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Detangling a Matted Mane – Step by Step with Pictures

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This is a mildly matted mane, something we have all probably seen before.  The most typical kind of mane mat I see on a horse is where two or more sections twist themselves together usually forming some type of dreadlock towards the bottom of the mane.

This horse is a BLM mustang who has spent at least a year with no grooming. His mane has gotten all matted up and this series of photos shows you step by step how I detangled it!

Mane Detangling Supplies

  • Stiff comb
  • Detangling Agent

I used coconut oil and diluted hair conditioner because it was what I had on hand. I REALLY love the glossing spray a lot better. You can pick it up at places like Walmart in the ethnic hair section.

I also LOVE Cowboy Magic. It is pricier but really worth it if your budget allows. I like and have used these products. These are Amazon links but each product can usually be obtained locally as well.

OK so you were probably looking for a really detailed list or a product recommendation, right? There are a few detangling products on the market I really like but in reality, I didn’t have any of those on hand. So I used what I had and you can too!

I had on hand some coconut oil and regular human conditioner and an unused spray bottle. I also used my dogs grooming rake and a paddle brush for the final brush through. There is no reason to wait to go to the tack store or buy fancy stuff. This type of mat is easy enough to get out.

If you want to DIY some detangler, check out this post I made that has 3 easy homemade horse detangler recipes to try.

Instructions for Detangling a Matted Mane

1. Figure out where the biggest part of the mat stops and starts.

Like I mentioned most of the time the mat will be worse at the top than at the bottom. Here you can see that the mat is in two sections at the top and combines to one section at the bottom.

2. Add your detangling products.

I started by adding coconut oil. It was cold so mine was not liquid. I probably should keep it in the house during winter :D.

Pro Tip: To warm up hardened coconut oil, just pry a chunk of it out and then rub it in the palm of your hand. As the rubbing motion generates heat, the coconut oil will return to a liquid state.

I also mixed conditioner and water for a quick and easy detangling spray. I used approximately 25% conditioner. I knew I was going to wash his mane when I was done otherwise I might have used a more dilute conditioner mixture.

Spraying mane with conditioner water.
Figuring out where hairs are looped together.

3. Work this through and start detangling the mane from the bottom up.

I use my firm comb to pick the hairs apart, sometimes one by one. The tines can also be used to gently pull sections of hair. You may notice that some parts of the mane seem to have crocheted themselves together. The tines on this dog grooming rake are thin enough to get in the tight spaces but firm enough to allow you to pull the hair when needed.

4. Unravel knots.

Keeping in mind that a mat of this type is typically formed by strands of hair twisting together, you will sometimes have hair sections looped in together. Keep an eye out for them so you can unravel these knots with your fingers.

In this photo, you may be able to see where some hairs cross over others. This can be tedious so just take your time to try and separate out. Sometimes the thicker sections are tightly bound by tiny little hairs. If necessary, you may need to use your grooming rake to break them.

Though you should refrain from purposefully breaking mane hairs too often in order to preserve as much fullness as possible. Getting these dreadlocks out of your horse’s mane will take time so don’t rush.

5. Try to identify and isolate large sections of hair that have knotted together.

At this point, I have detangled most of the mat and you can now see the separate strands that had twisted together to form the mat. If you needed to stop and continue another day, this would be a great stopping point.

If I were stopping for the day at this point I would make braids in the sections of hair that are already fully detangled. Then, because there are three sections remaining, I would braid those together as well. This will prevent them from retangling until you can get back to work on it.

6. Detangle individual sections, starting from the bottom and work your way up.

If you have ever brushed a child’s hair, or even your own after a day at the beach, you are sure to know the value of starting at the bottom and working your way up.

7. All detangled!

Horse Hair Care Tips

Braid the mane to prevent future knots.

I find that horses that get this type of twisted mat once will typically get it pretty regularly, so I like to keep their manes braided. It is amazing how some horses have manes that won’t really mat up at all and others seem like they mat if you don’t brush them every day!

Keep the mane clean and dry.

You should avoid too many baths or washing the mane too often but, you should also take care to ensure that it stays clean and dry. Most of the time, just rinsing the mane with water will allow dirt to be washed away while leaving the natural oils in place.

If you do need to wash your horse’s mane, consider applying coconut oil, vitamin E or some other natural oil to the roots to help replace natural oils that would have been stripped away by the shampoo.

Evaluate Your Horse’s Nutrition

Good nutrition is essential to a horse’s overall health but it can also have an impact on mane growth. Start with a good, basic feeding program and work out a deworming program with your vet. In addition, consider adding an Omega supplement (like this one) or a biotin supplement (like this one) to improve hair growth. The great thing about biotin is it seems to do wonders for horse hooves as well!

Related Questions

Does braiding a horses mane help it grow? Braiding a horses mane can help it grow by preventing breakage due to wind damage.

Do horses manes stop growing? Horses manes do not stop growing. If they rub it out, or if you shave it, it will grow back. However, genetics can play a factor in how long the mane will grow. Horses with thin, brittle manes will always have a shorter mane than horses who naturally have strong, thick manes.

Why is my horse’s mane thinning? There are a variety of factors that can cause a horse’s mane to thin. Horses may rub their manes due to irritation or parasites, like lice or worms. Your horse’s hair may also be dry and brittle. Some horses can get fungal conditions around their mane as well that will cause hair to fall out. A veterinarian would be able to examine your horse and help pinpoint the issue.

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Note: You can see this horse is wearing a bridle in some of these photos. He was getting used to wearing a bit. At no time was he tied with his bridle on.

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.