THE MANE ESSENTIALS

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For the avid showman, learning how to braid or band your horse(s) (or who to pay to do it for you), is an essential skill.  It requires endless patience, the acceptance of callouses and eventually arthritis in your hands, and a few other helpful tools I’ll never turn out a mane without…

 

My absolute favorite invention, never intended for horse grooming, is the step-tool box.

grooming step box

This little beauty will set you back a bit, but it’s worth every penny.  I think when I bought my Craftsman model like this, it ran around $60, and that was several years ago.  There are interior trays to organize your show grooming tools, each removable so you only keep out what you need, and it’s super sturdy.  The best part though, is the removable extension cord/outlet reel.  Instead of dragging a lengthy extension cord through the barn and risking getting it tangled around hooves and your own feet, you plug your step box in, then your clippers to it.  Genius!

 

The other can’t-live-without item is a pocketed apron of some kind.  I usually picked them up at a hardware store, they were inexpensive but served the purpose.  There are plenty of options though, and as long as they keep all your tools safely within easy reach, then just find the one that suits your style!

grooming apron

 

If your horse is going to be shown regularly, it’s important to start with a healthy, well-kept mane.  During our off season, I try to only groom and do minimal trimming or thinning.  Just before show season kicks in, I’ll give it a good trim and thin, but not too much.  If you consider a perfect mane for banding or braiding at 100%, I try to keep mine around 85%.  Remember, braiding and banding pulls hair out too, and you’ll probably trim a little bit each time, so if you start at 100%, your horse’s mane will look like an old toothbrush before you finish the season.  You can always take more off or out, you cant put it back on!

 

It’s up to you to determine the “ideal” mane for your horse.  It may never need thinned if the horse has a narrow crest to begin with, others may need regular maintenance.  If you don’t have a lot of experience, practice as much as you can when you aren’t showing, so when the season comes, you’re prepared rather than trying to figure it all out the night before!  If friends will let you, borrow their horses for practice make-overs too, the more experience you can get ahead of time, the easier it will go for you.  Banding isn’t as tedious as braiding, but when the muscle memory in your fingers is developed, it will all seem like second nature.

 

For a great banding job, remember the purpose is to make the horses mane appear to blend right into it’s neck.  A banded mane lies flat and smooth, helping to create the appearance of a smooth-gaited horse.  If their mane is long and blowing in every direction, it looks like they’re a bumpy ride, or have a sloppy headset.  Uniformity is key.

 

In my apron for banding, I’m partial to the Healthy Hair Care brand of super bands.  They’re available in every mane color, they come in a good size pack so you won’t have to run to the tack store every weekend, and they last as long as any others I’ve tried.

super bands

Unless your horse has the most gorgeous headset that you really want to showcase, always use bands that match their mane color as closely as possible.  If you’ve got a paint, or other multicolored mane, then buy a couple of bags in different colors to accommodate.  If you do want to showcase a pretty neck and a great banding job, then choose the opposite color of their mane (white for dark manes, or black/brown in white/flaxen).  I also liked to keep the braiding comb in my apron.

braid comb

Most professional grooms will tell you, they really aren’t great for braiding because no two manes are the same, but I like to use one section to isolate each section of mane to band at a time, to help keep my bands all the same size.  Another helpful item is a human hair clip.  It’s distracting to have extra mane in the way, so keep the side you’re working towards clipped up and out of your hair, ha ha ha!

 

A dirty mane tends to stay in place better than a squeaky clean one loaded with conditioner or show sheen.  If the mane is recently washed, a little human hair gel works well to give it some tack.  The dollar stores around my barn were great resources for inexpensive grooming supplies!

 

When applying the rubber bands, a common mistake is thinking that wrapping it as many times as you can is the way to keep them secure.  I usually only wrapped them four times.  It places less stress on the mane, and if the horse does rub some loose, those are easier to fix than one wound a dozen or more times around.  It’s also more comfortable for the horse.  Ladies, remember when mom would pony up your hair as a little girl and wrap those bands too tight?  It got itchy and gave you a headache didn’t it?  Your horse feels the same way.  Don’t crank bands down as tight as possible, then get mad at your horse for rubbing them out.  He’s trying to find some relief, and you only set yourself up to fail.

