Fluffy Dutch Style Dressage Braids: The Long Awaited Braiding Tutorial

Scalloped neck perfection
For as long as I have been putting big fluffy dutch braids into Guinness' mane, people have been begging me to show them how I do it. I've shown a few people how to braid in person, Jen and my Indiana trainer included.
Two examples of distinctly "not thoroughbreds" sporting floofy braids!
(Photos via Facebook) 
I've been hoping to share the process on the blog for awhile, but lacking a good instructional video. Thanks to Emma, this lack is no more! Scroll on down to the bottom if all you want is the video. If you're looking for more in depth instructions, keep reading. I'm going to really break down this process. If all you care about is cutting out the braids, scroll down to the bottom or click here.

(Note: It's Braiding Week here in the blogging world. Jan just put together another great braiding tutorial focusing on a more structured version of button braids, as well as dealing with long manes. If you can't handle not pulling your mane, Jan's might be the style for you. If you're more about being lazy and covering up mistakes, mine may be the version for you!)

How To: Dutch (Scallop) Dressage Braids

Things You'll Need:
  1. Cheap yarn, cut into lengths around 3 feet long*. Preferably this yarn should match your horse's mane color. I suggest checking out Walmart or another box store. If you don't have a matching color, this isn't the biggest deal in the world. I braided that bay horse pictured above with bright chestnut yarn, and it didn't even show in the professional photos.
    Note: Yarn is much better than waxed thread for this type of braid. It has a looser hold. Waxed thread will pull too tight in places and may look strange. However, it will still work if it is all you have.
    *When in doubt, more yarn is always better than less. It's cheap; cut lengths liberally.
  2. Sharp Scissors. A smallish pair of pointed scissors will work best, but you can use anything sharp enough to cut through hair and yarn easily. You don't want to be sawing away at yarn while your horse gets impatient with you. Trust me.
  3. Large Blunt Knitting Type Needle. Something like this would be perfect. If you have a basic braiding kit, there's probably a large needle in there. The key is to make sure you can get your yarn ends through the eye. Another key is not dropping this into a pile of hay. That saying about needles and haystacks is not just a colloquialism.
  4. A Basic Pulling Comb. This is not just to comb out the mane, but to uniformly measure the wads of hair you are braiding. Don't worry. We aren't using it for actually pulling the mane.
  5. A Sturdy Seam Ripper. Something like this is good. The one in your cheap braiding kit is not going to be great. It will break, and you will contemplate just roaching your horse's mane when it does. Don't be left without a good seam ripper. They're $4. Just man up and buy it.
Optional (but very useful) items:
  1. Hair Clips. These help hold the unruly bits of free mane out of your way. Since we start these braids in a loose fashion, clips are very, very helpful.
  2. Quickbraid/hairspray mixture/water. Wetting your braids is going to help them stick together at the start. Again, these braids start off very loose, so this is pretty key to getting a nice look.
Step 1: Mane Prep
Dutch braids are perfect for those of you who abhor mane pulling. It's also perfect if your horse grows an absurdly thick mane that you simply cannot pull enough. I highly suggest you DO NOT PULL THE MANE. I do not pull Guinness' mane at all. He grows a rather thick mane (especially for a thoroughbred). I simply shred the ends with a bot knife to keep them fairly even. You could cut bluntly with scissors, if you're into that.

If your horse is part friesian/clydesdale/fabio, you may find you need to pull some mane just to keep your sanity. That's fine. I would not suggest starting this process with a thin mane, however. That makes the braids rather sickly and difficult to stand up.
Prep? In a word. Don't.
Length is important, and varies depending on the thickness of the mane. With an averagely thick mane, I try to keep the length at around 5-6 inches long. That is just about equal to the length of my hand from fingertip to edge of palm. Beware. I do have absurdly small hands.

In the photo above, Pig's mane is slightly long. That's okay. There is some wiggle room here. If your mane is very thick, you can get away with a shorter mane length. If your mane has been pulled within an inch of your horse's life (or you own a half balding thing, poor dear), you will need a very long mane to have enough hair to pull this off.

