Caring for a Long Mane

Ever wonder how some horses like reiners or Friesians have such a beautiful long mane?  There a few reasons.  First is purely genetics; if any horse’s sire or dam has a long mane, then their offspring may have a long mane.  The second is hair maintenance.  Frequent care of any mane will cause it to grow longer and stay tangle free.

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Care of a long mane is simple, although sometimes time consuming.  It consists of washing the mane and putting it into braids at least once every month.  Here are the steps the professionals use to a maintain and grow a beautiful long mane:

First, the hair should be thoroughly washed and conditioned. Take special care to scrub the crest of the neck where the mane grows out of.  This will massage the hair follicles and encourage hair growth.  After washing, be sure to rinse out any remaining soap and conditioner residue.  If there is any soap left on your horse’s skin it will become itchy causing your horse to rub out his mane.

Next, once your horse’s mane is thoroughly rinsed, wait for it to dry.  For a faster dry time you can blow dry your horse’s mane, but be careful that you desensitize your horse to the sound of the blow-dryer beforehand.  Once dry, gently comb through the mane.

Lastly put the mane into braids.  A horse with an average thickness of mane each braid will use four to five inches of mane hair.  This will insure you don’t have a large number of tiny braids to deal with.  When you begin braiding be sure to make the very top of your braids as loose as possible.  If the top of the braid is tight, and your horse puts his head down to graze it will pull a large amount of hair out (this is especially true at the withers).  Once you’ve insured that the top of your braid is loose, the rest of your braid should be tight so that your braids don’t fall out.  Tie off your braids about three inches from the end of the mane hair.

If your horse has very thin hair the product MTG may also be applied to the roots as directed.

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These steps should be repeated ideally once every two weeks, but should be done at least once a month.  The longer the braids are left in the more at risk your horse is to pull out entire braids.

Long manes do not have to be braided like this; however, if they are not, they are at risk of getting wind knots as depicted in the picture below.  Wind knots are very common for long-maned horses and commonly need to be ripped or cut out causingthe mane to be uneven in appearance.

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Cooling Down: the Most Important Part of Your Ride

Many people forget that horses are athletes as well as companions and that they should be treated as such.  Any competitive human athlete always takes the time after their workout, game, or race to bring their heart-rate and body temperature carefully back to normal so that their body has time to repair itself; they do this by staying moving.

The cool-down session of a horse’s workout is the most commonly forgotten part. Because horses are athletes, they too need time to cool down and bring their body back to normal.  Going for a hard ride, then sticking they horse in his stall while he is breathing hard and sweating is harmful to his health in multiple ways!

If it is cold out while your horse’s body is trying to cool down, he will experience a rapid cooling, get the chills, begin to shiver, and become stiff, sore, and sick.  If he has access to food while he is hot and sweaty he will not be able to digest properly because his body is trying to cool off; this could cause him to colic.  If it is extremely hot outside, and you hose him off with ice cold water his muscles can experience shock, or can tie-up.  On the other hand, if it is extremely hot outside and you let him stand in his hot stall he could suffer a heat stroke.

So, how do you properly cool down your horse?  Follow these steps for a proper cool-down:

If it’s COLD outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is sweaty, lay a cooler* over the top of him.  If the cooler becomes soaked with sweat before your horse is dry you will need to replace the old cooler with a fresh one until your horse is dry.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch.  (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body, he does not need to keep walking around, but he does need to maintain a cooler until he is dry.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can be fed or he can go frolic in the pasture.

*A cooler is the common term for a fleece-like blanket designed for horses.  Its purpose is to wick away moisture from the horses body.  It is the only devise that can properly cool down a wet horse in cold weather.

An Unappreciative Horse and His Cooler

If it’s HOT outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is foaming or dripping with sweat, rinse him off with warm water to avoid shock.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch. (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body the sun is a great tool to use to evaporate any sweat.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can go back outside, into his stall, or be fed his favorite snack.

If your horse cannot catch his breath, is panting, lethargic, or just cannot seem recover he may be suffering from HEAT STROKE.

What to do in case of Heat Stroke:

  • Take your horses temperature rectally.  Anything over 101°F is considered abnormal.
  • Keep walking to help your horse catch his breath.
  • Sponge ice water onto the neck, chest, girth, and flank areas to try to cool his blood and organs down.
  • Inform your vet if you suspect heat stroke so he can be ready if your horse is not recovering in a timely manner.
  • Note the time you stopped working your horse to monitor how long it is taking him to recover (the vet will want this information).

