• One horse with a mane
• Said horse’s favorite treats
• A human with fingers
• Some sort of brush or comb
I credit my previous horse, Leader, with teaching me how to pull a mane. An off-the-track-Thoroughbred or OTTB, everything was bad, negative, and harmful until proven otherwise, and sometimes even then.
Having his mane pulled was something he was not particularly fond of, like many horses (especially Thoroughbreds). Rather than fight about it though, we worked out a win-win system where both of us got what we wanted and nobody had to give up anything! I call it the “Pull and Treat” method. Here’s how it works:
Step One: Brush/comb the mane and when the horse relaxes (drops his head, takes a breath, licks and chews, etc) give a treat. Repeat this step until the horse associates having his mane handled with getting a treat. This could take one session, a week’s worth of sessions, a month’s worth or more, depending on the horse’s history with mane handling. Be patient, consistent, and quick with the treat.
Step Two: Starting in the middle of the mane where the horse is least sensitive, pull 2-3 hairs, holding the crest of the neck at the same time with the other hand so the horse feels more pressure than pulling. Give the horse a treat. Repeat this step until the horse associates mane pulling with getting a treat.
Step Three: Refine by brushing the mane, waiting for the horse’s head to drop, pulling a few times (not just once), then treating. My horses learned that they did not “earn” treats until their heads were down before, during, and after each pull. They NEVER got a treat when their heads were up. Even if their heads were down during the pull then came up, I always waited until the head dropped before giving a treat.
For both my horses, that was all that was needed! Until the end of Leader’s life, I could not walk into his stall or bring him out into the aisle that he didn’t offer his mane to be pulled by dropping his head to the ground. When there are peppermints to be had, turns out having your mane pulled isn’t such a big deal. Newman’s mane is not as thick so I don’t have to pull as often (in fact, the top third and bottom third never get pulled, just shortened using the Solocomb) so he hasn’t developed this habit.
However, there are times when I have to ask him to RAISE his head so I can see if his mane is level. He does love those Hilton Herballs!
If you need to pull your horse’s mane for competition, I hope this method works for the two of you, so that neither party has to stress and both sides get what they want. Note: feel free to incorporate a clicker into this training if it helps you or your horse understand that pulling hairs with the head down is the desired action.