By Terry Golson

The type of riding that I compete in, dressage, is rather formal. What one wears is dictated by show rules and tradition. Garb is muted and includes dark jackets, white shirts and breeches, and tall and polished black boots. None of that I mind so much, in fact I like how it looks, and the lack of flash puts the focus on the riding. Also, modern, stretchy, breathable fabrics makes it all rather comfortable (except for that stock tie around the neck, that I could do without!)



The horse is also subject to tradition and shows with a braided mane.

braids closeup


I won’t go into the details of how one does that here; it’s enough to know that it requires trimming and thinning, spritzing with “product“, combing, braiding, and sewing. Tonka’s mane is particularly stiff and thick. It can take me an hour to do. I braid him the night before a show. He stands in the barn aisle, while I stand on a stool.



I have experience braiding, and I like to think that I go about doing it so that the braids don’t pull and bother him at their roots. Still, Tonka has never particularly liked his mane being fussed with, so I reward him for standing still. He’s a patient horse, but even Tonka gets bored.

Last Wednesday we went to a show, so Tuesday night I braided his mane. About 40 minutes into the process, I stepped off of the stool to get something. Tonka, with a distinct glint, and one eye on me to make sure that I was watching, picked up the stool in his mouth and threw it down the aisle!



I think that my horse was quite pleased with the clatter and bang that it made. In fact, I think that he thought about that before he tossed the stool, because he didn’t flinch at the noise.

Tonka is used to having me listen to him. Horses rarely vocalize. Rather, they use body language and physical movement to express themselves. Tonka knows I’m not a horse and he knows that, in order for me to understand him, sometimes he has to do things that horses don’t usually do – like picking up a stool in his teeth and hurling it down the aisle.

Point taken, Tonka!

I gave him a good scratching at the top line of his neck which he leaned into with appreciation. At this point there was only about ten minutes left of braiding, which I finished.

The next day we trailered to the show, where we competed against classic-looking dressage horses (big and mostly solid-colored.)

warm up

Tonka’s black and white coat might be in formal tuxedo colors, but he’s not a traditional horse!

Once again, we did well, placing second in both classes, with good scores of 63.47 and 64.23. Here we are at the end of one of the tests.

after halt


He does look tidy in those braids! But, as soon as we were done, I undid them while Tonka ate hay.

removing braids


That product remained and so did the curls, so the next day, I shampooed it all out.

shampoo out


I think that Tonka was much relieved.

much better

14 thoughts on “Braids

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Until I started up again with Tonka, I hadn’t braided a horse since the 1980s, when we didn’t have “product.” I can tell you it makes the task much easier. So, I own hair gel for my horse and not for me!

  • Jan

    Poor Tonka, he really is a very patient guy. Made me smile reminds me of the plaits I have to put in my granddaughters hair when my daughter has not had time. She quite often throws a wobble because I take too long especially when she wants ribbons added in and my fingers are not as nimble as they used to be. Very well done with your scores and coming second, you must be very proud of Tonk he looks quite small against the others, ( they always say the best things come in small packages )…:)

  • Jean Husson

    Well done, Tonka. Very articulately put. I do wish we could learn to honor the dressage tradition without the parts that make these beautiful horses uncomfortable.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I don’t think he’s uncomfortable. He never rubs them – which he would if they bothered him, though I don’t think he likes the feel of that sticky mane gel after the braids come out 🙂

  • Louise

    Ha! This post made me laugh out loud, and then I read it to my husband. He also laughed. I wondered how long you waited before scratching Tonka’s neck after the stool throwing. After all, you don’t really want to reward THAT behavior!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Yes, first I got the stool and put it back in its place. Then I gave them the scratches. Then I went back to braiding. We’ll see what happens when I braid for the next show.

  • Durbin Goodwin

    This is a great post. Tonka seems to be quite a character and certainly showed his dismay at the braids. A bit of mischief on his part. But I have to say he looks beautiful with the braids in. Tonka’s little “I have had about enough of this braiding” fit just shows to me what a beautiful relationship the two of you must have. It is as if he knew in advance that he would not be punished for his reaction but rather appreciated even more.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      He’d been shifting his weight a bit and I hadn’t responded, so he decided to do something to get his point across. He could have acted up in the cross-ties, in an antsy, reactive way, but his was so thoughtful. How could I get angry?

  • Tracy

    I know you hear this all the time, but The Good Little Horse really is just that. A lovely, nicely balanced and well put together, beautifully colored, responsive, kind eyed boy….who also appears to have a bit of a sense of humor!

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