For supplies, just as with mane braiding you will need a bucket, sponge, scissors, pull-through, 2-12′ and one 3′ length of matching yarn and a stepstool. Start with a clean and knot-free tail. Scrub the roots of the hair at the dock to get rid of excess grease and scurf, and use Show Sheen or a similar de-tangler on the bottom of the tail only. Depending on the horse’s height, you will most likely need to stand on a stool to achieve a comfortable position at which to braid – ideally, with your arms low in front of you (similar to your hand position when riding).

Professional braider Sierra Sneath suggests a trick-of-the-trade to protect tail hairs from breakage at the top of the dock. “I put small braids in the top of a lot of my tails. You want them to be small and braided so they angle toward the middle of the dock. I cross over two or three times, add yarn as you would when braiding the mane, and cross over six more times before tying.” These braids don’t experience the rubbing seen on the mane, so extra knots are unnecessary. Wrap yarn around once and do half-hitch knots to tighten, and snip the end of the yarn 1/4′ from where it’s been tied.

  • Cross the left side (whether you’ve decided to braid the top sections or not) over the right side, and on your next crossover grab a new section of hair from the right side. This gives you the three pieces of hair needed for the braid.
  • Begin french braiding down; every time you cross over, add a new section of hair from alternating sides: if you cross over from the left side, add hair from the left side of the dock, and vice versa. Take hair from the farthest point back where it grows out of the dock. Don’t add huge amounts, just enough to get all the pieces incorporated into the braid. Keep thumbs tight on the crossover to keep tension on the braid. The fundamentals of a tight french braid take practice, practice, practice!
  • As you add hair from the side, try to flatten and smooth it while you are pulling it towards the centre braid crossovers. Continue this process until the end of the tail bone. If you start taking hair from lower than where the hair crosses into the braid, then take a small amount of hair from more towards the front of the tail than the back to compensate. If your braid starts to get too thick, drop some hair – being careful not to drop hair that you’ve just added into the braid. “I’ll usually do it from the right side, and I’ll split a section of hair that I’m braiding with before I cross it back over into the braid,” explains Sneath.
  • For a pinwheel finish, stop adding hair once you’ve reached the end of the dock and continue braiding normally. Cross over five or six times, add yarn as you would a mane braid, and cross over nine more times. Tie like a braid by separating out the yarn from the tail hair and tying a half-hitch knot. Split the hair beyond the tie in half with one piece of yarn on each side.
  • Start to roll up the braid with the split hair out to the sides until you get to the dock. If you braided down the proper amount, then the excess hair should want to point towards the floor. Use your pull-through and insert it behind the centre braid from the right side towards the left. Grab the piece of yarn and pull it through to the right. Do the same for the other side. Take both pieces of yarn and pull snugly, then cross the yarn underneath the pinwheel. This will hold the split pieces of hair next to the pinwheel in place. Keep the yarn snug and pull towards the top of the tail. Do a surgical (double crossed) knot and tighten; the knot will be on the top of the pinwheel. Add a couple extra knots for good measure.
  • The finished product – a beautifully braided tail with a pinwheel finish. Sneath suggests wrapping the tail with a dry tensor bandage to protect the braid while the horse is waiting for classes, but cautions not to wrap too tight, as serious damage can be done to the dock. A tail should never be left braided overnight, and should be taken out first thing after showing and ribbon presentations.