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Adventures in Braiding, Part III: A World-Class Mentor and her Fledgling Grasshopper

Stephen Curry is to basketball what Ruthann Smith is to show braids. And she’s been kindly helping me out because apparently Ruthann is a glutton for punishment.

I’m going to talk about another sport for a second. Are you ready? Star basketball player Stephen Curry makes something like 44% of his 3-point shots, which is an absolutely unbelievable number. Part of it is good genes and raw talent and a heck of a lot of fire for the game, but a huge part of it is this: One of his favorite drills is to take 10 shots from 5 different spots on the three point line, and then repeat that process until he gets to 100. And he supposedly rolls through that drill 5-6 days a week.

So what I’m trying to say is, becoming exceptional means doing something a lot of times, and adopting the best technique. If you’re going to have to do something a lot of times, you really want to know you’re doing it the best possible way.  So in part III, I’m going to throw myself at the mercy of one of the best, and she helps set a few things straight for me.

Ruthann Smith of Lucky Braids for Top Turnout has the endorsement of world class athletes in various disciplines, including George Morris, Peter Wylde, Molly Ashe-Cawley,  and Larry Poulin. She has developed a company completely devoted to top care and turnout for horses, from braiding to shampoo to salves. So I figured when some polite but braiding novice like me asked for her help, she’d give me a few soundbites about her products and send me on my way.

Instead, she showed me an alternate universe where braiding is like, the coolest. You have never and will never meet anyone who cares about good braiding technique more than Ruthann. I got right to work watching her Better Braiding DVD/Tool and could hardly believe it myself when after watching it through once, I felt compelled to instantly watch the entire thing again. A DVD. About braiding manes. I KNOW.

It was like watching Houdini explain in exact detail how he gets out of the straightjacket upsidedown and underwater. There are so many secrets!

Screenshot courtesy of Lucky Braids for Top Turnout

Screenshot courtesy of Lucky Braids for Top Turnout

The DVD covers the exact steps of braiding specifically: braiding down, adding yarn, pulling up, tying up, and then taking the braids out, and repeats those steps for the french-braided forelock. She shows each step multiple times, from multiple angles, with virtually gazillions of little tips and techniques along the way.

It also covers all the bits and pieces that go along with good braiding: preparing the mane, preparing your tools, and preparing your horse. She has invaluable little methods that don’t just make better braids, they make you a more successful braider and horsemen.

I was so excited I practiced a few times on Harry, and then I headed straight out to the barn to braid my real life buddy, Cache. While the result was very pretty by my standards, as we talked about in Part II, it took forever, and the 3 hours of grooming and “ungrooming” burnt me out a bit.

Ruthann kept in touch with me through this process, and helped me see that the “burnout phase” was totally avoidable. She was also kind enough to give me a few tips that will prove invaluable to anyone who wants to give her fantastic method a go.

  • Don’t watch the DVD and then braid the whole mane. Yes, this is definitely how I burnt myself out. Instead, Ruthann recommends watching the whole DVD, and then going back and practicing each step individually, and not to move on until you’ve mastered the previous step. I can testify, she is right about this. Most of my burnout came from trying to remember the tips for every step on the fly as I tried to do a whole mane. If I’d gone and just practiced just ‘braiding down’ — maybe doing a few before and after a lesson — I would have enjoyed it more, and also retained the information better.
  • Harry is great, she says, but there’s actually an easier way to braid at home. Her suggestion is to wrap a belt around your leg, thread some braiding yarn through it, and braid by bracing your hands against your thigh. You don’t need the whole mane – just practice the step, undo it, and start again. Solid suggestion. (But let’s not tell Harry. He’s so cute.)

    braid belt horsenation

    Photo by Lorraine Jackson

  • She suggested re-watching the section on inviting horses to stand calmly, and it was a great idea. Little things like where you place the horse in the stall as you braid and how you stand in relation to the horse make the whole process much easier on your subject. Also, by only doing little bits at a time and practicing each step rather than doing a whole mane, you can build up your horse’s stamina for braiding, too.
  • She referenced numerous helpful articles on her website — information she gives out for free — just to help spread good horsemanship as far as she can. I can’t believe how many things she covers: from specific braiding questions such as “braiding without a bridlepath” to general grooming questions I didn’t even know I had, like “Horses urinating outside,” LuckyBraids.com is a pretty impressive resource.
  • And to add a tip of my own: be willing to relinquish your own existing habits and give the whole method — every knot, every finger position, every tool — its full role in the process. Because I’m left handed, there were a couple things related to the tying of knots that felt so counter-intuitive to follow exactly, but I pushed through anyway because I wanted to mimic the Lucky Braids method as literally as possible. It was hard, but I broke some inefficient habits in the process and gained new muscle memory with practice.

As we mentioned in Part I, Better Braiding DVD/Tools comes with more than just the 80 minute DVD. It also includes the Essential Braiding Tools designed for speed and safety, a pamphlet of additional Top Turnout Tips, a sample of the Lucky Braids All-in-One Horse Shampoo, and a sample of the Lucky Braids Horse Braiding Yarn.

Thanks very much to Lucky Braids for sharing their product and expertise with us!

Go Braiding.

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