Thursday, May 31, 2012

To Pull or Not To Pull

That is the question.

Pulling the mane, that is.

For my non-horsey readers, pulling the mane is a method of shortening and thinning out the mane by basically ripping out small chunks of hair out using a special comb. Yes, pulling out their hair. (Go ahead and put that in your pocket for when you need to argue that horse people are crazy.)

Having grown up doing saddleseat where the horses' manes are either long and lush or roached (shaved), the idea of mane pulling was a bit dismaying to me when I first learned about it. Years later, the idea of ripping hair out by the roots still makes me cringe.

Even though I've been eventing for a while now, because Spirit did not have a thick mane and because of her owners' preferences (as well as my own), I used scissors to keep it at a decent length. So, the long and short of it (pun intended) is that I have never really pulled a mane.

However, meet Hemie's mane.
Oh, goodness. It needs some help.

My trainer believes in mane pulling. My BFF believes in mane pulling. To my knowledge everyone else at the barn believes in mane pulling. Okay, that merits looking into then.

Step 1 - Research proper mane pulling. 
I read this article on Eventing Nation. I watched several videos on YouTube not worth linking. I read forums, grooming blogs, and e-zines. There is quite a lot of material out there about mane pulling.

There's also an idea floating around that horses can't feel their mane, or that they can feel it but don't have pain receptors. I'm not an expert, but I think that's hooey. They can feel it, and it may or may not hurt them - individual horses (like people) have different pain tolerances. Of course it also depends on how it's done. I think that the concept of horses not feeling is an old wive's tale that is easier to tell children when they ask "doesn't this hurt?".  More likely, I'd think that mane pulling is like plucking eyebrows - may hurt at first but you just get used to it after a while, and some people will always dislike it.

After all that research, I'm simply still not convinced its something I want to do. At the end of the day it's still pulling their hair out.  We're not showing yet, and even when we do start showing it wont be the "A" circuit anytime soon. But, I do want to help Hemie's mane look a little more well-kept.

I know what you might be thinking. Why not use scissors? Well, I certainly have in the past on Spirit. Scissors are objected to in the horse grooming world for two reasons:

1. Pulling the mane helps thin it out. Cutting it with scissors may let the mane stay too thick.
Too thick for what?  For braiding. At shows. Which, again, we're not doing anytime soon. Plus, Hemie has a very thin mane right now. It certainly doesn't need (and shouldn't get) thinned out at all.

2. A multi-disciplinary aesthetic preference for manes that do not have the "freshly cut by scissors" look.

Not preferred. Too "blunt."
Preferred. More "tapered."

Step 2 - Research alternatives to traditional mane pulling.
I found quite a bit. It turns out a good number of horses object to getting their hair ripped out of their heads (wouldn't you??), so enterprising individuals have created products or methods to get their in less painful ways:

1. Using old/dulled clipper blades to scruff and cut hair.
This approach was actually mentioned in the above article that promotes traditional pulling:

“Pulling” will always THIN a mane. But what about a mane that is too thin? Places like the withers are almost always wispy (thanks to blanket rubs), and often thinner near the poll since the crest isn’t as wide. For those areas, or for thin manes in general, I use an old, dull clipper blade to shorten the hair. Angle the blade firmly into the hair at the desired length, and tease it back like you would with a pulling comb (about a half-inch above/below length). This will frizz and shorten the hair irregularly within that area, looking very much “pulled” without removing the roots. As with pulling, go slowly and work small sections at a time, to avoid a blunt cut.

2. Use a Solo-Comb or comparable product.
Here's a video showing the product and demonstrating use.

3. Use thinning shears and really sharp scissors in an expert way to cut the hair but reduce the blunt-edge look.
I gave this a half-hearted attempt with regular scissors (not especially sharp, bought at the dollar store) and had minimal success. At least, *I* thought it looked "good enough," though Laurie said she could always tell that it wasn't properly pulled. Proper tools and lots of practice are needed to make this method work, though.

Well, of the 3 options I found as an alternative to traditional mane-pulling, the only one that I have the proper equipment for is #1 (namely, an old, dulled clipper blade). I'll try to get to it in the next week or so. Wish me luck!


  1. I'm a fan of actually pulling. Some horses don't mind, some do. As long as you stay on top of it and don't let things get out of control, it's rarely an issue. The clipper thing works if you must, but never, never scissors. It always looks bad imho.

  2. Agree no cutting :)

    If you work the horse first it makes pulling a bit easier. :)