What's the Deal With... Horse Manes?

Horse mane
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Those thick, luxurious locks of hair are enough to make even a supermodel envious — but what exactly is the purpose of an equine mane?

Believe it or not, one reason is to look pretty.

You're So Vain

According to Dr. Katherine Houpt, DVM, an emeritus professor of animal behavior at Cornell University, it wasn’t until people began to domesticate horses that they began to breed them with long hair on their manes.

“No one knows for sure why, but it was presumably for aesthetics, similar to why Persian cats were bred to have long hair,” says Dr. Houpt, author of Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists. "If you look at true wild horses, they have really short manes.”

Hold On Tight

Beauty aside, manes also have some practical uses. “Breeders may have also realized that they give riders something more to hold onto,” Dr. Houpt says.  

It’s worth noting that stallions have more luxurious manes than mares — but it's not to attract the ladies.

When stallions fight, they bite each other's necks. “The mane acts like a sort of armor,” Dr. Houpt says, “protecting them from would-be aggressors.”


For answers to other curious questions about animals, check out our other "What's the Deal With . . ." stories.

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