I'm so, so excited to have teamed up with one of the best banders I know: Tracy Bauman! I've known Tracy for so long, I'm pretty sure for as long as I've been riding. I love seeing her at shows- she always has a smile on her face and is truly the nicest person! Because of her, I get to share with everyone some extremely valuable information on how to properly band your horse, and I couldn't be more thankful!
First, a disclaimer from Tracy!
Please keep in mind that this is the way I band and these are my own opinions. My methods and tools may not be the same as anyone else’s and they might have better luck doing things a different way. This is just how they’ve worked best for me. I banded my first horse in 1993 and by trial and error figured out what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t start out thinking I would band professionally. I just got to a point where more & more people commented on how nice my own horse looked and then they asked me to band for them. -Tracy Bauman
Tools You'll Need
Bands, of course!
You need good quality bands. Tracy's favorite brands are Jacks and Super Bands because they're strong. Good bands should actually take some effort to break. Get a band out of the package and pull it, trying to break it. It should be a bit hard to do so if the bands are good quality. Good bands also keep their color when stretched. Stay away from black bands that stretch to gray or brown bands that stretch to orange/pink. "When I buy bands, I write the purchase month/year on the package so I know how old that package is," Tracy says. Bands that are stored can weaken over time, so you don’t want to use bands that are several years old. Always keep them from extreme cold, extreme heat, and light- no matter how old they are. Since Tracy is a professional, she buys tons of bands, any that she doesn't use at the end of the season she makes sure to store them in a heated tack room over the winter so they're able to be used for the next season.
Tracy's favorite scissors are these Conair Pro dog shears. They're super sharp and have rounded tips so you don’t take the chance of stabbing a wiggly horse.
The shears Tracy uses are made by Conair and can be purchased at Walmart or Amazon. She uses the thinning shears for shortening the mane after it’s banded. "You want the hair to look natural, like it just grew to that length and stopped. You don’t want the hair to look super straight like cut paper. The thinning shears give that slightly feathered look to the bottom edge," she says. After shortening, she uses the scissors to cut any stray long hairs and just clean it up.
She uses a very simple hair clamp to hold the unbanded hair out of the way.
Over Tracy's years of banding, she's tried many types of sprays. Her top 3 are Spray N Braid, Ultra Easy Braid, and Quic Braid. Although a really good product, she's found that the Spray N Braid is very quick to clog the spray nozzle, cleaning the nozzle after each mane can be frustrating if you’re doing a lot of horses. "I use one of these as a final spray over the finished bands when I’m done. I don’t like to use it as I’m banding the mane because I don’t want the build-up."
Water Spray Bottle
She uses water to wet the mane as she's banding it & only uses the banding spray after she's done as a finish layer.
Apron or Waist Pack
You can use anything that holds your tools and keeps them handy.
Any step will do, if it gets you to the right height. You don’t want to be stretching up to band the mane. You should be up high enough that the mane is between chest & waist level. If you have to band a bunch of horses and you’re reaching above shoulder height to band, you won’t last long. And, be careful how you set your step up next to the horse so they won’t get tangled in it if they step forward or backward.
Tracy actually makes sleezies, so if you need a new one that fits correctly or just want to spoil your pony with new pj's, there's no better place to buy one from than the expert bander herself! To get the right fit, she says, 'if your horse has a crazy wild mane, the sleezy should fit more snug over the neck to help tame the mane. If his mane is thinner and taming isn’t an issue, then opt for one that’s a more loose fit so it lessens the chance of rubbing."
If your horse has a thinner mane and you’d like to hang onto every hair you possibly can, get a band cutter for removing bands. Any letter opener style will work and you can’t accidentally cut your horse. Don’t use a seam ripper, as the tip can break off and be lost in the bedding. She's seen it happen and doesn't want anyone else to go through that experience! If your horse has a thick mane and needs thinning anyway, don’t use the band cutter at all. Just grab a loop of the band and pull them out by hand. You’ll get a few extra hairs pulled out and it’ll help with the thinning process.
A Step-by-Step On Banding
1. Tie your horse
At a show, Tracy likes to tie the horse in the back of the stall if possible. It cuts down on the distractions for the horse. Keeping them out of the cross ties will free up space for everyone else trying to set up for the show, too.
2. Brush & Spray
The first thing she does is brush out the mane to remove any tangles or shavings. Then she'll spray the mane with water to control fly away hairs and give the hair a little grip.
3. Part the mane
She uses the end tooth of her hair clamp to part the hair into a section big enough for a band and then clamps the remaining hair out of the way. "I’ve been asked many times how big of a part do I make. It really depends on the mane. No two parts are the same size. My goal is to make every BAND the same size (about the diameter of a pencil, maybe a bit bigger), so if the mane is thinner, the part will be bigger. If the mane is thicker, the part will be smaller. You will have to adjust as you go along, because typically the mane is thicker in the middle than it is near the ears or the withers."
4. Wrap that band around it!
There's no set amount of times the band gets wrapped around the mane. "I wrap until I run out of rubber band. Sometimes that might be 8 times, sometimes it might be 16 times." It depends on the rubber band, and although they all look alike, they aren’t. Some are a bit more stretchy than others. The goal here is for the band to be TIGHT, and to do that you wrap until you can wrap no more. Loose bands will not hold in position and will slide out, making a 3-day old band job look 14 days old.
5. Tighten it
After wrapping the band, she grabs a few hairs off the bottom of the little ponytail and pull left & right (like you would tighten your own ponytail) and the band will suck against the neck. The trick is to only do this with a few hairs on the bottom, NOT the entire band. You are trying to change the angle and tighten, not just tighten! To be able to do this, it's important to leave a little bit of space between the band and the roots, so that you're able to pull the hair and direct the band where you want it to go.
6. Give it a trim
She trims the mane after she's done banding rather than before, because all the hair is going in the same direction and more controlled.
7. Spray & Smooth
Next step is to spray with a banding spray and smooth with your hand.
8. Throw the sleezy on
Lastly, she immediately puts the sleezy on, and allows the mane to dry under the sleezy- making it lay as flat as possible.
3 Most Common Mistakes & How to Solve Them
1. Thinking your mane needs to be super clean & conditioned
It doesn’t. In fact, a little grit gives it texture & grip and will likely hold the bands in better. A good hosing off is all your horse needs- maybe a little shampoo & a good rinse if it’s really dirty. Do NOT condition the mane or put detangler in it. It makes it way too slick to hold bands effectively.
2. Tightening the whole band
If you just split the little ponytail in half and pull apart to tighten, you haven’t changed the angle, you’ve just made it tighter. To pull it down against the neck, only pull apart and tighten a few hairs on the bottom of the band. This will tighten it AND suck it down against the neck.
3. Making the bands teeny tiny in attempt to cover up an unsightly banding job
"What you need to do is practice your technique. I have banded hundreds and hundreds of horses. I just have a bit more practice than the average horse owner." Smaller is not always the answer. Work on making your bands all a uniform size, and practice!
There you have it! Now go out and practice banding your own horse so you're ready for the upcoming shows. If you use Tracy's tips, send in pictures of your banding jobs! We'd love to see them. Lastly, if you found this post useful, please leave a comment so I can let Tracy know her knowledge is appreciated!