Braiding: State of the Art

Braiding: State of the Art

Braiding: State of the Art

By Ruthann Smith

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Horse Mane

Equestrian sports are aesthetic. A successful performance is contingent upon good turnout. Having braided world-class horses for 25 years, I know the importance of beautiful braids and handling the horse so he stays focused to compete. However, when I asked leading riders, trainers and judges their thoughts on the craft, I got some surprising answers. This article illustrated he many dimensions on which braiding effects performance and with it communicated to the judges.

If you can turn a horse out well, you can have a good performance also. Braiding raises you standard up a bit for the day.

Michael Matz, winner of more than 70 grand prix show jumping events declares, “If you can turn a horse out well, you can have a good performance also.” Peter Wylde confirms, “Braiding raises you standard up a bit for the day.” The consensus is that this results from the horse's own feelings and well as how others prepare and respond to the animal

George Morris, one of the most respected trainers in the world insists, “A horse gets used to being braided at horse shows and it learns it's a bigger occasion. I do believe that.” Many horses enjoy the signal and rise to the occasion by trying harder. An honest, confident and well-trained horse wants to do well. Perhaps you have seen the Pessoa Saddles advertisements where the horse's head is straight up in the air laughing as his rider is handed the World Cup trophy. The horse knew he had won. He was thrilled!

If the rider braids the horse, they have an opportunity to connect in a gentle manner before competing.

The experience of a horse being braided affects its mindset in an additional way. A skilled braider teaches the horse to stand still; relax. Once Frank Madden, one of the most renowned equitation trainers, told me “You should charge a cleaning fee.” When a horse goes to the ring levelheaded, it's able to focus and be more successful. If the rider braids the horse, they have an opportunity to connect in a gentle manner before competing. Peter Wylde braids his own horses. He knows the process enhances his relationship with the horse, which translates to successes in the ring. While winning all of the 7 USET Pan-Am Games, it's evident he has a tried-and-true program.

Peter adds, “Braiding for me is part of the bigger picture of you horsemanship. We all try to take care of the horses the best we can… Braiding is just that added touch that you put on your whole program of training your horses.” Mr. Matz concedes, “Learning to braid is another step of horsemanship. A small step… Little things add up.”

All the trainers feel braiding well is a measure of respect, but they had differing focuses. George Morris declared, “It shows respect for the horse. It's a horse sport and the horses come first.” Michael Matz agreed, “It's taking pride and shows you really care about the horse,” though he added that is an extra something he does for his horses' owners. Dressage rider, Dorothy Morkis, 1976 Olympic Team Bronze Medalist who ranked first in the country and fifth in the world, considered it, “respect for the judges.” Lawrence Poulin, winner of the 5 USET National Driving Championships and an international driving official, admitted, “as a judge, beautiful braiding indicates to me that you have really prepared for this competition.”

“Braiding is not a difficult art,” insist Mr. Morris. However, many equestrians don't know to do it well. “Because it takes effort.”

My Stance is that more people would braid well if they knew how. Elite braiders set a high standard for creating a perfectly clean line on the horse's neck. This enhances the horses' conformation and gives the competitive advantage. Other braiders became frustrated because they did not know the techniques for braiding quickly and comfortably. Braiding well is relaxing. You can braid with all your heart, but if you don't know those little tricks, the braids never sit quite right on the horse's neck.

Dressage Braids

Across Disciplines

You probably can pick out which horses are beautifully braided. Do you know what makes the difference? An attractive braid job creates a new line on the horse's neck. If you were to draw a line under the bottom folds of the braids, it should make a perfectly straight line. This line compensates for any irregularities in the horse's top line to make the horse's neck look longer. The uniformity of the braids offers a visual rhythm that carries your eye down the neck of refined brads. Braids that lie tight, straight and sturdy maintain this clean bottom line throughout all the day's activities. The angle of the lines is cheated slightly so the braids are longer toward the poll than the withers, making the neck look rounder.