Volume is key here.

Step 2: Separating the Hair
Comb out the mane thoroughly, then use the pulling comb to separate a section of hair approximately 2.5-3.5 inches wide. All manes vary in thickness as you go along (unless you pull them even, in which case you are a more patient person than me, and did not follow Step 1). I have found it is better to pull a wider section when the mane is thinner, and a thinner section when the mane is thicker. This keeps the buttons fairly even. 
Here's an example of an average width of mane I use for a single braid. Note how the sections are parted on an angle.
I do not suggest parting the sections straight across, as this create awkward spacing between the braids. If you can, try to part the mane on a bit of a diagonal. This makes the scallops look more nested together. (See top photo for example)

Once you have your section of hair, wet it thoroughly with Quickbraid, and separate it into three even chunks. 
Three even chunks, ready for braiding. Now you just have to turn them up.
Pro-tip: When you get to the thinner and shorter section near the wither, take a very wide section of mane. This will shorten your overall braid, but will allow you to have a larger button. You may have to plan for this as you braid down the neck. 

Step 3: Braiding Up
Take your separated chunks, and gently pull them up so they are coming straight away from the neck. Braid two or three rotations straight up away from the neck, keeping the braids fairly loose. 
Loose braids straight away from the neck is how you get real volume in your braid.
You do not want to crank on this part of the braid. The braid staying loose here accomplishes three things. 
  1. It allows the mane to stand up and create a fluffy scallop. 
  2. It allows the braids the ability to flex with the neck without pulling out. This makes the rather delicate braid last longer. Mine have stayed in for the entirety of a two day show, and been just as lovely on the second day. Some wear actually makes them fluffier. 
  3. It makes the horse fairly comfortable, without his mane being cranked into a tight holding braid along his topline. This also makes the braid last longer, as your horse is less likely to try to rub them out.
Step 4. Braiding Down
This is self explanatory, I think.
Once you have 2-3 rotations of loose braids pointing straight up, you're going to turn the braid so that you are braiding down. You'll do one (or two, depending on how long a section you have left) rotations facing down. At this point, you will start to pull the hair very tight. You don't want this portion of the hair to slip.

Step 5: Adding in Yarn
When you have at least one rotation of tight braiding done facing down, you are ready to braid in your yarn. You want to braid in the yarn when the outside (left) strand is ready to cross over the middle strand, this allows you to lock in your yarn instantly.

It's important to braid your yarn in while you still have a few solid rotations of braiding left.
Your braid should look like this. Note how the left strand is just ready to cross over the middle one?
 Now, grab your yarn in the middle of the strand. Add one side of the yarn into the middle strand, and one side into the right side of the strand. The middle of the strand should be tight between the two.
Like so.
Continue to tightly braid the section, starting by crossing the left side over the middle section. This locks the yarn in place, allowing you to pull tight any slack when you cross over the right side. This is the biggest key.

Step 6: Tying Off the Braid
Continue braiding the section until you can no longer braid it all together. The yarn will help you braid a little longer, but if you have bluntly cut your mane you will quickly reach a point where there is a thick tail you cannot braid.
Sometimes the tail piece is quite long. That's okay.
Because of the nature of these braids, it's alright if your tail piece is kind of long. Unlike with more tightly wound braids, you can hide this.

To tie off the end, you will want to separate the yarn from the hair. Do this by firmly grasping the end of the braided section with one hand, and the yarn with the other. Now, firmly pull the yarn away from the strand of hair.
Yarn and braid separated.
Cross the yarn over the strand.
Cross over like so...
Create a loop with the crossed over section on one side of the braid.
Now, pull the tail of the yarn underneath the braid and through the loop to create a basic knot. 
Be careful not to drop the tail of the braid before the knot is tight.
You will want to make sure you have the thick tail of the braid inside the knot as you pull the knot very tight.
The knot must be very tight to hold the ends together! If you don't start it soon enough or tie it tight enough, the braid can fall apart.
This is the only truly tight knot you will tie in the braid, so make sure it is very secure.

