Perfect Plaits Made Easy

How to plait a horse

Why is a horse’s mane plaited?

Manes are plaited for neatness and to show off the neck, its surface line or crest. Often manes are plaited to train the mane to fall to the preferred side. Normally this is the right or “off side” as it is known by riders.

Plaiting is also done particularly for showing classes and dressage competitions.

How many plaits should be in a horse's mane?

There are no set rules regarding the number of plaits but it’s generally considered correct to have an odd number of plaits on the neck, not including the forelock. 9, 11 or 13 plaits are most commonly seen, depending on the horse's size and conformation.

What side are the plaits supposed to be on?

Plaits are traditionally done on the horse's right side or “off side”. This is so that the rider can view the horse's conformation before mounting from the left or “near side”.

What type of plaits should I choose for my horse?

Believe it or not, there are different “types” of plaits. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules as every horse is plaited to suit type and conformation, there are a few basic guidelines that will help to bring out the best of your horse’s conformation.

For example:

  • For a show hunter, chunkier plaits will look better
  • For dressage, graduated plaits in size show off the outline of the neck
  • For a horse with a short neck, more plaits will make it look longer
  • For a horse lacking in neck muscle, high plaits that sit on top of the neck to give the impression of more crest
  • For a horse with a strong crest, tight plaits that sit along the neck will make the crest appear smaller.

Preparation before you plait

Take a critical look at your horse’s mane a week or so before the day dawns for plaiting:

  • If the mane is very thick, you may need to pull it or
  • If it's quite thin, you could trim it, to try to thicken it up. 

Also check how clean his mane is. Wash the mane and let it dry before you plait, so it is clean and easier to manage. Once again, it’s not a good idea to wash the mane on the same day you need to plait as regardless of whether conditioner is used, it gets very soft and slippery, which makes plaiting more time challenging which is not ideal on show day!

Before you begin

The whole task can be made much easier by careful preparation. Firstly, ensure that you have everything you need to plait:

  • A mane comb
  • A soft body brush
  • A plaiting comb
  • Plaiting bands or needle and thread or a box of Quick Knot Horse Plaits
  • Plaiting spray
  • A stool if you can’t reach your horse’s mane to plait.

Mane combs are available in plastic or metal. There’s not much difference in price. Whilst plastic ones come in assorted colours to match the rest of your grooming kit, the teeth do tend to snap off on them. So, you may find a metal one lasts longer and is a bit more substantial to hold. 

Simple plaiting combs are available for a bargain price. However those clever people at LeMieux have developed the LeMieux TopZop. This tool can be used to measure each section of mane to ensure you get equal size plaits. It even has a clip and rubber band holder built in on the end of the comb so your hands are free to create the perfect plaits!

Lincoln Mane Comb   LeMieux TopZop

The traditional method of securing plaits is via a needle and thread and this is still the preferred option of many. Plaiting bands were designed as a time saving method of plaiting although users of a needle and thread may disagree! These days there are two distinctive types of plaiting bands: the “old” and the “new”. The old ones are very thin, highly prone to breaking at the crucial moment when you’re putting them on or going brittle and disintegrating! The new plaiting bans are silicone, slightly wider, much stronger, far more stretchy and shinier. The biggest selling point is that they are far less likely to snap. Some come in a handy plastic storage tub with easy access lid.

Shires Silicone Plaiting Bands       Lincoln Plaiting Bands in Half Open Container   Shires Plaiting Thread   

If you want perfect plaits in seconds, Quick Knot Horse Plaits are the answer and the latest entrant in the market to achieve professional competition plaits in seconds. No need for fiddly, time consuming needle and thread, they create beautiful, uniform plaits and are suitable for any equestrian discipline.

Quick Knot Plait Aid

Having spent ages perfecting your plaits, do you find that there are always wispy hairs sticking up around them? Avoid this and make your plaits look neater by using a plaiting spray on your horse's mane before you start to plait up. Divide the mane into sections and squirt the spray directly on these. The spray will hold all the hairs together and prevent wispy bits from poking through, as well as giving you extra grip when plaiting up. Supreme Product's Easy Plait is great for this as Equimims Plaiting Liquid.Once your plaits are complete,

Supreme Products Easy Plait   Equimins Plaiting Liquid Spray

Rather than stand on your grooming box and crack it(!), get a set of steps that'll make the whole job a lot easier. The GPC Step Stool on the left below, is metal and will probably last longer than the GPC Plastic Static Step Stool equivalent on the right.

GPC Step Stool   GPC Plastic Static Step Stool

Finishing Touches

A dab of Absorbine ShowSheen Moisturising Detangler Gel will add some extra sparkle for a finishing touch or a coating of Absorbine ShowSheen will give them a super sheen.

Absorbine ShowSheen Moisturising Detangler Gel     Absorbine ShowSheen

Visit our Plaiting and Show Preparation Collection to see the widest selection of products from all the well known brands. 

Shop horse plaiting and show preparation products


Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Catherine Payne posted on June 02 2018 at 04:06 PM

    very interesting. x

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