If you show your horse on a regular basis, you will already know the expense of hiring someone to braid your horse for you. While elastic braids are well and good, there is nothing quite as nice as a set of tightly sewn wool braids on a show horse.
Fortunately, as with elastic braids, it is possible for nearly anyone to learn how to braid with wool. If you are not already familiar with braiding techniques, please read about braiding with elastics before attempting to braid with wool. Wool braids require more dexterity than elastic braids, and without a solid foundation in braiding, you will likely become frustrated and give up before you have a chance to succeed.
Start out by choosing wool that is similar in color to your horse’s mane. If you can’t find the right color, choose one that is slightly darker. Synthetic wool is just as good as real wool, and lasts longer. Some braiders prefer cord, but that tends to be more expensive, so you might prefer to stick with wool while you are learning.
Pinching the end of the wool in your fingers, wrap the wool around your elbow, then back up to your hand, making a long loop. Continue this several times until you have 20-30 loops of wool. Cut these loops at your hand, making 20-30 strands of wool ready for braiding.
Starting as you would for elastic braids, separate a section of mane about 1” in width. If the mane is a bit on the longer side (closer to 6”) you might want to take a slightly wider section. Select one strand of wool and fold it in half. Hold it in your teeth as you separate the hair into three sections.
Flip the center section of hair up, so that the other two sections are lying flat against the horse’s neck. Lay the wool over the two sections so that one half runs along each section of hair. Pull down the middle section over the wool, and begin to braid.
It is essential to keep your braid tight when braiding with wool. Because you are not using an elastic to fasten the end, the braid must be firm so that it will stay together when tied.
When you reach the end of your braid it is time to tie it off. Take one strand of wool and wrap it around the end of the braid. Pull the end through the loop you have made, forming a knot. Now, take the second strand of wool and do the same thing in the opposite direction. Finally, take both strands and tie them off a final time together. These three knots make your braid’s end secure, and will hold up remarkably well. If you have not succeeded in making the knot tight enough, either rebraid, or take an elastic and snug the end with it to keep the braid secure. Continue this process until all of the braids are complete, leaving the excess wool dangling down the neck like a mane.
Next take a “pull-through” to pull up the braids. A pull-through is actually a rug hook that you can find at any fabric or craft store. It is simply a hook with a small flap that closes the end so that it can’t catch and pull any hairs as you pull the wool through the braid.
Stick your pull-through into the top of the braid from the outside, as close to the center as you can. Slip the excess wool into the hook from behind the braid, and pull it through the top of the braid to the outside; let the ends hang over the far side of the horse’s neck. Make sure the resulting folded braid lies flat without any twists. Continue pulling all of the braids through.
Next it is time to tie off the braids. Take the wool and separate the two ends. Making sure that the braid is tightly pulled up, tie a knot directly under the braid. Now loosely form a knot on top of the braid, tightening it just enough that it lies on the surface of the braid. Gently squish the braid so that there is a small bump of braid above the knot, with the majority of the braid below the knot. Tighten the knot and tie it two more times to make it secure.
The finished braid should lie flat on the neck with a small bump at the top that may be seen from the far side. Continue down the neck, making certain to keep the “bumps” even. When all the braids are complete, cut the excess wool, leaving about ¼” of excess at each knot.
To undo the braids, lift them to one side and snip one strand of wool from the edge. Pull the braid straight, then slide your seam-ripper or scissors under the wool in the direction of the hair and cut the knot at the bottom. The wool will fall out as your pull out the braids.