It used to be that hunters, jumpers, driving, dressage and combined training horses all showed with slightly different braiding styles. A lot of the variation was rooted in the fact that each person would braid their own horses, be in the groom or rider. That same person would do everything for their horses; ride, bathe, feed, groom, ship, etc. The braiding styles were based on what that person was able to achieve. Braiding was necessary part of the horsemanship.

When the hunter industry got large enough, the grooms didn't have time to braid. It's not uncommon for big hunter/jumper barn to travel to shows with 30 horses. As the sport became more competitive, so did the aesthetic element. People pay a lot of money. They want the best. Gorgeous braids earn the judge's attention and look attractive. Why spend all the time and money on training and care only to enter the ring looking unkempt? Braids are “the icing on the cake,” as George Morris says.

The Blue Ribbon Braiders were the first set of grooms to break off the 1973 and braid professionally. They started this trend of specialization of braiders that resulted in a shifting of mane and tail fashions. Once people started spending 18 hours a day braiding, techniques were refined to make braiding more visually effective and speedy. The process became streamline. The best braiders have a formula to braid fast (35 minute for a mane, 7 minutes for a tail) and braids come out perfect every time.

Two Braids
Braiding styles have evolved to value braids that lie flush to the neck. These don't juggle to distract the eye.

Each disciple traditionally had the same objective- make the neck look long and round. There was no standard for achieving that look because disciplines within the horses sport industry are structured differently. For instance, dressage barns are generally small and there are fewer shows than in the hunter/jumper sect. For these reasons it's more difficult for braiders to make a living on that circuit. So, many people braid their own horses. This resulted in many different types of braids at dressage shows.

Dressage and combined training disciplines have traditionally leaned toward button braids. They were considered fast and easy. Now the braiding styles have evolved to value braids that lie flush to the neck. These don't jiggle to distract the viewer's eye. Plus, it's easier to create a clean bottom line to braids that lie flat on the neck. Top dressage riders are moving away from using tape. The skill level of braiders has progressed so that we can quickly create that clean line on the neck without using the tape. On the whole fashion has moved away from fluorescent and flash. We are wearing muted colors. The horse industry has also moved toward a subtler, cleaner look.

Not only the look of braiding styles, but also the attitude about the craft has evolved. Braiding used to be a necessary and routine element of showing. When the industry specialized, elite braiders raised the standard. Amateur braiders were not able to achieve the desired look, and many equestrians became frustrated. But, things are changing again. Exhibitors want to meet the standard and look polished without necessarily depending on a professional braider. People are choosing to braid their own horses. They're learning to braid well and discovering that knowing a reliable formula, such as mine, means braiding can offer relaxing time in their busy lives as well as the competitive advantage.

Bio Pic

Ruthann Smith has spent a lifetime studying sound horsemanship- both as a groom for top international horses and as a renowned braider. Quietly twisting manes atop a ladder, she watched and learned in some of the best stables in the world.

As her passion for great grooming grew, Ruthann became focused on researching, collecting and sharing the best practices of the world’s keenest horsemen. Ultimately, Ruthann used her vast experience to develop exceptional equine grooming products to help raise the bar of horsemanship.

The knowledge she dispenses and the products Ruthann developed solve age-old grooming issues. Making quality horse care easier, they have received the highest honors in the equine industry*. Her Lucky Braids for Top Turnout coat care and braiding products are the best, most versatile, cost-effective and easiest solutions available on the market today.

Now Ruthann offers her LOVE, LOVE Guarantee. If not totally thrilled with a product she developed, Ruthann will refund you in full, regardless of where you purchased it.

It’s her life’s mission to empower horses by educating, motivating and equipping their people to be true horsemen. You can access Ruthann’s tips at: The Grooming Resource on, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and her Horsemanship Clinics.

*After testing 350 products, Lucky Braids All-In-One Horse Shampoo was named product of the year by Horse Journal, the “Consumer Reports” of the industry. They also named Lucky Braids Shampoo and Top Pick for greys and whites. Lucky Braids specialized braiding yarn also got stellar reviews.