The History Behind The Popular Trend Of Horse Mane Braiding

by Ariana Seigel
Ariana lives in NYC but grew up in FL. She loves comedy, strong coffee, and impromptu performances by the mariachi bands on the subway.

Horses are truly incredible creatures.

Not only are they amazingly intelligent animals, but horses are highly sociable and know how to play well with other pets  like this adorable horse who beat his canine friend at a rousing game of “fetch.”

And when I discovered the beautiful way equestrians were decorating their favorite horses? I was absolutely floored by the results.

Horse mane “braiding” is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and has its roots in European folklore. When horses became the main source of transportation in both everyday life and military encounters, braiding became a way to prevent soldiers’ buttons or muskets from getting tangled up in their horses’ manes.

Today, braiding is a gorgeous way to maintain your horse’s hair health, as well as give them a polished, professional appearance.

Scroll through below to see the fascinating history behind horse mane braiding, and the stunning variety of knots and locks available today.

What do you think of these unique horse braids? Let us know in the comments!

[H/T: MyHorseUniversity, Academia, Noble Outfitters]

The idea behind horse hair braiding actually originates from the mythical practice of “elf knots.” According to ancient folklore, fairies would visit stables in the middle of the night and tie knots in a horse’s mane.

Supposedly, once the horse’s hair was tangled, these wild creatures would use the knots as “stirrups” and ride the creatures at nightfall.

In reality, however, a horse mane will get knotted for a variety of reasons, including “necking” with another horse.

Another ancient myth attributes horse braids to a “marked” animal. According to this theory, a thief would braid the mane of a horse he was looking to steal, marking it as a potential target.

However, as time progressed, people realized that mane braids occurred for much simpler reasons.

Though horses naturally have a protective layer of grease in their manes, a stable horse will be brushed down daily, ridding it of excess knots and dirt.

A wild horse or one that’s kept outside, however, can easily form tangles due to the grease, wind, or frolicking with other horses.

The beautiful and mythical “plaited horse” was also immortalized in literature.

Quoted in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“That plaits the manes of horses in the night. And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs. Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.”

These days, a stylish plait is a great way to stand out in an equestrian show.

Depending on the level of competition, a tight braid or knot presents a high level of professionalism in the care-taking of your animal.

For showing, some breeds are traditionally presented with long free-flowing manes. Disciplines like reining and cutting also require that a horse’s mane is loose and unrestrained.

Other competitions require a more “polished” look to impress the judges, such as Halter and Showmanship.

Braided manes are also appropriate for hunting-type events.

And there are an endless variety of braids to choose from, depending on horse mane thickness and type. The popular “hunter” braid uses yarn that matches the color of the horse and harkens back to the tradition of plaiting a horse in preparation for a fox hunt.

“Button” braids are another popular plait, usually fashioned for dressage.

This braid is a bit more complicated and usually requires a needle and thread, though it can be done by hand with a few spools of yarn.

A “running” braid is an elaborate French braid that’s plaited down the horse’s neck. It requires a thick and long mane, best suited for Friesian and Lipizzan breeds.

The “Continental” braid is more of a woven pattern than an actual plait. Again, this braid works best for breeds with thicker manes, as it should extend at least halfway down the neck.

If braiding your horse’s mane seems too complicated, you can purchase a braiding “kit” online. A professional braider is also perfect for outsourcing the task to a more highly skilled craftsperson.

Of course, you can just be bold and experiment with different looks, textures, and embellishments yourself.

As long as you have a calm horse, mane-braiding can be a relaxing activity for both you and your animal.

Watch the video tutorial below to see just how you can braid a horse’s mane yourself.

Do you prefer a horse’s mane that is plaited or wild and free? Let us know in the comments.

Please SHARE this beautiful technique with other horse-lovers like yourself!