Perfecting your horse’s plaits

Are you looking to polish up your plaiting skills? Piggy French’s groom, Amy Phillips, shares her top tips and step by step guide to perfect plaits.

  • Allow yourself time. I wouldn’t say I’m very fast. It takes me about 30 minutes, unless I have a horse with a thick mane, which could double that time.
  • The mane should be appropriately pulled and thinned to be the length of your fist, so it’s easy to hold as you plait.
  • Avoid using a detangling spray on the mane – our horses’ manes are kept clean and shiny, but not slippery, with Lincoln’s 2-in-1 shampoo.
  • Stand tall. We have a fold-up step for travelling, but in the yard we use a wide barrel that means you can plait the whole mane without having to reposition it!

Step by step

1. Spray the mane with a plaiting spray – that gives it a tackiness so it’ll hold in place nicely.

2. Section the mane. For a thick mane like that of Cooley Monsoon, who has a hedgehog of a mane, that will only be two fingers’ width, but more normally four fingers’ width is ideal.

  • I am quite superstitious, so I try to avoid 13 plaits in the mane, but back in North Hereford Pony Club I was taught not to have an even number along the mane as it creates an obvious half-way point in the neck. For me 11 plaits – 12 including the forelock – would be standard.
  • I use the edge of a plaiting comb and score it vertically so the divisions are clear. I clip the mane of the next plait away using a hair ‘crocodile’ clip.

3. Plait with plenty of tension in the mane. You can also press the plait into the horse’s neck so it lies down against the neck rather than above the neck.

4. Once you’ve plaited the mane to the base, take your needle and thread into the end of the plait and then turn the end of the plait over.

5. Coil thread around the base to make a neat bud that you can then fold under the plait.

6. Stitch up through the plait and then in a figure of eight, twice.

7. Then knot the thread at the top. This gives you an easy point for taking out with scissors or a Quick Unpick sewing tool.

8. I use Lincoln’s Plaiting Mist to lie the wispy short bits of mane down as I don’t like to cut them off.

9. Put on a hood – even if on for only a couple of hours, it can make plaits sit more level, but routinely we plait the day before an event and the horses are then stabled or turned out with a hood and lightweight rug.

Plaiting for conformation

Amy says: “Plaiting can help the overall outline and impression, so if the horse has a disproportionately long neck then few plaits help shorten it, whereas if he has a short neck then extra plaits help elongate it.”

She adds: “If the horse has a bit of a swan neck at the base or tends to drop at the poll, I’ll make the plaits at those points stand up a little above the neck to give him a better outline.”

Bands vs. thread

Amy says: “We always sew in our plaits with proper large plaiting needles and thread.”

But bands do come in on occasion: “I use bands for the forelock as I find them easier to use and get the right look. And for rug-rubbed manes, sometimes I can only twizzle the base of the mane into fake plaits, which can’t be sewn in and banding also helps add bulk. I also don’t want to risk cutting any precious hairs out when removing the plaits with a quick-unpick or scissors.”


Piggy likes her horses to have traditionally pulled tails (not clipped), whereas in racing, Amy would often plait the base of the tail such that it had a wave and looked fuller, but that’s not a fashion in eventing. Amy says: “Only our grey horses may have the lower part of their tails plaited after washing to try and prevent them from staining too much overnight.”

She would also French plait the top of the racehorses’ tails, but nowadays her only practice at French plaiting is for the forelocks (unless they are too wispy), but she says: “We often practice our French plaiting on each other’s hair to keep our hand in!”

So, there you go – have a go on yourself and your friends first!