Braiding a Stablemate Mane and Tail

by Elaine Lindelef

Many of you may be aware that I braid Traditional and Classic-sized manes using a method that is essentially the same as braiding a real horse. I'm sure you'll all be relieved to discover that that's not how I do Stablemate manes! My Stablemate method is considerably simpler and less time-consuming, yet it is very effective.

For the mane, I finger-crochet each braid out of appropriately colored thread, then glue it to the neck. Begin by making a set of braids. I usually make more than I need, so I can choose the nicest, flattest braids.

To finger crochet, start by making a slip knot in the thread. Make each stitch by pulling a new loop through the loop created by the original knot (or the previous stitch).Try to make your stitches very even, so that the thread doesn't twist, making your braid messy. It may take some practice to get it just right, but that's okay. To make the braid "tie up" into a loop, catch the entire braid in the final stitch. There are two sides to the stitches; one side is more braid-like in apperance. Make sure that side is out, fold the braid, and then pull the threads so that the loop contains only the "braided" thread. Voila! You have a braid! Trim the braid off your working thread, leaving the ends long enough so that they won't fray to the knot while you keep working. (You'll trim them more later.) The forelock braid should have threads that extend the length of the neck. The number of stitches you want will depend on the model; for Castle Bravo, I used 8 stitches per braid, including the initial knot and the tie-up stitch. For the last two braids (near the withers), the hair is usually a little shorter, so I make the braids slightly smaller.

How many braids should your model have? This is largely a matter of personal taste, and can be adapted to suit the model at hand. In the US, real horses usually are done with 20-40 braids, depending on the mane and the length of the neck. There are no rules for the proper number of braids, or whether there is an even or odd number. More braids make the neck look longer, and shorter braids make the neck look fuller. Sometimes conformation hunters are braided so that the braids are practically touching. In any case, the braids should start right behind the bridle path and end approximately at the midpoint of the withers, and be evenly spaced down the neck.

It's time to glue on the braids! I use Leather Weld, which is the glue I use for all my hairing. A toothpick and a needle are handy for applying glue and poking small areas. Pick up a braid, and pull on the threads gently to make sure everything's tight. Next, shape it so that it has two folds: one right near the top, and one near the middle. You don't want it to just fold in half, because the braid should come out of the neck and make a little "bump" above the neck before turning down. Put a little glue inside the braid between the two layers, so that the braid will not twist. Let the braid dry a bit.

Next, trim the extra thread ends very close to the final knot. Don't go so close that the braid might fall apart, but make sure that the ends are short enough so that they won't go beyond the width of the crest area. (About 1/32" is appropriate.) Apply some glue to the underside of the braid and the threads, and place it on the neck. (The threads should go across the top of the neck, not under the braid.) Repeat for all the braids, taking care to see that the braid bottoms march evenly along the neck and that the spacing remains the same. The braid may want to twist, so that you glue the side to the neck instead of the bottom; just fix it until it is correct. Remember also that the braids should remain perpendicular to the top of the neck, not to the ground.

When the neck braids are complete, add the forelock braid. The top of this braid should be just below an imaginary line between the front of the ears. Let the glue on the forelock dry. Once you are ready, measure the two long threads to the end of the braids, and trim them so that they end just past the last braid on the withers. Glue these threads to the crest of the neck over the little threads that come from the braids. If you are lucky, these two threads will cover them completely; if not, add an additional thread or two parallel to these to cover the crest.

The mane is done! Set the horse aside so that it dries thoroughly.

Now for the tail. For the tailbone, I use thin wire (usually from stripped twist-ties). I do not attach the tail until after it is braided. Ideally, prep the horse by drilling a small hole for the wire before painting the horse; however, I have also done this by simply gluing the tail end to a smooth hindquarter, though horses done this way require very careful handling. Bend the tailbone so that the tail comes out of the hindquarter and bends down, to hang however you want it to hang.

Start by gluing the "switch" of regular hair (the unbraided lower portion of the tail) to the tailbone, making sure to cover the wire end. Plan for the tail braid to end at approximately the level where the hindquarter meets the belly. (On some horses, you may want it to be shorter; check photos for reference.) On a real horse, the tail braid ends at the bottom of the tailbone.

Apply glue to the upper portion of the tail, and wrap it with hair- colored thread until it is even and of the proper diameter. At the top of the tail, the diameter will be larger; at the bottom, it will be smaller. On a real horse, the top is about 3 1/2" across, and the bottom is about 1 1/2" across. Keep the wrapping perpendicular to the tailbone. When you're done wrapping, finish off the end by tucking it inside the previous wrap and securing it with a dab of glue. Make sure you've covered all the glue on the switch, and trim the top of the tail if necessary. (If you need to do any trimming, tack the threads with glue first, to avoid fraying.)

Glue the base of the tail to the hindquarter, and let it dry.

You can stop there, but if you want to be as detailed as possible, add a braid going down the center of the tailbone to fully simulate the french braid. For this, I make a long braid of thread (doing an actual braid this time!), and tack the ends with glue. Trim the braid so that it extends from the base of the tail to the end of the wrapped area. Then glue it down the center.

You're done!