Mane Pulling: Could The Practice Be Harmful?By Jeffrey Rolo
Before we discuss how to pull a horse's mane in a manner that ensures minimal discomfort and maximum results, let's quickly cover what mane pulling is designed to accomplish, and whether the pros outweigh the cons.
Mane pulling (the act of, quite literally, pulling hair out of a horse's mane) is designed to thin a mane out while also controlling its length (pulled manes are typically quite short). Why would someone pull a mane rather than use thinning shears and scissors?
Thinning shears are not desirable because although they produce great results initially, a couple weeks later as the thinned hair starts growing out again, the hairs will stick up and go all over the place. Thinned hair that grows back out tends to flow with the existing hair better. So while thinning shears might work great if you need your horse to look good for just one individual horse show, if you're a regular on the horse show circuit then eventually shears will come back to bite you as the hair grows back in.
As for why one would use pulling to control a mane's length, it's generally a matter of preference. Some people like the straight line a scissors-cut leaves behind, but others prefer a slightly more textured line. Mane pulling allows some hairs to be slightly longer than others, lending a more natural appearance. There is no advantage or disadvantage here: it's purely a matter of textured versus straight-line appeal.
Since pulled manes are thinner and often more consistent than natural manes, braiding and/or plaiting a pulled mane is generally significantly easier, making the prospect of pulling attractive to some horse owners outside of the show circuits.
But before you get tempted to run into the stable and start yanking hairs out left and right, be aware that there are some negatives to consider.
First and foremost, a horse's mane actually does serve a purpose: it lends your horse some protection against the cold and biting pests such as horseflies. All too often we selfishly clip away at a horse's natural defenses or senses of touch, such as horse whiskers or horse feathers, for no purpose other than pure vanity. (I touched upon this topic a bit in my article Grooming For Glamour – Clipping.)
I'm not some hippy purist that doesn't believe in grooming horses -- quite the contrary! But my personal philosophy is that some practices should be performed only if a need exists, such as showing a horse. If a horse is being kept as a household pet or a riding horse, then there is no real need to perform "unnatural" grooming techniques such as mane pulling. It's your choice in the end, of course, but I recommend against the practice if you're not partaking in horse shows that demand that level of finish.
The next potential problem is the act itself: many horses will not appreciate standing still for so long, and they may also not appreciate getting their hair torn out. An inept handler unaware of the boredom or discomfort he is inflicting can cause a horse to develop mistrust towards people and their touch, throwing away the benefits of countless hours of positive interaction and training. Particularly sloppy mane pullers can even cause minor injury to the horse.
Conventional thinking would have you believe that mane pulling does not inflict pain on your horse, and while it is true that yanking a hair out of your horse's mane won't sting like yanking a hair from the inside of your nose might, it's not exactly comfortable either. A skilled handler will minimize the discomfort by using the proper technique, so it's critical that if you plan on pulling your horse's mane that you learn the best practices first.
If you're considering mane pulling purely for maintenance purposes, check out Grooming For Glamour - Mane And Tail first. I come from a breed where long, thick manes were prized and cherished, so I know how simple it can be to maintain a "lion mane" without resorting to mane pulling. But if you're on a show circuit that demands the clean-cut, short appearance that mane pulling provides, let's head to How To Pull A Mane Properly and discover how to obtain the best results.