Friday, July 24, 2009

Hunter braids, part one

I have to confess--I love the timeless, elegant look of a horse all dressed up in hunter braids. Not surprisingly, I have a large collection of braided models that spans all hobby mediums. Unfortunately, the majority of those models are not braided terribly well. In most cases the braids are too big, too few, and just not quite right. So today I am setting out to describe proper hunter type braids in both words and pictures. Please feel free to copy these pictures for your reference files but, as always, do not republish without permission.
Hunter braids should be small, evenly spaced and plentiful. It's common to see anywhere between thirty and thirty five braids on an average hunter's neck.
The yarn should match the horse's mane color as closely as possible. Brightly colored or contrasting yarn of any sort is generally not seen at a hunter show.
Hunters have very short bridle paths--usually just the width of their bridle's crownpiece. The braids should start right up near the top of the poll. (This may be different for horses showing at breed shows--all the horses in these pictures are competing in rated hunter divisions at a large USEF Hunter/Jumper show.) Forelocks are also braided. There are several different ways to braid the forelock, and it really doesn't matter which is used as long as the end result is close to the horse's head and tidy looking.
If you have some real old school books in your reference library, you may have heard of an odds/evens rule regarding the number of braids and the horses gender. This is not something I would worry about. Professional braiders certainly don't, and I've never heard this rule discussed at a real show or among hunter riders.Of course, there is some room for variation. This short necked horse has less than thirty braids in his mane.
Here's another horse with both fewer and tinier braids. In this case I'd guess it's less about length of neck and more about not having much mane to work with.
Pony hunters are also shown in braids. Their necks may be shorter, but a good braider will still be able to fit an awful lot of braids into that smaller space.
Tails tomorrow!


  1. Wow, I love all the articles you have been posting about proper tack and setups. I really enjoyed your post on trotting models in hunter over fence classes. This post got me wondering. Would it be acceptable to have a trotting model in a hunter over fences class sporting an unbraided mane? I researched this concept and found that sometimes it is acceptable in unrated or local shows, but I found nothing about it in rated or regular shows. Can you show a model like that or must it have a braided mane? I would be very grateful if anyone could answer my question. I look forward to your post on tails.(By the way I hope this made sense, I don't know much about English riding. I'm more knowledgeable about Western.)

  2. There is no actual rule that states hunters must be braided, but at a big show, they all are. Models are different. I've found the model horse hobby to be *very* forgiving of unbraided models in the English division. My own feelings are that braided is better, but it's way, way down the list as far as what I care about when I'm judging. I do feel, however, that the mane should be at least shortish and neat if the model is supposed to depict a hunter at a USEF rated hunter show.

    Schooling shows are a whole different matter! Almost every fall, I get drafted into judging a mostly English schooling show at my friend's stable. In five years I've yet to see a braided horse there, and nearly everyone trots in the over fences classes. I haven't actually been asked to judge this year (yay!) so I'm hoping to go up and take pictures all day instead. It's a totally different experience than going to an A show but lots and lots of fun!

    Your questions make a lot of sense and I'm really glad you've found the articles helpful!

  3. Thanks so much. If you read these comments again would you please answer one more question? How do you know if a saddle is the correct size compared to a horse? I have tried looking at reference photos and when I put it on one model it looks fine, but on another(different size)it looks a bit too big. I look at the reference pictures and it seems to be the same proportions on both, but it just looks wrong on one. Do you know any tricks or systems to tell if a saddle is correctly fitted? If not that's OK, but I wondered if you could help with this last question. Thanks again for your help. I hope you have fun at the schooling show. I hope you post some of the pictures. And thanks again for all the informative articles. I learn something new every time I read one of them.

  4. I LOVE a nicely braided english horse....

  5. Its really amazing how many braids can fit onto one neck!
    Over here its more usual to have fewer braids, such as 7, 9 or 11, plus one forelock braid making an overall even number. The braids end up bigger, but are still neat and tight in against the horses neck. More than 13 braids is frowned upon. So if you want to represent a UK show horse, take heed! So many models sculpted in the US have too many to be correct here, and the braids are also too long.

  6. What's the string around the first gray's neck?

  7. That's his show number. All these horses were photographed during the jog after the over fences part of the class. If the rider jogs the horse, the number stays on her. However, a lot of times a rider might have multiple horses in the same class. In that case, the horse is jogged by someone other than the rider (usually the trainer or a groom but can be anyone) and the number goes around the horse's neck.

    Hope this helps!

  8. I don't know about the high level shows, but at the local hunter shows, horses are almost always shown braided like this, except when:
    -The horse is either young and schooling, not there to win (hors du concours, I believe it is called), or a pony with a thick mane (generally one of the "fat and furry" school masters who everyone knows), in which case the mane is left loose.
    -The horse has a long mane. They are shown with a running braid. My haflinger has the longest, thickest mane, so he has his mane split down the middle and running braided on each side. Most horses do not need this. The end of the braid is braided normally to the end, then looped and sewn back under the running braid. His forelock is French braided down to the end of the hairline, then regularly braided all the way down, then looped back up and sewed in. The tighter the braid is to the neck, the better it stays in and the better it looks.
    -The horse is hard to braid/he rubbed his mane out/the rider doesn't have time. Then the horse is roached. My first horse came to me with a mane like a fjord because he went berserk whenever someone tried to braid his mane (we suspect this was because he didn't like having his mane pulled), so they shaved it all off. Thankfully, he got better.
    Anyway, those are the alternatives I have seen to traditional hunter braids.