 

Lastly, when snugging them up, don’t grab all the hair to split and pull apart, just a bit from the back of each band.  If you use all the hair, they’ll end up sticking out sideways, where if you just pull from behind, it helps them lie nice and flat against the neck.

banded mane

Once your banding job is complete, you’ll likely notice that your horse’s mane might not be perfectly even in length.  Yes, a trim is fine, but no, don’t go at it straight across so your horse ends up looking like a stooge.  Your first snips should be short and vertical instead of horizontal.  Work back and forth in the area that’s too long, very carefully, until the length is pretty close to where you’d like it.  Then you can go back in and snip horizontally to even it up.  The vertical cuts first makes it look a bit more natural, and less like you just held up a piece of cardboard as a straight edge and start hacking away.  Sometimes it’s helpful to trim the underside a bit shorter than the top too.  Your horse’s neck isn’t perfectly straight, you can’t expect the mane to be on it’s own.  Again, do a little at a time so you don’t end up with the mistake of having to “even it up” over and over until you run out of hair!  Don’t be afraid to ask for a spotter.  Have a friend stand back a ways and watch over your scissors, to help you keep perspective and turn out a great finished product.

 

Braiding is a true test of patience, for both you and your horse.  If you’re lucky, they’ll stand quietly with minimal fussing and head bobbing, but if you’ve got one that can’t keep still…  good luck to you!  Something I picked up that helped was music.  I don’t recommend headphones or ear buds around horses, you need to have your hearing on point in case of trouble, while you’re standing on something near a 1000 pound animal, and they often have extra wires that only end up getting tangled.  Music will help (hopefully) keep everyone more relaxed, and pass the time.

 

Before starting, I’ll cut my yarn into strips and have them draped over the apron string for easy grabbing.  Again, use a color that closely matches your horses mane.  To make sure the pieces were long enough, I’d wrap it around my arm, like I was rolling a hose or extension cord, 30-50 times, depending on how much you need for the horse, and make one cut at the top, leaving you with enough length to braid through the bottom half of the braid, knot, double under, and tie off with.  Separate the yarn into smaller bundles around the apron strings.  If you leave them all in one big clump, there’s a better chance of reaching to pull one loose, and flipping the entire batch onto the ground.

 

In your apron with your yarn bundles, keep scissors, a spray bottle of some kind or diluted hairspray or spray gel to help the braids stick, a latch hook or plastic darning needle for pulling the yarn through, a seam ripper for undoing your work (when you make an error, or when you’re done showing, it makes removal so much easier), a comb of some kind-I prefer the metal pulling kind, and a human hair clip to keep the extra mane out of your way.

 

As I braid, I prefer to finish each braid completely, rather than braiding all the mane, then going back to tuck them under and tie off.  It keeps any extra mane out of my way, and I can see my finished product as I go, in case I didn’t make all my braids the same size.  You can still use that little braid comb I showed you earlier, but keep in mind that it’s three sections might be too big for your mane.  Use it more as a measuring guide, for example, my horse’s mane braided nicely using two sections of the comb to divide it (still braiding three strands).  Whatever amount works best, divide it off, clip the rest out of the way, spray and braid!  You’ll learn how to manipulate the braids to make them lie neatly against the neck, and where you may need to make them closer together or farther apart to create the illusion of a perfect neck.

braided mane

 

Braids unlike bands, do need to be as tight as possible, which is where your finger strength comes into play.  It takes time to develop a good rhythm, but once you do, it never goes away.  Remember that you’re asking your horse to be uncomfortable, and try to be forgiving.  Pack an emergency repair kit in your show grooming gear in case you have a blow out, and always remove them as soon as possible when you’re done showing.

 

A tail braid isn’t as common at the weekend shows, but requires the same level of muscle memory and grip in your fingers to produce, and the same tools.  The trickiest part is the top.  You horse flexes his tail there, and any place that hinges will create loose hairs, keep that in mind.  Once it’s completed, I’ll wrap with vet tape to keep it safe and secure until we’re at the show, and also remove as soon as possible after.

braided-tail_-PH

 

A well turned-out horse was my calling card at shows, and got me a lot of side work in boarding barns.  It’s a great way for people with extra time to make some extra money (and help offset your own show expenses!).  The more time I spent grooming for other people, the more I appreciated my own horse.  I knew every hair in his mane after so many years of braiding and banding, and he was content to stand quietly for hours, just because I was paying attention to him.  Those are probably some of the best memories I have of my Buddy, late nights in the barn, the radio in the background, singing along to an underwhelmed audience, getting him all spruced up for the weekend.

braids-002

 

Grooming might be tedious and time consuming to some, but to your horse, it’s some of the best time you spend together, remember to enjoy the moments!