Wrapping Polos: the Right Way

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Polo wraps are one of the most common and one of the oldest types of protective equipment.  They were designed to protect the horse’s legs from interference caused by the other legs during work.  Polos are a long piece of fleece cloth that ranges from 4-6 inches wide, and 6-10 feet long.

There is a common misconception that polos are able to provide support to the leg; this is untrue.  Polo wraps do not, and cannot provide support to the leg.  For a leg to obtain support it must be partially or completely immobile.  Polos are a simple piece of cloth and cannot physically immobilize the leg of a 1000+ pound animal.  So, polo wraps provide protection, not support.

Because of this common misconception, many people wrap polos too far up the leg, or too far down onto the pastern.  When wrapping the legs in this manner the polos create interference with movement.

Also note the difference between polo wraps and standing bandages.  Many catalogs and websites switch the names of these two items because they appear very similar, but they have two separate uses.   Just remember that a polo is usually made of fleece or a thick material.  Standing bandages are usually made of cotton or a thinner woven material.  When looking at a picture in a catalog, the polo will appear fatter, while the standing bandage is skinnier when they are rolled up.

Remember: if done improperly, a polo can cause serious harm to a horses leg.  If there is uneven pressure a tendon could possibly bow.  If you do not want to risk this, use a splint boot or sports medicine boot instead.

Before you wrap:

You must first make sure your polo is rolled properly.  The easiest way to remember which way to roll your polo is if you connect your two Velcro pieces together as shown in the picture below.

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Once your Velcro connects to each other, keep wrapping the polo in the same direction.  However, you may need to start at the fold on the top of the wrap making the wrap almost double up in the beginning like in the picture below.  This will make sure that your wrap will start off nice and tight.

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Rolling your polo as tight as possible will make it easier to wrap onto your horses leg. Below is a polo that is wrapped incorrectly because it is too rectangular, and a wrap that is too loose; you will not be able to roll these  onto the leg.  A polo that is rolled up correctly is also pictured.  Notice how it is tight and uniform.

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Wrapping:

Before you begin wrapping run your hand down the leg to wipe away any excess dirt that could cause irritation.

Place the wrap on the inside of the cannon without unrolling it.  If the end of the polo is facing towards the hindquarters while it is resting on the cannon, then the rest of your wrap should be correct.  If the end is facing the hindquarters but is away from the leg you will be wrapping the polo on wrong, and when you are finished your Velcro will be backwards.

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You will always be wrapping inside to outside, and front to back.  So, the left legs will always be wrapped counterclockwise and the right legs will always be wrapped clockwise.

Start in the middle of the cannon and roll the polo downward.  When you do so, you will be wrapping halfway down the previous track of polo.  This way you will never have a gap between polos.

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Once you reach the very top of the pastern, wrap downwards and around the fetlock as to cup the fetlock.  Your polo should just barely be covering the horse’s ergot, and not be covering any of the pastern. This is the beginning of the ‘V,’ which you will be doing twice.

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Next, bring your polo back upwards and roll it around the cannon once. You will notice a shallow inverted ‘V’ shape formed in the center of the front of the fetlock. Now, do the same two motions over again; roll downward and back up over the same ‘V’ shape you had before.  The reason we create the ‘V’ shape twice is because the fetlock is the most vulnerable part of the leg and receives the most amount of impact from the other legs.

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Once you have created the second V then roll the wrap up the rest of the leg.  Keep in mind that your goal is to end with the Velcro at the top of the cannon.  So, if your wrap is extremely long, or your horse’s cannons are very short, you may have to cover more than half of the previous wrapping.  If you reach the top and there is still too much, simply start wrapping downwards again, but keep it in mind for next time.

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Make certain that while you’re wrapping you’re applying even pressure! If parts of your wrap are tighter than others you may bow a tendon!

Additionally, make sure there are as little wrinkles as possible in your wrap.  Wrinkles also cause uneven pressure and are hazardous.

If your Velcro is bad:

If your Velcro seems to not be able to stick to itself then taping the polo on is appropriate.  Masking tape is the most appropriate tape to use because it cannot stretch; stretchy tape will wrap too tight and a leg could become seriously injured.  If you only have stretchy tapes make sure to lay the tape over the leg; do not wrap it around! There are two ways to use the tape as shown in the pictures below.

First is to simply wrap the tape around itself, or you can wrap in a three tier system.  Both are appropriate.

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Like everything in the horse world, learning to wrap polos takes PATIENCE and PRACTICE.  Never settle for an OK wrapping job because you could potentially injure your horse.