Team Bates – plaiting with the experts

March 16, 2018 10:50 am by
Posted in General, Grooming, Jo Bates, Sponsored riders, Tips

Absorbine showing ambassadors, Team Bates know a thing or two about achieving perfection. Jo Bates has won several major showing titles, including at Horse of the Year Show and the Royal International Horse Show.


Jo and her daughter Holly Bates consistently produce horses to the top level for both showing and dressage. Team Bates have around seven horses in their Banbury yard including the 2016 HOYS Hack of the Year, Elusive and Yvonne Jacques HOYS qualified ex-racehorse, Grandeur.


Dressage rider, Holly is always on hand to turn out Team Bates’ show horses, she plaits both the show horses and her own top-level dressage horses. Holly generously gave us some of her time – and her top tips for ensuring perfect plaits:


With the young horses, we always take great care the first few times they are plaited to make sure that they will go on to find it a pleasant experience. I always ask someone to hold the horse if he is looking at all unsure as the last thing we want is a horse to pull back when tied up. I am also careful when I first stand up on my plaiting crate – it can unsettle some horses to have someone standing above them all of a sudden.


We wash the horses’ manes in Absorbine 2 in 1 Shampoo and Conditioner a couple of days before they are going to be plaited – this minimises the slippiness of the mane when plaiting.


I have an apron with pockets – a bit like a bumbag – that I tie round my middle when plaiting so that everything I need is to hand. It makes things a lot quicker and less disruptive for the horse – I don’t have to be climbing on and off my crate to pick up the scissors or thread.

My plaiting apron always contains a body brush for wetting the mane, Wet Look Gel which helps hold the plaits in place, a big plastic claw hair clip which helps keep other sections of hair out of the way when plaiting, the correct colour thread, a couple of needles, a decent pair of scissors and a fine mane comb. If the gaps between the teeth of the mane comb are too big then it makes plaiting harder.


Once I get underway, I divide the main into sections as I go, starting from the poll and working my way down. I use the mane comb to measure out each segment to be plaited. To get a really good end look, each section of mane must be the right size, but you also need to pay attention to having a good, crisp line between the plaits. The mane comb gets this set up and then the hair claw clip pins back the hair next to the plait to make it stay this way.


I wet the mane before starting each plait – it is much cheaper than plaiting spray and just as effective! Not too much water is needed though – just enough to make the hair tacky rather than sopping wet. I then add a small bit of gel to the top of the hair and begin to plait down tightly. I always find it better to start off tight and then the plait can be loosened by sticking my fingers in it if necessary.


After I reach the end of the plait, I fold the end over and tightly wrap thread around the ends. I trim off any bits of hair that are sticking out. The plait is then folded over and stitched and then folded over for a second time before the final stitching. If you want the plaits to stick up from the neck to accentuate it then this is the part that needs practise before perfection can be achieved!


We generally do a simple plait for the forelock. I normally plait the forelock at the same time as the rest of the mane. If the horse has a really coarse mane, I might do a French plait in the forelock – it really just depends on what will look best in the ring. Having a practise before show-day is always a good idea – with both the forelock and the rest of the mane.


Great care is needed when trimming the bridlepath between the ears, start with a section an inch wide and then possibly increase it to one and a half inches – once it is gone, it takes a while to grow back! Find the horse’s poll (the bobbly bone between his ears) and cut the hair right behind that. It is always the mane that needs to be cut for the bridlepath and not the forelock. After the initial inch wide bridlepath has been cut, we put the bridle on to see what it looks like and then take a bit more off if necessary. There should never be a big empty gap between the headpiece of the bridle and the top plait.


We prefer to plait on the day of the show as that way there is less time for the plaits to get rubbed or messed up. Time does not always allow for this though. Once the plaits are completed, whether the day of the show or the day before, we put on a lycra hood to protect them.


If we plait the day before the show and the horse is prone to rubbing the plaits, we try to minimise the rubbing opportunities. All our stables have windows, so if possible, we close the window once the plaits are done. If the horse lives out overnight, we have been known to plait and then put the horse back in the field with a hood on.


We always bring the plaiting gear to a show and make sure to arrive well before our class so if any plaits need to be redone at the last minute they can be.