Dressage competitions are the epitome of formality. Horse and rider are judged on the perfection and purity of each movement, so turnout and plaiting should never distract or be disturbing to the eye.
In dressage competitions, the rules prohibit ribbons or any kind of decorations except for perfectly plaited manes, which can be accented with white tape. An impeccably turned out horse, sparkling clean and with every item correctly fitted, along with a rider equally well presented, will make the best impression.
Dressage horses should be trimmed as neatly as any other breed, with fetlocks and lower leg hair closely trimmed and the coronary band hair trimmed to an even line. The legs may be trimmed, especially if the horse has heavy leg hair or white markings, but close-clipped areas should be carefully blended. The jawline and the first few inches of the throat, and a short bridle path should be clipped (1-2"). The outside edges of the ears may be trimmed to give them a neater appearance, but it is not necessary or even advisable to remove the hair from the inside of the ears. If the inner hair is removed and the horse is bothered by flies or midges, he may start to toss his head and spoil his performance. Horses with large ears are not flattered by removing the inside hair, anyway- this can make the ear look bigger.
Clipping whiskers has now been outlawed by the FEI from July 2021. The new rule, part of the Veterinary Regulations covers sports horses competing internationally under the FEI rules for all disciplines.
The mane of the dressage horse is pulled to a uniform length of 3.5 - 5" and is usually plaited for competitions. The plaits can be done as a hunter plait, knob-style plaits or sewn-in button plaits. Dressage plaits are often thicker than hunter plaits and may be fewer in number, averaging about twenty to twenty-five instead of thirty or more. The mane plaits can be accentuated with white tape, which is either wrapped around each plait on the side, over the yarn fastening or around the base of the knob plait. If the forelock is plaited, it should also be taped.
While it is customary to pull the manes of dressage horses, long maned horse like Arabs and Spanish horses may show in dressage without pulling the mane. They may put the mane up in doubled and sewn button plaits or leave it free and natural. However, there are two special mane styles that work well for long-maned horses.
The French plait is a long, single plait that runs along the crest of the neck. It compasses all the hair much like a tail plait, except that the strands are added from one side only. One disadvantage of the French plait is that it may loosen and buckle as the horse flexes and stretches his neck.
The Continental plait is also sometimes seen on Arabs and Andalusians. It does not really involve plaiting, but creates a striking pattern of diamond shapes by parting, banding and re-parting the mane. It looks particularly attractive when the mane colour contrasts with that of the neck.
The tools that you will require
You will need the following:
- Plaiting thread, and depending on the colour of the mane, choose the same colour thread.
- Rubber bands
- A fixative spray to hold the plaits in.
- A fine toothed comb
- Small sharp scissors
- A large-eye blunt threading needle.
- A crocodile hair clip.
- A stool
How To Plait
Wet the mane and comb smoothly on the right side of the neck.
Section off a 2-4" piece of mane and wrap a plaiting band around it until its snug.
Repeat this all the way down the neck.
Working with one section at a time, spray the section that you are working on with a fixative spray.
Separate the section into three equal portions.
Cross the right strand over the centre strand, using your thumb to keep it lying flat and down.
Next cross the left side over the right, pulling the centre piece to the right. Again use your thumbs to hold in place and smooth.
Continue crossing right and left down the plait.
When you get to the bottom of the plait, wrap the original plaiting band around it that you used to section the mane.
With your plaiting yarn and needle, thread the needle through the base of the plait, looping the yarn around the base of the plait so all the hairs are tidy.
With the plaiting needle thread up under the plait at the base of the neck and pull the plait up.
Roll the plait up to the base of the neck and sew each side of the plait into the base of the mane.
Cut off the loose thread close to the knot.