One of my favorite things about my Haflinger horses is their long lovely manes–the whiter, and wavier, the better. I enjoy everything about that long hair — except sometimes the maintenance involved. It usually doesn’t take a lot of fuss, but this time of year, when the air is moist and there is frequent rainfall, I find that those long manes come in from the fields all a-tangle and frequently in elaborate tight knots. Not just uncombed dreadlocks, but tight, cinched up and truly snarled knots.
I have two theories about how these knots and tangles happen: Most likely, I suspect the Haflingers tend to toss their heads and shake their necks more in the rain, to shower off the raindrops that are dripping down their faces. There is something about this repetitive movement that causes the long mane strands to knot and then flop and fold back into themselves with each neck shake, so that there are sometimes three, four or five successive knots tied in a collection of strands. A second theory involves one very agile Haflinger mouth, tying knots in her unsuspecting pasture mates’ manes. I haven’t witnessed this personally, but this theory is suggested by the fact that I have several horses who always come in with knotted manes and one who never does. The “knotter” and the “knottees?” Perhaps….
My Scandinavian friends tell me there is a little gnome named Tomten in a gray coat and red cap who lives in the barn and ties knots in pony manes as a way to show how much he is caring for the farm. I haven’t seen him at work, as my little Tomten gnome swings on a swing in our back yard and I have yet to see him do anything except smile and make me happy when I look at him. But I like the thought that he may be responsible for these tangles.
So these wet evenings, I find myself working down the barn aisle, releasing all these knots that have formed during the day. This can be a bit time consuming and not a little aggravating, but necessary if I hope to keep these three and four foot manes intact and growing. So far I’ve not had to take scissors to any, but that is only because in matters of Haflinger mane, I’m extremely motivated and patient. Long white flowing wavy manes are part of the “fairy tale” that Haflingers embody. They are sadly being lost in some of the modern bloodlines, as the trend is toward a lighter weight hair that is more easily hunter braided and thinned, more like a warmblood type sporthorse’s minimal mane. True, all the long Haflinger mane can get tangled in the reins or the lines and represent a hazard, and though there is always the question of just how much a Haflinger can actually see through all that forelock, nevertheless, I want the hair to stay, and it kills me to even cut a bridle path.
What is the good of all that hair besides aesthetics? It surely is an outer protective layer in the harsh weather conditions to which Haflingers had to adapt long ago, and it is amazingly effective at keeping the head and neck warm and dry. The double manes are incredible umbrellas, allowing the rain to drip down that top oily layer of hair and drop to the ground, never touching the fur and skin underneath. But what a sauna it creates in the heat of summer!
There are times I wish I wore such a “veil” myself–able to hide my face when I need to, and impervious to the harshness sometimes flung my way– the “slings and arrows” of every day life. But when things heat up, it can be quite a liability with the heaviness and uncompromising barrier it creates.This is a difficult trade off for the potential comfort of privacy and protection risking smothering, knotting and tangling. Like the Haflingers, I can only hope that when I’m all tied up in knots, someone will care enough to untangle me gently, smooth me out, and braid me up so I feel relief in the midst of the heat, respecting me enough to not destroy something that helps define me.
So I keep caring for those manes, knowing their loveliness has its downside, and recognizing they are part of what makes my horses “Haflingers”, the fairy tale horses that dance in my dreams, which are part of what makes me who I am.