahem. pulling or clipping a tail top will only make his buttocks look bigger. Not always a good thing.
    • The first photo is of a horse whose tail used to be clipped, and I let it grow out. This is a good example of a “natural” tail top.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    Mig’s natural tail top.

    Here is a photo of a horse whose tail has been groomed. See how much nicer for the show ring? This horse had the sides of his tail clipped.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    This tail belongs to a young dressage horse.

    How do you go from jungle to sleek city street? You either pull or clip the tail.

    • Either way, you will be removing the same hairs, on either side of the dock. Whatever method you choose, start with a clean and dry tail.

    You can scissor the tail hairs, clip them, or pull them.

    • For the first time, I suggest using scissors. If you simply trim the wild hairs by holding the scissors vertically alongside the dock, your tail will look a zillion times less shaggy. If you use clippers, have a really good idea how and where you want them to go. I suggest starting on the very underside of the tail, and not too far down. If you need to clip more, you can. The photo below shows the approximate area to clip.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    • For pulling the tail, you simply need your hand and some patience. Grab a few hairs and yank downward. To prevent damage to your fingers, wear a latex glove for grip. This is going to take a while. You don’t have to build Rome in one day. Or even a week. And you don’t have to go overboard, like most of us do when clipping our own bangs.
    • For safety’s sake, please use a human buddy to help you. If you have no idea how your pony will react, have your buddy back him up to a stall door an then hang his tail over the door. No horseshoe-shaped marks on your person, please. Most horses have zero reaction to their tail being clipped or pulled.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    I spotted this tail at RK3DE which is now LRK3DE or just that big horse show in Kentucky.

    For the ends of the tail, banging it is very popular.

    This creates a blunt end across and a very clean finish. For this, have your horse hold a stick or polo wrap under his tail. This mimics how he would carry the tail in the show ring. Then grab the tail, run your hands almost to the end, and chop across.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    There is nothing like a horse with a beautifully clean and brushed tail. You might be lucky and your horse has a dark colored tail – bay, black or chestnut – it’s double the work if you have a grey! Some of our tips will be specifically aimed at grey horses but read on to find out how you can keep your horse’s tail looking tip-top.

    The tail is very important to the horse, it registers mood and reaction alongside other parts of the horse’s body and it keeps flies away in the summer months. Looking after tails and manes is all part of good horse care and should form part of your daily grooming routine.

    1. Brush carefully – if you use a stiff brush on the horse’s tail then you will end up breaking the hair particularly if it is tangled. Always use a soft brush either a body brush or a broad human hairbrush.
    2. Section the hair – separate the tail into sections a bit like if you are brushing long human hair, shake a section free and then work through it systematically with a soft brush.
    3. Untangle the hair regularly– spray on some mane and tail condition first which will make the hair slippery and easier to brush. If it is very tangled, then you will need to pick out the knots first.
    4. Finger comb – if the tail is just impossible to brush then finger comb it through section by section using spray conditioner to help you remove the tangles and minimize breakages.
    5. Plait when in Muddy conditions – if you are hunting or hacking in wet and muddy conditions, it is sensible to plait and tie up the horse’s tail in order to keep it clean. It also stops the tail from getting caught on branches and low undergrowth. This is a good technique to use for a white tail in the winter months when you turn out in the field, it’s not as if the horse will be needing his tail to brush away flies.
    6. Muddy tails – there are two options with muddy tails, either wait until the tail is dry and first finger comb before brushing through in sections or, you can wash the tail and then section out the wet hair. If the tail is just muddy then this will work well but if it is tangled then the water won’t help remove knots and you are better off waiting until the tail is dry to do that.
    7. Wash Regularly – this is even more important with a lighter tail. The trick with white tails is to never let them become too dirty. Wash them once or twice a week otherwise the staining builds up and you may end up with a yellow tail which will take a lot of work to bring back to its original color.
    8. Use Whitening shampoos – there are lots of products for horses with white tails but you should expect to wash a white tail probably twice as much as a dark-colored tail. Try and always keep the tail as clean as possible as it minimizes the staining. If you do need to wash the tail several times, start with a standard shampoo until you start to find the true tail color. You don’t need to use an expensive showing product at this stage. Once the tail is clean, use a whitening or silver/purple shampoo to really restore the color. These shampoos work on the same principle as the shampoos elderly ladies use in the hairdresser. White hair that has been around for a while will naturally yellow and most old ladies don’t even roll around in mud or grass either! A proprietary shampoo will restore the white and depending on how much you use, you can also streak the tail through with silver which looks lovely with a dapple or dark grey coat.
    9. Minimize brushing for thin tails – over brushing thin tails can reduce the hair content even more. Finger comb daily with a little baby oil or tail conditioner and wash once or twice a week to keep clean. Minimize brushing and only ever use a soft brush.
    10. Tie up Thick tails – horses which naturally have very long, thick tails or which are shown with large tails such as the native breeds and traditional cobs do require a lot of effort to keep the tail looking it’s best. Tie the tail up or keep it shorter in the winter months which will minimize your work. Plaiting and folding up a long tail means you can keep the tail nature intended but it is kept out of the way when the horse is in the field or being ridden, reducing tangles and dirt.
    11. Protect the tail when travelling– all horses will get some degree of staining to their hind legs and tails when they travel because they don’t usually have as much space to lift their tail and pass droppings when on a truck or trailer. Protect the top of the tail with a tail bandage which should not be left on for more than four hours. Pop a tail guard over the top as many horses will lean on the wall or bar of the transport and can rub the top of their tails. To keep the rest of the tail clean, you can use a long plait or plait it and tie it up.
    12. Tail bags – these are long, narrow plastic bags like a sleeve which are designed to totally cover the horse’s tail. If it is a long, full tail then you will probably have to plait it first. Your horse will need to get used to these as they will make a noise when he moves his tail and will also make a noise when he is travelling so introduce them slowly and carefully in the stable environment at home before you travel your horse to an event.

