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Why I Will Never Pull a Mane or Tail Again…

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My plaits (done in haste, with laccy bands!)  This mane hasn’t been pulled, only shortened with scissors.

A report on a new study was doing the rounds on Social Media this week, and got me thinking. Here is the full text:

How do horses feel about having their manes pulled?A brilliant recent study by MSc student Louise Nicholls found that horses are unsurprisingly pretty stressed by the process. Louise compared the heart rates and behaviour of 20 horses having their manes pulled or touched.The results showed that the horses mean heart rates were significantly higher when they had their manes pulled than when their manes were touched. The horses also had higher mean heart rates when the mane pulling was started at the poll working down, than at the withers working up.

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A bottom to make Kim Kardashian jealous… and a tail that has never been pulled, only trimmed with scissors and a tail-rake.

The horses also moved far more when their manes were pulled compared to mane touching e.g. ears back, standing alert, licking and chewing, a high neck position, head tossing, mouth tight and tail swishing and clamping – indicating they experienced discomfort or pain at the process being performed.

While the horse’s stress and discomfort may seem obvious to many horse owners, this appears to be the first time the effects of mane pulling has been studied – so a huge well done to Louise for raising awareness on this subject. I wouldn’t like to have my hair pulled out forcibly either! Time to find another way to keep manes tidy – or just leave them as nature intended.

In the comments on the post, the brain behind the study, Louise, clarifies that the same person did the pulling every time, and that every horse was done 8 times and data gathered every time, so variables were greatly reduced. She said:

Hi everyone, would just like to say that any licking and chewing that was observed during data collection WAS combined with a high heart rate. It can only be assumed that licking and chewing was a sign of discomfort in this situation. I would definitely advise horse owners to measure their horse’s heart rate during mane pulling- even if they are not showing obvious physical behavioral signs of stress. As horses are prey animals and may be passive copers they will not always try to flee away from a painful or stressful situations and could go into a state of learnt helplessness and not show any behavioural signs of stress but have a sky high heart rate.
and
Just wanted to clarify that the increased heart rate during mane pulling WAS combined with behavioural indicators of stress such as rearing, pulling back, a tight mouth etc. Therefore the increased heart rate was not
on it’s own. The horses used in the study were privately owned horses that were not naive and were habituate to mane pulling. Each horse was observed during mane pulling 8 times over many weeks. Finally one standard person pulled each of the horses manes during the study.

Personally, I wasn’t at all surprised by the results of the survey… anyone who knows horses will admit that some really feel their manes and tails being pulled, although admittedly some seem to ignore (or be totally resigned to) the pain – these are the ‘passive copers’. I had a big TB gelding who obviously really felt it, he would invariably try determinedly to squash me against the wall the moment I started pulling his mane, even if it was just after strenuous exercise when it is supposed to hurt less, and even if I only took a couple of strands of hair at a time. He HATED it being done, it obviously really hurt him.

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This mane was done purely with scissors, no pulling at all. It is the perfect length and thickness for plaiting imho and the horse didn’t have to suffer for my ideal of beauty! The bottom’s been rubbed a bit by winter rugs, but later in the year I expect it all to look totally uniform.

I stopped pulling tails ages ago, preferring to use a tail rake and a pair of sharp scissors. If the scissors are held vertical, parallel with the tail with the point at the top, you can get a very good finish without any lines at all. And tail rakes are things of wonder, you can get a really tidy result.

I use scissors to shorten manes, with a sort of ‘freehand slide’ technique, holding a section taut and sliding the scissors down the strands and cutting fairly randomly. It takes a while to get a good finish on the ends, one which does not look scissored, but it’s worth it. Or, the Solocomb is very good too, it just takes a bit of practice to get a good finish.

