A long, flowing natural mane is the desired look for some horse breeds and disciplines. In others, a shorter, thinned version is “in.” The traditional method to achieve this shortened look is by “pulling” the mane. A neatly pulled mane helps make a good first impression and it’s also practical, as it makes grooming easier.
For tips on mane pulling, we spoke with Shari Eisaman of Eisaman Equine near Ocala, Florida. A prominent two-year-old-thoroughbred sales consignor and training facility, Eisaman Equine has sold many top racehorses, including 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another.
“You don’t want the mane too short or it won’t lay nicely. Four to six inches is a good rule of thumb,” says Eisaman. The length of a dollar bill is frequently the standard measurement when it comes to pulling a mane.
Many equestrians say horses hate having their manes pulled, probably because of how it’s done. None of us would appreciate having substantial sections of our hair yanked out, so the key is to only pull a few hairs at a time.
Mane pulling is easier if it’s done when the horse is still warm after training because the pores are open. After hosing the horse off, the mane will be damp, making it easier to pull than a dry mane.
You can use a mane-pulling comb or a “people” comb. Start in the middle of the mane, not at the withers or behind the bridle path. Placing your hand parallel to the neck, take hold of a few hairs along the bottom of the mane. Use the comb to “tease” the rest of the hairs in that section up to the crest. Holding your thumb against the comb and hairs, quickly pull the comb away. You can pull in an upwards or downwards direction; some say pulling up is more comfortable for the horse. Keep checking the length as you go, making the next section match the section you’ve just pulled as you work up and down from the middle of the neck where you started.
“I just wrap a few strands around the pulling comb and pull down,” says Eisaman. “Take your time and only pull a little bit at a time; if you pull a lot, that’s when it hurts.”
If the mane is thick, you’ll want to pull enough hair to actually thin the mane at the same time you’re making it even and neat. If the horse already has a thin mane, just pull enough to tidy it up and even the bottom. DON’T use scissors, which can make the mane look “clumpy” and uneven.
“If a horse has a really thin mane, I will only pull a little and then trim it up by ‘back blading’ it,” Eisaman adds. “I pop the blade off the clipper and just use the blade to kind of feather the mane.”
The pulling process will go more smoothly if the horse is used to having his mane combed regularly. Dampen the mane and comb it down on the left side every day. Not only will this get the horse accustomed to the comb, it will also train the mane to lay on the correct side.