To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My easy-in, easy-out braiding method

After Larry's and my first show three weeks ago, Shula asked me to post a tutorial on the way I braid. So as I braided Larry for today's show (a report on the show at bottom), I took step-by-step photos to show the process I've come up with. It really is quick and easy both to do and undo, perfect for one-day shows.

First I assemble my tools:
That's a cheap plastic hair clip, a broken comb, and a bag of inexpensive elastic braid binders resting on the lid of the grooming box I store them in, which doubles as a solid stool to stand on. Then I put as many binders as comfortably possible on my left little finger so they are handy.

Today Larry's mane was still wet from his bath; otherwise I use Quic Braid spray to dampen the mane without making it slick (it actually adds a nice amount of grip).

Starting next to the bridle path, eyeball a reasonable section of mane, using your comb to make a straight part and the clip to keep the rest of the mane out of your way. The width of your section will depend on the thickness of your horse's mane; you don't want real thick braids or the finishing step is harder and the results less pleasing.

Make two quick parts in the section so you have three relatively equal strands to braid, and –

braid! At the end, secure with a binder. Tip: if you always start with the same strand, your braids will look and lay the same.

Repeat down the neck, trying to keep your sections equal in width, until the mane is all braided.

I like to finish my braids in the order I started, but you can do them in whatever order you want. All you do is fold a braid in half –

and then in half again –

followed by quickly securing your fat little beauty with another binder. Note: this step may take a little practice to get results you are happy with. If you don't like the way a braid looks, it's easy to pop off that last binder (see below) and try again. You'll soon get the hang of folding, holding and securing consistently.


For a long, silky forelock like Larry's, my preferred method is to braid off to one side and tuck it under the browband and cheekpiece of the bridle to secure it.

To me, at least half the beauty of this method is the ease of removal. Just reach under and grab the end of the braid closest to the crest –
and the second binder you applied just pops off. (I save and reuse them.) Pull the binder off the end –
and you're ready to run your fingers through the strands and set the mane free!

So, how did that beautifully coiffed boy and I do at our second show together? Well, Larry and I had a long, tiring day – too tiring for Larry, I think. This morning the Arab trainer shopping for horses for her clients came to see Larry. The meteorologist got the weather wrong, and it was raining. Still, I saddled and lunged him for the lady, leaving my saddle cover on to try and keep my saddle drier. When the cover billowed, Larry acted like a predator was on his back, tucking his tail and kicking up at it with his outside hind leg. He wasn't too crazy about getting rain in his face, either. But I got on and put him through his paces, followed by the trainer doing the same. She seemed to like him; we will see what happens.

Larry got a short break before I bathed him and braided his mane, and another short break while I took a shower. Then we took off for the show venue nearly an hour and a half away. We had plenty of time to get ready once we arrived, so he got a long, slow warm-up before our first test, which didn't go as well as I expected. He had a hitch in his get-along, popping up and switching leads in the back. It got worse during his second warm-up, and he had some major resistance and threw in a couple of bucks in the second test. There were still some lovely moments (I had the rides recorded on DVD and watched them when I got home), but overall I was disappointed. I have a strong suspicion that all the strange hitches and misbehavior were from fatigue, because he wasn't 'off' at any time and he didn't show any tenderness when I groomed him at the end. He did get far more time under saddle (with nearly six hours in the trailer on top of it) than I've ever put him through in the three months I've had him; what could I expect? Poor guy!

If Larry doesn't sell and I have another chance to show him, I'm going to try a very short warm-up, mostly letting him walk and stretch on a loose rein, then gather up the reins and head into the show arena. Every horse is different; I'm still figuring out the right routine for Larry.


TBDancer said...

Back in the day I watched a lot of home-made videos on and one of them was the warmup at a German dressage show featuring Farbenfroh. Nadine Capellmann (sp?) did a lot of walking on a loose rein. A LOT of walking. Then some piaffe-passage. Then a LOT MORE WALKING.

Another veteran California dressage person (who has scribed at the Olympics) mentioned the same thing watching the Europeans warm up at the World Cup when it was held in Las Vegas maybe six years ago. Lots of walking on a loose rein.

Maybe that's the key ;o)

Michelle said...

I think so. At home I do a lot of walking on a long, loose rein, and Larry takes full advantage of the opportunity to stretch his nose to the ground. Then I pick him up and we do some work on contact, interspersed by walk breaks. My mistake was to do both walking and working as warm-up for both tests, and that's AFTER he'd worked some for me and the trainer in the morning!

Shula said...

Thanks for the braiding tutorial! I have never heard that tip about starting with the same strand to make them lie the same way. Neat. Sorry you had a disappointing show, well done for still getting out and doing it though even with the rainy start of the day. Thanks again, I appreciate the braiding guide and have bookmarked it for future reference.