How to Do Dressage Braids – Button and Rosette Braids

Updated June 8, 2023
Dressage button braids on a chestnut horse in the show ring.

Great dressage braids can add a level of polish to a winning dressage test, while messy, loose braids can be a distraction from an otherwise great ride. But braiding can be hard, especially for beginners!

In this article, we will explain two different techniques for doing dressage braids or plaits. Both require the same preparation of the horse’s mane and braiding tools. These techniques differ in how they are rolled or folded up to either look like a button or like a rosette. Whichever one you choose for show day is a matter of personal taste and preferences for your dressage horse.

Tools You’ll Need for Dressage Braids

  • To separate the hair in even width, use a pulling comb.
  • To give more structure to the hair and keep fly aways down, you can either use mane mousse or quic braid.
  • Super Bands, which come in different colors, plus include a band and braid ripper which makes it easier getting the braids out.
  • Yarn or thread is needed to bring the braid up and secure it nicely. Waxed thread is very easy, clean to work with, and can match the color of your horses’ mane. Another benefit of wax thread is that you don’t have to tie the braids off into knots.
  • A mane and tail brush.
  • A braiding (darning) needle.
  • A pair of scissors.
  • A hair clip to hold off sections of hair.
  • A step stool or small mounting block.

Prepping Your Horse’s Mane

In order to get braids that look as similar to each other as possible, your horse’s mane needs to be the same, even length all along the crest of the neck. A great option is using the SoloComb to trim your horse’s mane. Depending on hair growth, you may have to trim it every 2-3 months. If your horse has a thin or flat mane, trimming the hair with the scissors or thinning scissors may be ideal.

The ideal length of the mane depends on its thickness. Generally, a hand’s width is a good place to start. If your horse has a very thick mane (think of Shetland pony hair) you may want to have the mane a bit longer. Otherwise, it might be a struggle to braid it down if it is too short.

Also, for the mane to hold the braids together well, you may want to opt out of cleaning it with shampoo, conditioner, or using any softening spray before braiding.

Step-by-Step How to Do Dressage Braids

  1. Use a hairbrush to comb through your horses’ mane.
  2. Wet the mane slightly using the brush or a sponge.
  3. Use mousse or quic braid and spread it throughout the whole mane, then comb through the mane again.
  4. Use the width of a pulling comb to separate the first set of hair right behind the ears or bridle path.
  5. Use an elastic rubber band to put section off that hair.
  6. Work your way down your horse’s neck sectioning off each portion of mane with a rubber band until the end near the withers.
  7. Step back for a minute to look at the hair and make sure it’s clearly separated in straight lines with the same general width. Often, the mane gets thinner towards the end so the last 1-2 sections may look slimmer. In that case, you can use more hair by taking some a bit more than the width of the pulling comb.
  8. Separate the first section of hair into three pieces and begin braiding. Try to keep the sections of hair even and straight. Braid down tightly and tie off with a rubber band. Continue down the mane.
  9. Fold the ends of the braided hair up and tie off with another rubber band so that there are no “pencil” hairs left sticking out and everything is rounded up.
Starting button braids by parting and braiding sections of the horse's mane.

Next step is to bring the braids up. This is where you can opt for the button braid or rosette style for the finishing look.

Version A – Dressage Rosettes with Wax Thread

  1. Take one section of wax thread about 10-15 inches long. Take the end of the piece of thread and loop it around the end of the braid (at the rubber band) 2-3 times.
  2. Send your needle downwards through the braid’s rubber bands and pull tight.
  3. Send the needle up through the center of the braid and form it in the way you want along the crest of the mane.
  4. Place the needle so it pierces down through the braid and pull it tight. It’s important to have your needle go through the rubber bands again at this stage, or else the braids will open up. Place it going back upwards through the braid and pull through again.
  5. Then, you repeat the prior steps one more time, so the needle goes back down and then upwards again.
  6. Finish by cutting the excess thread as close to the rosette as possible.
Sewing the button braid from the bottom to finish.

Version B – Dressage Button Braids with Rubber Bands

  1. Fold the braid twice, so that it is folded on top of itself into a little ball or button.
  2. Secure the braid in this form by using a rubber band tied around the button. For horses with thicker manes, you may have to use multiple rubber bands to hold the button braids together.

For the forelock, you can opt for either method but will need to incorporate some French braiding skills in the beginning of the braid!

Video on How to Do Dressage Braids

In this video, Sarah Perry – a favorite braider of Team SmartPak Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer, Shannon Dueck – will show you how to braid a horse’s mane for the dressage ring. She also gives some tips and tricks that she’s learned along the way to help you get the best possible braids when you do it yourself.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.