Horse braiding is a popular way of increasing the beauty of a horse and showing its prestige at a show or hunt. While this is now largely a matter of tradition and aesthetics, the start of horse braiding dates back hundreds of years. When first started, braiding a horse was a matter of function more than visual appeal. While these factors are often not considered today when deciding whether to braid a horse, the benefits remain relevant even in modern times.
One of the earliest reasons for braiding the mane and tail of a horse was to prevent tangling of the hair and interference with riding equipment. This improved safety of both the rider and horse. Specific braids and positioning were used to allow people to tell a prestigious horse from a lesser ranking horse in battles or hunts. This practice was also implemented amongst farmers and laborers as a means of keeping the horse from damaging its own mane and tail or becoming tangled in farm equipment. This was a significant safety concern for both the horse and farmers in these times.
Specifics of many modern braiding standards can be traced back to these historic roots. For example, the tradition of braiding the mane to the left in Western braiding practices dates back to the era of soldiers on horseback. The placement of the mane to the left allowed for less interference with the ropes used to control the horse. It also prevented the mane getting in the way of a soldier drawing his sword or gun, as it was often stored on the opposing hip. This allowed a soldier to charge into battle on horseback with increased maneuverability and flexibility.
Eventually, the standards of braiding and plaiting made their way into the heart of equine show culture and hunts as well. During major hunts, dressage shows or races, thoroughbreds and other prestigious horses are often braided to set them apart from the rest of the group. What was once a functional design, took its first turn towards a purely aesthetic appeal. This was also the time in which the practice of placing an odd number braids on geldings and an even number of braids on mares began. Many of these standards are still in place in some of the biggest horse shows and equine gatherings around the world. It is not uncommon for the braids or plaiting on a horse to be the determining factor of a win in many modern dressage meets.