Grooming For Glamour - Mane And TailBy Jeffrey Rolo
Some horsemen will groom a horse's mane and tail during every horse grooming session while others will do so every couple days or as needed. Before continuing I should provide a disclaimer: this section will have an inherent bias towards flowing manes and tails rather than cropped or pulled ones. Thick and flowing manes and tails are a normal characteristic of Mountain Horses (the breed I work with most) and highly prized by owners and showmen. Naturally the techniques discussed here will be suitable for manes and tails of any length – you just won't find any advice on pulling coming from me.
If your goal is to preserve your horse's mane and tail, the last thing you want to do is grab a comb and get down to business because the comb will inevitably rip out a good deal of hair. Some hair loss is expected during grooming sessions, but if we rip out good hair along with the dead soon the horse's mane and tail will be thinned out drastically. Considering the hair growth for both locations is limited to a couple inches a year, it can take a long time to re-grow a devastated mane or tail.
To preserve hair loss caused by combing and tangles, start by running a dose of conditioner and/or tangle-remover through the mane with your fingers. This should loosen tangles and make the hair slicker, thereby allowing you to undo the tangles easily by hand. Some owners will just pull out the scissors and snip away tight tangles and knots, but I haven't seen a knot yet that couldn't be removed with some conditioner and patience.
Do not pull out your comb until you can run your fingers throughout the mane without detecting any tangles; let your fingers perform most of the "grunt" work since they will be more gentle than a comb. When it is time for the comb to be implemented, support the base of the horse's mane with one hand while you comb with the other. What you're trying to do is prevent downward tugging that may tear some hair from its roots. If you detect any missed tangles with your comb discontinue for a moment, untangle with your fingers, then proceed with the comb once more.
I do not like to comb a horse's hair unless I'm taking him to a show or exhibition since I like to minimize hair loss. Instead I will use conditioner and my fingers to keep the mane tangle-free.
Once you're finished with the mane continue on with the tail using the same process. Remember to try not to stand directly behind a horse when you work on his tail. Stand near his rear shoulder and draw the tail to you.
Some horse owners will severely chop away a horse's tail, leaving half the length if the horse is lucky, and a quarter of its normal length if the horse is unlucky! Looking beyond my opinion of the visual appeal of a virtually tailless horse, I will state that these owners do their horses an immense disservice. The horse's tail is designed to assist in shooing away bugs and biting flies. Watching horses in the pasture will make this fact painfully obvious – during the summer months the tails are almost constantly swishing away flies.
For this reason I do not agree with the practice of taking away a horse's natural defense against annoying flies and their painful bites (if you have ever been bitten by a horse fly, you'll know they bite hard). Think about how you might feel if you were tossed in a mosquito-filled swamp with your hands tied to your side so you could only stand helplessly as they stung you. That's what we are doing to our horse when we remove the length of his tail.
If you do insist on cutting away your horse's tail, the kind thing to do is make sure he's protected by fly sheets and fly sprays at all times. Don't leave him defenseless.