 

 

 

 

Rural Horsewives

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A warm welcome and much obliged to a new connection, Lori Cummings and Ariel Media Group!  They cover a variety of rural-related topics, and have started sharing my blog on their site, www.livingruraltv.com.  Thanks to Lori and her team, my blog has seen record traffic this week!

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Here’s the direct link to find my blog, please take some time to view the rest of the site as well, it’s fantastic!

 

http://livingrural.ewave.tv/the-reality-show-of-boarding/

It’s always exciting to connect with new readers, and see the possibilities grow.  Keep an eye on Ariel Media Group and my blog for future projects!

Thanks so much!

THE REALITY (SHOW) OF BOARDING

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Anyone who has had to keep their horse(s) at someone else’s barn can attest to this fact.  No matter where you board, how well you know the owner, or what connections you have, the same cast of characters will inevitably appear in every barn.  This reality show has been around since long before the tv networks made them popular, and they’ll outlive every franchise we’re secretly (or not so) addicted to.

 

barn

The owners generally are well-intentioned, but naïve.  They often believe they can be the one(s) who really are able to make everyone play nicely together in the arena.  In many cases they often have the boarding barn as a source of secondary income, at least, in theory.  On paper, it’s supposed to help offset their own horse-keeping expenses, but in reality, it’s often a financial black hole, that eventually makes it difficult for them to truly enjoy what was once a passion.

 

trainer

Maybe your barn has a trainer, or multiple trainers.  The number of trainers usually multiplies the amount of drama.  Despite outward appearances of being friendly, they are after all, each other’s competition.  Under each trainer is a clique of groupies.  Within those groupies there’s often a leader, and the rest fall into the minion category.  If you’re lucky, and you don’t happen to be in training with any of them, you can try to avoid conflict by being vaguely polite to everyone and minding your own business, but that in and of itself can be a slippery slope.

 

nosy

That brings us to the opposite end of the spectrum, the barn busy body.  They may not have a dog in the fight, but they find a way to get involved in every issue, discussion, and situation.  After overhearing a portion of one person’s side of a story, they’ll make a rash decision as to who’s side they’re on, and intervene at every opportunity.  Maybe they thrive on chaos, maybe they need the attention, but no matter what, they’re always in the middle.  Don’t even get me started on what they think they know about everyone, they’ll tell you, as though it was their very own news to share!

 

pick me

Not to be confused with, the know-it-all.  Somewhere, someone too many has asked their opinion, and their head must now go through doors sideways to compensate for ALL the knowledge it’s full of.  Similar to the busy body, they often have opinions on everything everyone does, and have no qualms about sharing their unsolicited advice, but at least it’s usually limited to horse care, as opposed to general goings on in the barn itself.  Not to say they don’t know a lot, they may well be very knowledgeable, and they’ll make sure you know it too, every day, all day.

 

overreact

Feeding into the know-it-all’s personality is often the overreactor.  You never know what will set them off, but you can guarantee it will be end of days regardless.  A fly, a scratch on a saddle, their horse’s mane laying wrong.  No matter how big or small the measure of the “crisis,” their reaction will go from zero to 115 mph in about 4 seconds, and will continue for as long as a captive audience exists.

 

moron

Another friend of the know-it-all is the well-meaning-moron.  That person who makes you wonder how they manage to tie their own shoes every day, somehow also manages to keep a horse alive, and themselves from getting killed by said horse.  Now, on a good day, they might at least be cognizant of their lack of education.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step!  But more often than not, it’s like watching Mr. Magoo on television, and not being able to do a darn thing as he walks blindly into every bit of trouble imaginable.  You may try to lend a hand, or offer a bit of kind advice when you can, but sometimes, stupid needs to hurt in order for them to learn.

