This may help explain, not that it makes your fingers feel any better.
Braiding was first used on Thoroughbreds used in the hunt field, to keep the blowing mane from getting tangled in the reins or rider's hands and to show off the horse's neck. Colder-blooded animals had their manes roached. Therefore, braiding came to be a sign of "blood" in the horse, and that he was a fine-quality animal.
Today, braiding is performed to show off the neck, accentuating the top line when the horse is moving or jumping. Braiding may be used to hide conformation faults of the neck (for example, a relatively short neck can be braided with a greater number of smaller braids, making it look longer). Braiding can be used to train the mane to lie on one side of the neck, if half falls on one side and half falls on the other.
Traditionally, the mane is braided on the right side of the neck. This is still the standard for show hunters in the United States and eventers, although dressage horses are commonly braided on either side. It was also traditional in the USA that male horses would have an odd number of braids, and even number for mares. However, this rule is rarely, if ever, followed by modern braiders. Types of Braids
An "Andalusian" or French braided mane on an Andalusian horse.The most common braids in both the United States and the United Kingdom are button braids, which are round and usually larger (thus fewer in number) than hunter, or "flat" braids. In the UK, show horses of all types are plaited with between 9 and 15 plaits, similar to the American "button braid". An odd number of plaits is traditional, although judges have become more relaxed about this in recent years. The number of plaits can be increased or decreased, depending on whether the rider wants the horse's neck to look longer or shorter.
Hunter braids or flat braids are smaller, with as many as 20-30 on a neck, and they are the only braid considered traditional in US hunt seat competition. They are usually not seen in other disciplines, although they are permissible for dressage.
Knob braids are a variation on hunter braids, involving pushing part of the braid up to create a "knob" at the top. They are usually seen in dressage competition, though are also popular in other flat classes, particularly at breed shows, and.
The French braid, also called an "Andalusian" braid, is braided along the crest of the neck. It is used on long-maned horses, and is usually seen either when a baroque horse breed competes in dressage, or in hunter and dressage classes for horses that are otherwise required to show with a long, full mane.
The Continental braid, also called a "macrame braid" is also useful for long-maned horses, and creates a "net" in the mane. It isn't a "braid" per se, as it is usually made up of simple knots or even simply created with rubber bands or yarn, but is periodically viewed as stylish in some dressage and flat classes, particularly those in breed shows for horses that have naturally long manes.
The scalloped mane is a less common form of braiding, where the braids are not pulled up in half under itself, but rather pulled up under the braid that is two down from it (toward the withers). It is seen most often in hunt seat, dressage, or in the jumpers, although it is not as popular as the other forms of braid. It is useful for manes that may look bulky in traditional braiding styles because they are a bit too thick or a bit too long.
Pleasure riding: usually the mane is kept natural or pulled, as preferred by the rider.
Hunt seat: the mane is pulled to about 4 inches, and braided with "hunter braids" for all important competition (usually on the right side). When the mane is braided, the forelock should also be braided.
Show jumping: the mane may be braided (usually with "button braids", although a nicely pulled mane is acceptable (about 3.5-5 inches in length). The forelock may or may not be braided.
Dressage: the mane is pulled to 3.5-5 inches and braided for all recognized competition, braiding is seen on either side of the neck. The forelock is sometimes left unbraided.
Eventing: pulled to about 3.5-5 inches. Braided for dressage with "knob" or "button braids" (although not always at the lower levels). Usually left unbraided for cross-country, as the rider may need to grab it. May be braided for stadium (usually at the higher levels).
Western pleasure: usually pulled to 3.5-4.5 inched and "banded" (rubber bands placed around small sections of mane) for stock breeds such as the American Quarter Horse, left unpulled and natural for other breeds
Reining and Cutting: usually natural, forelock may be braided.
Stock seat Equitation: Same as western pleasure
Saddle seat: Natural, although a few long braids (usually forelock and 1 or 2 in the mane) are permitted on gaited breeds and on American Saddlebreds, usually with a colorful ribbon attached that complements the rider's clothing.
Three-gaited Saddlebreds have roached manes; in five-gaited Saddlebreds the mane is left long, with a long bridle path.
Fox hunting: pulled to about 4" and braided, usually on the right side
Combined driving: Usually styled according to breed. Pulled and braided for sport horses.
Polo: roached, to keep it out of the way of the mallet.
