Looking good makes us feel good – a nice hairdo, trimmed nails, a razor here and there. And while horses probably prefer mud-covered coats and long manes, their humans love seeing them look sharp too – not necessarily show-ring ready, just well turned-out. Think of it as cosmetic grooming.

Professional freelance groomer Amanda Geerlinks knows all about making horses pretty, with equine clients ranging from top-tier competitors to beloved pets. Here, she helps us take grooming to the next level while keeping the horse’s comfort front of mind.

Mane Pulling

Shortening, evening out and thinning the mane by pulling hairs.


• Makes the mane easier to braid or band for showing.

• Can create the illusion of a longer neck.

• Mane is less likely to tangle, so requires less maintenance.

• Helps keep rider’s hands and reins free of hair.


• Many horses find it uncomfortable and even painful.

• Removes some natural insect protection.

How to do it

• Comb out the mane.

• Pinch the ends of a small section of hair, holding it taut. Push a pulling comb up the section, backcombing until there are only a few hairs in the hand holding the hair.

• Wind the long hairs around the comb a few times.

• In one quick motion, pull the comb downward to remove the hair.

Do it better tips

• “Do it after you ride because the pores are open more,” said Amanda, adding, “and don’t cut the forelock at all. It’s beautiful the way it is.”

• Some horses find it more comfortable when the hair is pulled up in the direction of hair growth, rather than down.

• Sore fingers? Wear latex gloves for extra grip and protection.

• While purists believe pulling is the only option, using scissors alone or in conjunction with pulling is common, especially if a mane is already thin.

Cutting a Bridle Path

Removing a small swath of mane behind the poll.


• Makes putting on and removing halters and bridles easier.

• Prevents hair bunching under crownpiece.

• Refines throatlatch’s appearance and can make a neck look more shapely.


• Hair takes months to fully return and can resemble a mohawk in the process.

How to do it

• An easy job with scissors or clippers, decide the bridle path’s length before starting. Between five and eight centimetres (two to three inches) works well.

• Use a hair clip or elastic to hold back the hair you don’t want to remove.

• Clip or cut toward the poll.

Do it better tips

• Don’t get carried away with the cutting. It’s easy to end up with practically half a mane left.

• “I usually do the bridle path to in line with the ears,” said Amanda, adding that she’ll often leave more hair to help a wispy forelock look thicker.

Roaching the Mane

Removing all hair from the mane.


• Riders don’t have to contend with mane hair.

• A solution for thin, chewed or rubbed manes.

• Helps with persistent skin problems or parasites, like lice.

• Accentuates the topline and neck shape.

• Easy to maintain.

• Helps keep horse cool.


• Removes horse’s natural insect protection and some degree of temperature regulation.

• Hair takes a long time to fully return and can be unruly as it grows back.

• New hair is often different and can be harder to train to one side.

How to do it

• Fastest and easiest with clippers, start at the withers on the side the mane grows.

• Hold a handful of hair taut to help clippers slide.

• Slowly, incrementally work your way to the poll.

• Clip the opposite side, tidying as you go.

Do it better tips

• Encourage the horse to stretch his head down using a bucket of feed or hay on the ground. This smooths out any “divots” in the neck, allowing the clippers to glide better.

Removing Ear Hair

Taking off protruding ear fuzz.


• Tidies and defines without removing the inner-ear hair that helps prevent bugs and debris entering the ear canal.


• Many horses don’t appreciate activity around their ears

• Ear hair can help prevent frostbite and sunburn.

How to do it

• Cup the ear with one hand and fold it like a taco.

• Working downward, cut or clip the tufts that stick out.

• Carefully remove the trimmed hairs so they don’t fall into the ear.

Do it better tips

• Using scissors? Make sure they’re sharp. “Otherwise you are pulling on the horse’s ear hair and they really won’t like it,” Amanda said.

• If you are worried about your horse tolerating clippers or their ears being handled, add this to your daily grooming routine a tiny bit at a time. Work on being able to touch the ears, and be sure to give him tons of praise.

Trimming Muzzle Whiskers

Removing or shortening long hairs around the nose and lips.


• Neatens the muzzle area.


• Completely shaving muzzles can be considered a welfare issue because the whiskers behave like sensory “feelers,” helping a horse navigate the world around them. In North America, bare muzzles are de rigueur in many breed competitions and disciplines. The practice is far less common in Europe than North America, and is illegal in Germany and Switzerland.

• Some horses’ muzzles are extremely ticklish making shaving uncomfortable for them.

