In a 2015 study done by Louise Nicholls, MSc student, results showed that horses are stressed by mane and tail pulling. She looked at heart rates and behavior of horses having their manes pulled, compared to horses having their manes touched. The mean heart rate was significantly higher when the manes were being pulled than when the manes were being touched. And the heart rates were even higher when the mane pulling started at the poll. She also noted behaviors during the mane pulling that included high neck position, ears back, alert stance, head tossing, mouth tight, tail swishing and clamping, as well as licking and chewing. ALL of these behaviors suggested pain and discomfort in the horses during the pulling process. Louise says, “It can only be assumed that licking and chewing was a sign of discomfort in this situation. I would definitely advise horse owners to measure their horse’s heart rate during mane pulling–even if they are not showing obvious physical signs of distress.” Her words are a further caution to horse owners that licking and chewing, pointed out by many popular trainers as a sign of relaxation, can also be a sign of significant stress in horses. The data was gathered eight times with the same person doing the pulling, to decrease the variables in the study.
From a Craniosacral perspective, the hair and central nervous system develop from the same tissue in the embryo. For instance, the horse’s whiskers are sensitive to help him avoid injury to the muzzle and the body hair’s connections to the nervous system allow the horse to respond to biting insects rapidly. Knowing this, it seems clear that pulling the mane and tail would be extremely painful and difficult for horses. This applies in the dog world as well, where many terrier breeds are “stripped” meaning that their body hairs are pulled out. I will never believe this is not painful, and someone should do a similar study in the dog world.
I showed my horses to the highest levels of dressage and hunters and never pulled a hair from their manes or tails. We have many types of scissors, razors, clippers, and grooming tools available that make pulling completely unneeded. The origins of pulling equine manes and tails go back to racing and foxhunting, where the hair was braided to keep it out of mud and from obscuring the vision of the rider. It was never meant to leave thin short manes on horses subjecting them to bug bites and no defense from weather. And another word of caution to those who use clippers to trim the sides of event and dressage horse’s tails–watch for the razor stubble that grows in and can be extremely irritating to the soft skin on the horse’s buttocks and hind quarters when that bristle tail rubs it. Keep it trimmed very short to avoid further irritation for your horse.
Please, as the show season gets underway, look for options other than pulling to keep your horse’s mane and tail tidy. We ask so much of them already, why add an unnecessary painful practice to our horses’ lives? We want our horses to be partners with us, and that always means kindness and respect. Instead of ripping out hairs from their manes and tails, instead try gentle TTouch hair slides on the mane and some of the TTouch tail techniques. Listen to your horses. We owe it to our horses to restore compassionate touch to their manes and tails.