    Most owners’ tail routine will be dictated by the type of tail their horse has and also what they do with their horse. Always allow the horse freedom to have his full tail in the summer months as not being able to flick away the flies will cause a lot of distress. This applies just as much when you are out at events as when you are at home.

    A fishtail braid is an attractive braid for your horse’s tail.

    A tail braided with a fishtail braid is flatter in appearance than a standard (right over middle, left over middle) 3-strand braid, and has a slightly more elegant look to it. A fishtail braid may look complicated to do, but is really very simple.

    A completed fishtail braid.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    In the text and photos below we’ll show you how to fishtail braid your horse’s tail.

    First, though, a few words of caution :

    • Never leave a horse with a braided tail unattended. If the horse should get its tail caught on something a braided tail can hold surprisingly well, possibly causing the horse to struggle and injure itself.
    • Don’t braid any type of braid too tightly over or near the tail bone. This can cut off circulation and cause minor or serious injury. You’ll notice in the photos below we started our braid below the tail bone so as not to involve it in the braid at all.
    • Last but not least: Be cautious when handling or riding a horse that has had its tail braided for the first time. A horse that hasn’t gotten accustomed to a braided tail might swish its tail and accidentally give itself a surprising whack with the braid. This may cause some horses to spook, bolt, or buck.

    The Fishtail Braid

    Step 1: Begin by brushing your horse’s tail until it is free of dirt, tangles, etc. Then divide the hair into two equal sections.

    Divide the tail hair into two equal sections.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    Step 2: You can begin the braid from either the right or left section. To begin from the right like we did in the photos below:

    • Take a piece of hair from the outside of the right-hand section, cross it over the top of the hair in the center, and add it to the inside of the left-hand section.

    You can take large or small pieces of hair to cross over, depending on the finished look you want.

    Take hair from the outside of the right-hand section and add it to the inside of the left-hand section.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    Step 3: Now do the same thing, this time going from left to right:

    • Take a piece of hair from the outside of the left-hand section, cross it over the top of the hair in the center, and add it to the inside of the right-hand section.

    Take hair from the outside of the left-hand section and add it to the inside of the right-hand section.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    Step 4: Now you simply repeat the steps working your way down the tail.

    Repeat the steps and continue on down the tail.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    In this photo we’ve continued braiding down the tail. You can see the braid has started to take shape.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    That’s It!

    Step 5: Continue until you are as far down the tail as you want to go. When you’re finished, secure the bottom of the braid with an elastic band.

    How to plait a horse's tail

    If you like, when you’re done braiding you can widen the fishtail braid slightly by gently pulling it outwards on each side all the way down the braid. This isn’t necessary, but can create a fuller look. If you’re curious, we did NOT widen the finished braid in the photo above.