Flat racing or Steeplechase: either pulled or braided
Harness Racing: pulled or natural, Standardbreds often with a long bridle path
Endurance riding: usually left natural, although it varies according to breed Breed
Button braids Certain breeds are often expected to have a specific styling to their manes.
Baroque breeds, such as the Andalusian, Lusitano, and Friesian, usually have their manes left natural, and as long as possible. Though in some horse show competition, the manes may put in French braids down the crest of the neck.
Saddlebred: Usually left long and natural, with "5-gaited" and pleasure horses having braiding in the forelock and first lock of mane. Roached for "3-Gaited" park horses.
National Show Horse: long and natural, with long (6-8") bridle path
Arabian and part-Arabian: long, unbraided, and natural in all events, with a long (6-8") bridle path, except for horses shown in hunt seat classes. If the horse shows in multiple disciplines where a long mane is generally mandatory, the mane is French braided for dressage, show hack, or hunt seat competition, but if the animal is shown only as a hunter, jumper or in dressage, the mane may be pulled and braided.
Connemara: pulled 3.5-4" and may be braided
Morgan: long and natural, braiding only in dressage and hunt seat classes. Usually has a long (6-8") bridle path
Stock horse type (includes Quarter Horse, Paint horse, Appaloosa): 3.5-4.5" pulled mane, usually banded for Western pleasure and halter, braided for hunter competition. Usually kept long and natural for reining and cutting. Length varies for rodeo competition, often left long in some speed events, sometimes roached for roping events so that rope does not tangle in mane.
Warmbloods: 3.5-5" pulled mane, usually braided (either side). Bridle path 1-2" in length
Thoroughbred: pulled 3.5-4.5" with short (1-2") bridle path. May be braided depending on discipline.
Shetland Pony: long mane with 4-6" bridle path, may have a lock of mane braided
Icelandic horse: nowadays manes are left untrimmed, but traditionally the thick manes were cut to an even length of approximately 20-30 cm in early spring, by winter it had grown long enough to shield the horses' eyes from snows. Bridle path clipping is inappropriate.
Fjord horse: Mane is usually roached in the USA, though not cut extremely close to the neck. Pulling
A shortened or "pulled" mane on a racehorse.The mane is often pulled to shorten and thin it. It gives a much neater appearance than simply trimming it with scissors, which does not thin the mane enough to braid and creates an unnatural line. Pulling also makes the mane more manageable, as a pulled mane is less likely to get tangled than a natural one.
Most horses do not object to mane pulling, and willingly stand for the process. To make it more comfortable for the horse, a groom should pull the mane out of the crest in an upwards direction, rather than sideways or down. An application of Orajel on the roots of the mane can help desensitize the area during the pulling process. It is also recommended that pulling is performed right after exercise, when it is thought that the mane comes out more easily because the pores are open. Using a mane pulling device such as the ManePuller may also be considered because it tends to be quicker and therefore less stressful for the horse (and groom).
In some cases, a horse is very sensitive and may constantly toss its head or try to bite if the groom attempts to pull the mane. In this case, only a few hairs should be taken out at a time, with the pulling process spanning over several days, and the groom should try to keep up with the process so that the horse will not have to endure a long session right before competition.
Competitors in a hurry sometime use thinning shears to trim the mane and give the appearance of having been pulled. However, the effect only lasts a couple of weeks at most before the cut hairs begin to grow out and stick up straight into the air. Thus, this method is not advised. Pulled manes also grow out, but take longer and when the hair begins to grow, it is less stiff and tends to blend more easily with the existing mane. Roaching (USA) or Hogging (UK)
Roached mane and forelockRoaching or hogging is when the mane, and sometimes forelock, is completely shaven. This is usually done if a horse's mane is quite ragged, or for certain disciplines such as polo, polocrosse, and calf roping, to keep the mane out of the way. Cobs can be shown with a roached mane and it is also common to roach the mane for certain breeds. In Spain, breeders commonly roach the mane of mares and foals. The same applies to the Swiss "Freiberger" horses. The American Saddlebred "3-Gaited" horse is often shown with a roached mane, while the "5-Gaited" Saddlebred is shown with a full mane.
If a mane is roached, it will take about 6-8 months for it to stop sticking straight up in the air and lay over onto the neck, and a year or more to return to a natural length. For this reason, manes that are roached usually need to be kept that way, though occasionally roaching a damaged mane and allowing it to grow out evenly is effective as a last resort for a mane that has been partly torn out, badly tangled or otherwise cannot be restored to a smooth condition.