Many years ago when I was a teenager I was helping out on an event yard in exchange for lessons. In the afternoon I went down the row of boxes, skipping out. One box contained a black mare who I had never gone near before. As I bent down behind her, filling up the skip, I heard something whistle past my head. As I leapt back in alarm, her next double-barrel filled my mouth with shavings out of her hind feet, although she didn’t touch me (by a millimetre, obviously). I had to keep her off me with the shavings fork as I got out of the box, she was almost savage, the angriest horse I have ever seen.
The reason I am telling this story is that it turned out that her owner had gone there that morning and pulled her entire mane, with the mare cold.  She did this routinely, with the mare tied and twitched. The next person in the stable (that day, me) would bear the brunt of the mare’s bitter resentment. Nobody had thought to warn me, I was just the kid helping out, who didn’t realise. I was very lucky, she missed… just.

It was a big lesson, I’ve always been careful about mane-pulling since, usually doing it over a few days, and from the bottom up (although it’s slightly harder to judge the finished length that way). After reading this study, I’m going to use thinning scissors if necessary, and never pull again. I’m sure my horses will appreciate it!

 

About the author

Kerry

21 Comments

  • I absolutely agree. My solid as a rock, calm & biddable mare hates having her mane pulled. Quite simply because it hurts her. I haven’t pulled a mane or tail for years, and have plaited for showing at county level with a mane that’s been scissored, no problem. I also refuse to trim whiskers, completely outdated and unnecessary practices.

  • One of my mares has an excessively thick and coarse mane, on the first attempt of pulling I nearly lost my head! Ever since I have done it with a tail rake to thin it then used scissors and a mane comb in a solocomb fashion, works a treat!

  • I ‘half hog’ my mares’ mane as it’s very thick….. I clip the underside of it all the way down her neck and then scissor the rest shorter so it’s easier to plait.

    If it weren’t for having to plait it, I wouldn’t bother at all.

    I think pulling is pretty cruel, and it hurts my fingers too!

  • My boy hates it. Iv never pulled it but someone obviously has because he wont hardly let me cut it without losing the plot. I learned a nice texhnique when I was very young. I take a piece of mane, back comb as if Im then going to pull and then cut that with scissors. I do this through thw whole mane which gives the exact same effect as pulled without the cruelty. Give it a go. The results are fab!!

  • I never pull manes for just that reason.. Horse can’t stand it!!! I have a special technique with a mane comb with the razor blade on it. You would never know it was bladed instead of pulled!!!

  • […] Tells man är jättelång och jättetjock.. och jag gillar verkligen inte att rycka den. För att Tell hatar det. Ibland tycker han det är helt okej, och jag tar alltid jättelång tid på mig och kliar och klappar honom medan jag håller på. Men ändå, det är verkligen inte kul. Jag känner mig hemsk. (Det är väl därför jag rycker den så sällan). Och nu känner jag mig ännu värre efter att ha läst det här.  […]

  • So how do you explain the horses that sit there with their head hung low and never have one issue?? They rub their own mane and tails off all the time, can’t imagine if it was that uncomfortable they would continue to do it. Curious to know if the heart rate went up in reaction to the stranger with the “weird object” being put on their body attached to the strangers ears everytime the mane was pulled…

  • I use a thinning blade. It looks like a pocket knife, but has a serrated blade for shortening manes or tails. You can shorten or thin manes and tails with it. It does a beautiful job and the horses don’t seem to mind it at all. It also cost me less than $5. What’s not to like?

  • Pulling manes looks much smarter than cutting with scissors you can tell the people who don’t work in the equine industry and just play at it. It’s pathetic get over yourself it all depends on the handler. I pull all our stallions manes & tails and have no problems at all. If your a good handler and your horse has a BOND with you there shouldn’t be a problem.

    • ‘Guest’ that’s funny, because the Professionals I know don’t tend to talk about a ‘bond’ at all – they understand horses, treat them fairly and make their requests clear, and usually have very few problems. They don’t worry about forming a ‘bond’, that’s for Amateurs in my experience!
      Did you actually bother to read the details and results of the study? Only 1 person did all the pulling, so there were no variables in that case.
      This isn’t about it depending on the handler, or even about being a Pro or an Amateur, it’s about the process causing pain, and even horses which show no outward signs of that at all, having an elevated heart rate.

