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Why Do Horses Have Manes? It’s More Than Just Pretty Hair

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My grandfather kept all our horse’s manes trimmed short year-round. I never asked why they were always cut, but looking back, it makes me wonder why horses have manes in the first place.

Horses have manes to provide shade on hot sunny days and insulate their neck on cold days, and it acts as a natural fly screen. Manes also offer a layer of protection from predators’ teeth, and long forelocks shade the horse’s eyes from the sun and flies.

Most people think horse manes are for aesthetics, but it has a purpose. Its usefulness may not be as relevant today as it was, but it still serves some purposes.

Picture of a horse with a dapple coat and long mane.

Why horses have manes.

Horses are interesting animals; they’ve survived thousands of years as prey with one major defensive mechanism, speed. However, their mane did help them to survive harsh climates and attack predators.

The mane protects the horse’s neck from the predator’s bites.

The mane is the distinctive ridge of hair that grows on the top of a horse’s neck. It typically runs from the top of the horse’s head (poll) to its withers. The forelock is similar to the bangs on humans and falls forward over the front of a horse’s head.

Early horses didn’t have long manes. Scientists believe that as horses developed, the animals’ hair evolved as a protective layer against predator bites or bites from other horses during fights.

Internal fighting between horses is likely the reason stallions have thicker hair on their necks than mares of the same breed. Once horses were domesticated, manes were used as a means for riders to hold themselves while riding.

Picture of a horse in Siberia.  Thick manes help to keep the horses warm.

Horse manes provide a layer of warmth.

The horse in the picture above is a Yakutia horse; it lives in the frigid Siberia tundra where temperatures dip to 95 below zero. The horse has a thick coat and heavy mane.

Their coat and mane provide warmth in the freezing temperatures of their homeland. Their coat is typical of horse breeds that live in cold climates. Most draft breeds and pony breeds that evolved in cold climates developed extremely heavy manes.

Horse manes protect against insects.

Thick mane hair keeps horse flies and other pests from biting the sensitive neck area. Insects have difficulty making their way through thick mane hair to access the horse’s tender flesh.

A horse’s bangs also protect against insects. Let your horse’s forelock and mane hair grow long; they can use this to keep pests at bay. With a toss of their head, the long hair swishes insects from their eyes.

The primary defense for horses against pests is their long tail they use to swish back and forth, keeping insects from lighting on their bodies. To ensure a horse’s tail works most efficiently, keep it clean and combed out naturally.

Braided tails and manes decrease the effectiveness of their ability to protect against insects. Braided, bagged, or wrapped tails are heavy and inhibit a horse’s ability to swish its tail and keep flies at bay.

Picture of a horse with a braided mane,

Horse manes are styled for aesthetics.

Besides being useful to hold onto, long flowing hair was also aesthetically pleasing. For these reasons, breeders selectively bred to develop horses with thicker manes.

Different horse breeds grow manes of varying thicknesses and lengths. Appaloosa’s, for example, commonly has sparse hair. Friesians, Andalusians, and Gypsy Vanners are just a few horse breeds famous for their long-flowing hair.

Pulling horses mane

Pulling a horse’s mane is the process of pulling out small portions of the mane hair to thin the mane. Once a mane is pulled correctly, it is easier to comb and braid.

There are specially designed combs for pulling a horse’s mane. But they are not necessary. People pull manes in many different ways, but it is recommended that you pull the hair out in an upward direction.

I’ve watched experienced people pull their horse’s manes in a quick motion, and it doesn’t seem to bother most horses. I’ve also watched some people with less experience pull manes, and it really bothered their horses.

I never pulled one of my horse’s manes. When I had a horse that needed its mane pulled, there was always someone around eager to perform the task. But I believe pulling the mane puts unnecessary stress on a horse, even for the ones that don’t seem to mind.

If my horse’s mane is thicker than I want it, I prefer to use a thinning blade. The downside of using thinning shears is that they cut the mane hair and don’t pull the hair from the roots. Because of this, the hair grows back quicker.

If you are interested in seeing what customers have to say about thinning knives, you can click here to read Amazon customer reviews.

Braided manes

Braiding manes is a way to enhance the beauty of your horse, but it also provides a purpose. It helps prevent tangles and keeps the mane out of the way of riding and draft equipment.

Braiding is used in equine eventing and horse racing to set horses apart from other competitors. Horses with braids exude elegance and express a horse’s individuality.

Horse manes are cut for easy maintenance.

Roached or “hogged” manes.

A horse with a roached or hogged mane is one with a completely shaven mane. This is how we kept all our horses until we became old enough to take care of our own.

Short manes prevent sun-bleach and tangles for horses kept in pastures without the need for regular maintenance. Also, when you work cattle or you’re involved in certain equine events, a long mane can get in the way at the most inopportune time.

Sometimes short manes look better than long ones on a particular horse. Some horses don’t grow an attractive mane and look better with shaved. The effect is found in men who only have a wisp of hair around their heads, so they cut all the hair. The same goes for horses.

Picture of a horse with a cut mane.

If you decide to roach your horse’s mane, we recommend using cordless clippers. Wahl makes a nice set of clippers that can do the job relatively easily.

Over 800 Amazon customers have reviewed these Wahl clippers and given them a 4-star rating. Here is the link so you can read what others say about the clippers:

Cutting a bridle path in your horse mane

Bridle paths are necessary to keep your halter or bridle from becoming tangled in your horse’s mane hairs. Most riding horses have a trimmed bridle path.

The bridle path should begin about one inch behind the horse’s ears. Most people use a finger’s width. The distance is pretty standard, used by both English and Western riders.

English riders typically cut a more narrow bridle path than the Western rider. In Western disciplines, the bridle path is cut the length of the height of the horse’s ear. To determine the paths’ width, they lay the horses’ ears backward to get a measurement.

English riders typically trim a bridle path the width of the bridle’s crownpiece; this generally is one inch. They don’t want to cut more than necessary for the bridle crownpiece to fit.

Trimming a bridle path can be dangerous. If the horse startles and abruptly moves its head and front end, you could get injured. As nice and well-mannered as a horse might be, always respect its size.

Before trimming, ensure you have a safe work area and that your horse is calm. If there are insects around, spray your animal with fly spray. If other horses are around, make sure they are securely tied or safely kept away until you finish trimming.

Now that you’re ready to cut, use a comb to separate the hair of the mane you aren’t cutting and move it out of your way. Start trimming in small strokes from the front to the rear. Take your time and avoid cutting too wide a path.

Below is a YouTube video that provides helpful tips on how to braid a long mane.

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