A roached mane is low maintenance, and on the right horse, even flattering.
Most of us who enjoy horses are drawn to ones with a lot of hair. I understand a lot of the volume on a horse’s mane and tail is genetic, but we all try to do our part to add to it. We labor and foster and care for our manes to try to help them grow and stay as thick and beautiful as possible. We’ve used braids, special products and sometimes even changed dietary supplements to attempt to keep a mane healthy, strong and, well, marvelous. So, if the sad morning comes when we go to catch our gelding and see that his mane has been rubbed or chewed off, it can be borderline devastating.
What’s an owner to do? Well, patience is key of course. I’ve sometimes just let time do the trick and let the mane be ragged until it grows long enough to flip over. But if a mane has gone bare in specific spots or has worn too thin, I’ve learned the best approach is simply to roach.
Roach? Sounds extreme. And yes, I suppose it is. Roaching a mane entails evenly shaving the whole thing off down to the base of the neck from where it grows. It’s a fairly handy procedure and actually commonplace in some disciplines, including polo ponies and field hunters. The mane actually interferes with the reins and the high speed of the mallets, so it’s easier for the players to shave the mane down to the neck and be done with it. Sometimes ropers and ranch cowboys will roach a mane, just for the ease of grooming and to keep any hair from getting tangled in the rope.
I’m not a polo player, and I’ve got other methods of keeping a mane out of my ol’ nylon, but I will say, it can be a huge relief and advantage to roach a mane that’s been compromised due to itching, rubbing, reaching through fences or that good ol’ chewed look that only another colt can accomplish. It removes the worry of burrs, witch’s knots and tangles. Roaching a mane can make a weak-necked horse look stronger. It enhances different features on a horse that a long mane might hide. It’s virtually maintenance free, and I’ve found when the mane FINALLY does grow back and fall over, it’s thicker, shinier and healthier hair than before it was cut. Plus, when it grows back it’s dead-even and free of split ends and sun damage.
Sure, a horse with a roached mane doesn’t have the same fly protection. They definitely get a Trojan war horse vibe when the mane has grown out but isn’t quite long enough to pick a side to fall on. And yes, if you’re reaching to grab some mane in the middle of a bronc ride or merely trotting around bareback, you will find yourself lacking in the security department. But there is something appealing about having a roached mane, especially when it’s done in a tidy, thoughtful and thorough manner.
There will never be anything to me as stunning as a horse with a naturally long, thick and well-kept mane. I aspire to raise my own with that quality, and at least try to encourage their hair to be as bold as possible on those that don’t.
There is something cool about a bare necked horse with the right kind of features. It’s kind of punchy, definitely low maintenance and I know it’s going to grow back looking better than ever.
And though I might sniffle over the beautiful mane temporarily lost, I’ll never complain about having a little free time away from picking through witch’s knots now and again!