Step 7: Threading Through
Now, you will need your knitting needle. Take the ends of the yarn and thread them through the eye of the needle.
It often helps to trim the ends even and wet the yarn.
Lift the braided section vertically away from the neck, exposing the underside of the braid, and find where the edge of the neck lies. Thread the needle through a section of the braid.
You want to thread just above the neck, and through a section of the braid to hold it securely.
Carefully pull the yarn taunt, being sure not to pull any of the tail of the braid through the back of the section. You want the excess tail to curl up on the inside of the braided loop you just created. If you do accidentally pull the tail through, you can typically pull it back out without too much damage and try again.
Note the tail curled up?
Now, remove the yarn from the needle and separate the strands, pulling one to the left of the braid and one to the right. Loosely tie a single knot with the strands beneath the loop you created.
Don't tie this too tight, or you'll constrict the amount of fluff room you have for the button.
Finally, rejoin your yarn and rethread the needle.

Step 8: Creating the button
This is the fun part. Take the braided loop you've just tied off, and simply roll it up into position. 
Roll. It. Up.
This is actually simpler than it seems. I suggest starting to roll the section from above the neck to achieve maximum fluff level. The key here is ensuring that you roll the loose knot under the braided loop into the button so it doesn't peek out.

With the threaded needle, simply stitch through the center of the button, pulling the yarn all the way through the back of the braid. Stitch back and forth at least twice to ensure a secure button. Try to keep the stitches away from the neck to preserve the looseness of the braid and keep your horse from wanting to kill you.
I usually try to do most of my stitches towards the underside of the button, but it won't hurt to stab right into the middle.
Pull these stitches fairly tight. Usually the more stitches you put in, the more stiffly the button stands up. End your stitches with the yarn pulling out of the front of the button.
This where your yarn should be when you're done stitching.
Step 9: Fixing Issues/Tying Off
Before you tie off your button, check it for any fly-aways or crookedness. You can fix a lot of these issues by simply pulling the button around and stitching it into place. Fly-aways can be held down with stitches, too. Once the button looks good and the yarn is pulled out of the front of the button, you're ready to tie off the whole thing.

Separate your yarn strands, and tie a simple knot up against the bottom of the braid. Then, just snip off the ends of the yarn as close as you can to the braid without snipping off the knot or the mane.
Be careful not to snip off your whole button. That would be an actual disaster.
If you have any fly-aways that didn't get corralled into the button (see above), you can simply snip them off. The beauty of this process is that snipping random pieces off won't affect your thick mane or your next braid job. It's very friendly for mistakes.

Viola! You are all done!
A lovely fluffy braided neck. And a pretty dappled pony!
Note: Braiding your horse in this way will not cause him to develop dapples. You're on your own there.
Now, you may be asking why these braids are great. Well, I love lists so...
  1. You only do 6-8 of them. Goodbye 10000 hunter braids.
  2. They come out in 3 snips of the seam ripper. Boom. More time for a celebratory beer.
  3. They make thinner necks appear thicker.
  4. They balance out a thicker neck.
  5. They look really, really cool.
  6. You can be supremely lazy with your mane care, and people still think you're a genius.
Putting in your Dutch Braids

Taking Out Your Dutch Braids

What do you think? Will you be trying this style at your next dressage show?


  1. Love these!!!!
    Thanks for the tutorial ☺☺
    Another post bookmarked

    1. Yay! So glad you be filling up your bookmarks! :)

  2. YASSS. SO MUCH YES. I'm the laziest EVER with manes and I LOVE these braids. I love the way the look. I love how quick they are to do. And I love that I can continue to be a complete and total lazy ass with my mane care and be able to do them. THANK YOU.

    1. Permission to be lazy is just about the best thing ever, amirite?

  3. I'll definitely be using this method next year once Fiction's mane grows out a bit. He gets a Friesian-thick mane. It's absurd. Like Pig's mane x 10. I stripped the crap out of it this year and I still end up with like 20 braids no matter how big I make them :(. Anyways, I adore these braids! Thanks so much for the tutorial!