 

horse_running_by_hooded_gangsta

Lastly there’s the stall flower.  You’ll find yourself wondering how their horse’s stall is always clean, and the horse is always kept, when you rarely see them at the barn.  That’s just how they like it.  They’ve probably been there with you all along, and you didn’t even notice them, quietly going about their business, minding their own business.  When drawn out they can actually be a lot of fun, but they’ve usually become so tired of the games and nonsense that goes on, that they’ve started keeping to themselves and are quite happy that way.

 

The people in the roles may change from time to time and barn to barn, but if you’re a boarder, you can count on them making regular appearances in every episode.  My personal approach was to try to stay off the radar.  Mind your own business, help when asked, and smile at everyone even if you don’t have time to stop and chat.  Be polite enough that you’re considered friendly, but not a doormat, pay your rent on time every month, and remember that sometimes the crazy ones are worth being friendly with, maybe they’ll spare you if they go on a rampage!

FINDING “THE ONE”

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The world is constantly changing and evolving, with that technology is often steps ahead of us.  We generally can get our hands on pretty much anything or anyone with an app or a swipe, minimal effort, maximum reward.  It seems like things should be easier and easier, but there are still a few things that the newest, latest, and most advanced just don’t seem to keep up with.  One of those things is finding your perfect partner.

 

I’m not even talking about the human variety.  That can seemingly, easily be done via websites and apps that come out more often than I get Omaha Steaks coupons in the mail.  We equestrians even have our very own sites and apps now, equestriandating.com, equestriancupid.com, the Horsey Hotties app, and even the Muddy Match app.  In theory, we should be able to track down our horse-loving soul mates by barely moving our fingers.  So why is it, in all of our advancements, we haven’t produced an app to match humans with horses?

 

PEOPLE_D20

 

In our lifetime, it’s expected to have multiple horsey connections.  As much as we’d love for them to live as long as we do, even our beloved four-legged soul mates eventually move on to greener pastures long before we’d want them to, leaving us looking for another.

 

love 3

 

In this app, the human would be asked questions about breed, age, color, and size preferences.  They would describe their chosen or desired disciplines, and what they were seeking in an “ideal mate.”  The human would need to describe themselves and their personalities, what traits they appreciate or admire, and those they often butt heads with.  They would talk about prior accomplishments and future goals, and most importantly what kind of budget they have planned for their new partner.

 

The horse would need to include several photos to show physical features, and a few candids that display personality never hurt (let’s hope they exercise better discretion than humans, no tacky bathroom mirror photos, no group shots with a bunch of obnoxious friends, all hay-drunk).  They’d offer a brief description of their basic statistics, any training they’ve had, and any achievements.  There would need to be a personal side to it-written from their point of view, with the aide of a handler, much better skilled at typing.  A section to talk about who their dream human would be any why, what they’d hope to accomplish together (let’s win the World!), what they’d enjoy doing together in their free time (I enjoy sunset trail rides and gummy bears).

 

Maybe it’s out there, though a quick search on my iPhone speaks to the contrary, but if not…  Hey all you app developers, I see an untapped market here.  Call me!

 

 

INSPIRATION

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It’s been another busy week, trying to squeeze the last of a baseball season in around almost daily rain.  There hasn’t been much time to muse over my blog, in all the hurry up and wait, but I did make it to a show last night that I’ve wanted to see since I’ve had an awareness of it…  Kooza, by Cirque du Soleil.

 

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com

 

I’d actually won the tickets, and I would have been thrilled for any of their shows, they all look amazing.  Some of the acts reminded me of another similar art, Vaulting.  In lieu of me prattling on about how much I enjoyed the show last night (and in all seriousness, if you haven’t already seen one, do yourself a solid and buy tickets now!), I thought I’d share some clips I’ve seen of some equally amazing vaulting on horseback.  The perfect marriage of two things I love!

 

Vaulting-surfing waves on horseback

https://youtu.be/MFIo9x3eSLQ

 

FEI World Cup Vaulting 12/13 Paris – Female Top Three

https://youtu.be/KxRyrggTQpc

 

Vaulting Team Freestyle Team France – 2010 World Equestrian Games

https://youtu.be/TFAt60Qg4YQ

 

Enjoy these, feel free to share your favorites in the comments!