  • Guest if you read the article properly you will have read the explanation of ‘passive copers’ basically the horses have just given into the pulling. They show no outward signs of pain but the heart rate is elevated indicating a large amount of discomfort.

    You wouldn’t really like it if someone came and pulled or ragged at your hair because they don’t think it looks professional. why subject the horses to it? when there are other pain free methods to get the same result? Stop being eletist saying it doesn’t look as well done pain free as it does tearing out the hair by force.

  • My instructor is a bit old school and doesn’t think you should go near a horse’s mane with scissors. I on the other hand have always thought it’s a bit mean to pull the hairs out by their roots. I wouldn’t fancy it being done to me so I won’t do it to my horse.
    Instructor commented the other day what a nice neat mane my boy has. I took great pleasure in telling her it had been cut and not pulled 🙂
    I’m just really careful and always cut upwards instead of across so it doesn’t look ‘blunt’
    Plus, if you don’t pull, you don’t have all the whispy bits of hair that are growing back so much neater plaits I find.

  • Yes, pulling manes suck. I tend to clip my horses’ tails and it looks much much better than those pictures but with my current horse, I am going to try to pull it once it grows out enough. All of my horses have been exposed to mane pulling properly and therefore don’t have an issue (even my lovely “devil” mare that didn’t even like people in her stall). Plus, trimmed manes with scissors look absolutely horrendous, yes even the picture above. Also, as humans we have multiple nerve endings per hair and horses have 1 nerve ending per 8 hairs, ie it hurts exponentially less. If your horse is so bad about it, try more of a natural horsemanship way and do sort of a systematic desensitization. Most things like that, especially when the horse is good about everything else, is a hole in their original breaking and they just need to learn that it is not a big deal. Don’t kill your horse or yourself trying, but I definitely don’t think that we should stop all together! After all, horses shouldn’t even be ridden at all because of their bodies, let alone jumped, raced or jogged, so why aren’t we saying we should stop that too?

  • I ride western, just trails and recreation, but my father, a barber, taught me to trim manes and tails with a sharp, short bladed pocket knife. My horses never minded the trims since you pulled no more than if you were brushing them. It takes a few tries to learn but you can get very nice results without upsetting or hurting your mount.

  • Great article. Astonishing that anyone would be surprised by the findings. If someone said to me, “l’m going to pull your hair out at the roots. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt and it will look awesome when l’m done,” l would kick them in the shins and run a mile. We have seriously got to get over this idea that hurting horses is justified if it makes them look nicer or behave better.

  • Sorry. I do not think pulling manes versus shears/not pulling is a one size fits all approach. I was always taught the nerve endings on manes are different than your hair or their tails (which one was not suppposed to pul),and I am certain I would have been injured over 35 yrs of pulling if that was not the case.

    Too many people who use scissors or what ever is latest on the market saying it is because they don’t want to be cruel when actually it was because they were lazy and it looks like crap.

    Pretty sure horses can be fidgety to touch with rapid heart rates over tacking, riding etc.

    One thing to claim an article validates your approach and a whole other to use it to wave and tell anyone else they must not do this.

  • very interesting to see this topic debated. I was taught to pull manes and tails in very professional old school establishments and have generally had no problems over the years. Some horses through extra sensitivity, feistiness or bad experiences definitely don’t like it, so then I have used blades and scissors. It is necessary to do the pulling over a week or so, only do a few hairs at a time and make sure the hair is properly back combed to up near the skin where it is growing from. Yanking it out from down near the bottom is harder for you and appears more painful for the horse. They tell you if you are hurting them and if you watch and pay attention you will know if what you are doing is acceptable or not. A good handler reads the signs, works around the issues to achieve a result that is good for both.
    For thick manes, cutting with a little pulling can give a natural look.
    When I hear of horses with bleeding and needing to be twitched I am horrified. Twitching has its place in some instances for treating illness for example but in my mind not for just tidiness.