  4. Awesome! I can't try these because I enjoy pulled manes. Also, the looseness would make me absolutely batty. I just can't do it, haha! But I do want to find an appropriate horse to try them on because it's another braid type I'd like to learn so I can get paid for it!

    1. Oh for sure give them a try! They still work on pulled manes, it's just not as nice and full looking.

  5. This is awesome! I LOVE the look of those braids, I just don't know if I can handle the long mane the rest of the time... my hunter princess heart would die a little. They look fab though, and so easy!

    1. Haha. I usually cut the mane to 3-4 inches when I don't have shows for awhile. I do like the look of a shorter mane, but it's worth it to keep it longer for the braids. Maybe just don't pull his mane at all?

  6. I adore dutch braids. My mare contemplates killing me every time I attempt to pull her mane so they are a lifesaver! I do mine with waxed thread and th only time it creates any issues is where her mane is super thin. I should get some yarn and see if they get better.

    1. The yarn adds bulk where the mane is thinner, and helps fill in any holes. It definitely makes a fuller look.

  7. This is the world's finest tutorial!

    1. Lol. When I publish, I'll add that glowing recommendation to the book jacket. :)

  8. I'm here to attest that these really do work and are doable by someone as unskilled as moi. Thanks, Austen!

    1. Even though you saw them done on the crappier old video! ;)

  9. Ries's mane is sad and thin so I don't think this would work for him :(

    1. They do still work on thinner manes, but I'd absolutely use yarn and I would maybe keep the mane longer to get more hair to button up.

  10. OMG I needed this braid tutorial!!! THANK YOU! I will absolutely use this to braid Moe at Willow Draw in a couple of weeks. His mane is super thick and currently longer than I like it, so these sound perfect. And anything that makes his thin, upside-down little neck look better is a win in my book.

  11. Not sure I will have the skills for this both this would work well for both of my horses! Awesome!

  12. Woohoo! Going to a schooling show this weekend and am totally busting these out. She grows a thick mane and while I just recently pulled it, I think we'll have enough to get away with doing these braids. Thanks for posting this! SO timely!

  13. Hmmm I need to practice these. I love the look and the less I have to do, the better.

  14. OMG thank you!!! I'm so glad I can use yarn for these. That's my preferred method. There are some subtle variations here on how I have been doing my braids but it shouldn't be too hard for me to learn. Woo hoo! I'm so glad you posted this! Great job with the step-by-step. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  15. I braid like this too, though I usually end up with closer to 12 braids in Murray's mane. One thing I have found immensely helpful is to do one stitch through the button with both pieces of yarn, and one stitch through the button with only one piece of yarn (remove one piece from the eye of the yarn needle before stitching). Then you can tie these two pieces together for a SUPER SECURE square knot, and not worry about it pulling back through the braid at any point.

  16. How cool. I just do a mohawk, but I like seeing cool braiding techniques.

  17. So pretty! I think TC's mane will still have thousands of braids if I don't pull it, it's so freakishly thick. I'm definitely going to be braiding him a lot this summer so that it's one less thing to worry about at his first show, whenever we get around to that.

    1. I dunno! That big bay horse at the top of this post is a friesian/warmblood with ton of hair. His mane was pulled a little (so it would stay on one side), but we ended up with 6-7 braids in his. The goal was to do as few as possible. I think the thicker the mane the more you can do. It just takes a little practice. Can't wait to see your result!

  18. Question! How did you braid his forelock? Simple french braid with button-esque ending?

    1. I french braid it. I personally dislike the blunt unicorn look of a button sticking out of the front of the head. A neat french braid is pretty unobtrusive, though his forelock is thin and therefore a bitch to french.

  19. Nice tutorial. I need to get someone to help me do a tutorial of my braids. I do tighter buttons and dont braid the yarn in the same way you do. Always cool to see different ways!

  20. How would this look for breeds that are required to keep long manes? I'm contemplating trying them on my arabians if i ever get around to showing :)

  21. i have a large thoroughbred with a super thick mane once i get his hair untangled i would love to try this braid! thx so much for sharing your method!


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