How to do it

• Amanda will use clippers, but prefers disposable (human) razors for whisker removal. “Scissors can be dangerous because at any second a horse can move,” she said. “And I have seen it happen – a horse bleeding because somebody poked them as they were trying to cut their whiskers.”

Do it better tips

• Shortening the whiskers without removing them tidies the muzzle while maintaining much of their sensory function.

• Similarly, trimming “goat” hairs under the jawline spruces things up.

• “I don’t touch the eye whiskers because I’ve seen too many eye injuries,” said Amanda, “and I really do believe that the whiskers can save their eyes.”

Trimming Fetlock Hair

Removing the tuft of hair at the back of the fetlock.


• Accentuates lower leg conformation.

• Helps keep legs clean.

• Helps prevent and heal lower-leg skin conditions that can lurk under the feathers.

• Can prevent burr clumps from attaching to the pasterns.


• Removes the fetlock hair’s function of directing moisture away from pasterns/heels.

How to do it

• “Usually there’s a good tail at the back of the fetlock that you can hold. I pull and then just cut it straight across and then use scissors to finish so it doesn’t have sharp edges or blunt cuts,” Amanda said. (Hint: curved fetlock shears are specially designed to work in this tight area).

• When using clippers, Amanda suggests going with the direction of hair, using slight pressure. “But it’s hard to not leave lines.”

Do it better tips

• Amanda said trimming long hair on the back of the cannon and at the coronet band “can make a big difference” to the leg’s appearance too.

• Horses without feathers should have their pasterns dried off if wet or muddy.

Mane Pulling Alternatives

There are other mane taming options for individuals averse to pulling for humane or other reasons, or who have horses that just can’t stand the process.

Thinning shears: As the name suggests, this scissor-type device is used to thin the mane. Cut vertically at a 45-degree angle into the mane toward the crest, not straight across the bottom, to achieve a natural pulled look.

Mane blades and razor combs: These tools are especially helpful on thin manes that need shortening, not thinning. Backcomb a small section of mane, then quickly shear off the remaining hairs in a downward motion. Some people use dull clipper blades in same fashion.

Commercial combs: Gadgets specifically created for pulling manes (and tails). Backcomb a section of hair, press a button on the device and integrated blades will cut the hair instead of pulling it out.

Mane rakes: Used to thin and smooth out tangled or thick manes.

Banging the Tail

Cutting the tail bottom straight across.


• Can improve appearance of a mangy tail and make a thin one look thicker.

• Highlights hind leg action.

• Horse can’t step on or drag tail.


• Eliminates the natural-tail look.

How to do it

• Brush the tail then hold your arm under the tailbone to the height your horse carries it when moving. Slide your other hand down to the place you want the tail to end.

• This varies depending on discipline, breed and personal preference, but somewhere between the hock and fetlock is a good choice.

• Holding the hair tightly, cut straight across with sharp scissors.

Do it better tips

• Thick tail? Use the same technique, but with clippers to more easily work through the hair.

Clipping the Nervous Horse: Go Slow and Easy

Many horses are fearful of the noise, feel and smell of clippers, particularly around their head and legs, but other areas of their body too. Introduce clippers gradually, offering a reward – treats, praise or a nice scratch – after each phase of success. While there’s a plethora of clipper training techniques out there, most use some form of gradual acclimation, only moving on when the horse is totally comfortable with the previous step. This means the process might take anywhere from a few minutes to weeks, depending on the horse’s fear factor, but the reward is a calm, confident clipping partner.

Those #$%* Burrs!

Here is a handy trick for removing burrs. Use commercial horse hair detangler or conditioner, baby oil or vegetable oil and “douse it” on the burrs, advises pro-groomer Amanda Geerlinks. “And, yeah, it will be gross and oily, but that’s better than either losing the hair or having perma-burrs.”

Let the oil or conditioner sit in the burr wad for awhile, days if necessary. “Stick through it. Do a whole bunch of treatments,” said Amanda.

• Wear gloves (rubber or leather) to protect hands from tiny, sharp seed slivers that can painfully embed in skin.

• Starting at the mat’s bottom edge, use your fingers and other helpful tools such as mane and braiding combs, brushes (hoof picks are a great help, too) to gently separate the burrs and slide them out of the hair. (Burr-removal gadgets are also available at some pet and tack stores.)

• When working around the head, shield the eyes from the seed slivers. They can cause serious inflammation and infection.

The job may take awhile, but once you’re done, your horse will still have his locks intact. Plus, the smooth hair will be less apt to pick up burrs and it will be easier to remove any that do latch on.