Clips, combs, a big dull needle, gloves. Area VII eventer Lilia Haberman describes what most realize is a survival kit for braiders. And that’s exactly what she is: a braider, not to be mistaken with a groom. Grooms tend to be an all-in type, usually pairing the service offered with a specific professional and growing alongside a barn family—a right-hand man (or woman) for any event. But for Haberman, her braiding service goes wherever she does, whether that’s to events as a competitor or volunteer.
Born into a horse family, Haberman was riding before she knew how to walk. Once she turned seven, she was introduced to Misty Mountain Pony Club and sometime later, Carbon River Pony Club in Washington state. Both clubs gave Haberman the experience that other clubbers are familiar with—knowing and practicing good horsemanship and learning how to ride correctly, specifically in the eventing discipline. But there’s another side of the Pony Club coin: learning how to produce a well-turned-out horse.
“I rated up to C-2, traditional. That’s how you really learn about the turnout I think,” laughs Haberman. “Always having to be prepared for those darn inspections!” She learned how to braid as a simple means to an end for competition but there was more to it than that. Haberman remembers watching an instructional DVD that showed many different braiding techniques and studying it over and over until braiding became second nature to her. “I was practicing on my very naughty pony Dyna, she’s still kicking—she’s 37,” says Haberman. “I would braid for the shows and for Pony Club rallies. It was just for myself for a long time because I didn’t feel confident enough to braid for other people.”
When Haberman really got into eventing, some adult amateurs would ask her to braid their horse’s manes and then they’d “throw her a couple dollars,” which of course dangled a carrot of incentive for the young teenager who was trying to pay her way to events. So, an idea was born. “If I get good at this, I can charge for this,” says Haberman. For four years and through her transition to college, Haberman honed this braiding skill, collecting signature materials along the way. It was during her sophomore year—the year she finally had a car—that she attended the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Fall Event and began advertising her braiding service.
Now 26 years old, Haberman has developed her own preferences and also admits to adapting over time when it comes to what she uses on her own braiding belt. She prides herself on being able to tackle any kind of mane but she does offer some tips for the very best turnout possible.
“You don’t want to wash their mane too much because it’ll be too sleek and hard to get a grip on,” says Haberman. “A good scalp shampooing a week before, to let the oils build back up, is good. And if your horse has a thick mane, leave a little longer. If they have a thin mane, maybe leave it just a little longer so the braids can actually look more full and not just like little pea-sized dots on their neck.” Haberman also recommends trying out a braid on your horse beforehand, to see what you prefer and what looks best on your steed. Comically, Haberman says there is one snafu that is hard to accommodate, and that’s bald spots. “I’ve definitely made a fake braid from a horse’s tail to cover a bald spot,” says Haberman. “When I trim up something, I should really make a black, brown, and a white to keep on hand.” And that scrappy think-on-your-feet attitude is what keeps Haberman an area favorite for neat and secure braids.
“My braids are very tight and they will not come out overnight, even if they want to try to rub them,” says Haberman. “I braid with wax thread and I sew it in there. I tell people all the time if they show jump the next day they can just leave them in. I think in eventing we’ve all learned to stretch our dollar as much as we can.” And Haberman’s sentiment is a shared one across the eventing community. This side hustle has allowed her to cover the cost of coaching fees or any photographs she wants to purchase after an event, and every little bit helps. Her passion for the sport and devotion to her side job is the perfect marriage of time well spent both in the saddle and above the mane.
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For seasoned and novice riders alike, it is always good to revisit the basics. Serving as the foundation for any eventer, the positions used on the cross-country course differ from those in the dressage or show jumping ring. The USEA tuned into five-time Olympian, three-time World Equestrian Games rider, two Pan-American Games rider, and USEA ECP certified coach Karen O'Connor as she walked coaches and students at the USEA ECP Symposium through the basic positions for effective cross-country riding.
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With the recent wrap-up of the 2023 Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) Symposium in Ocala, Florida, USEA Podcast Host Nicole Brown chats with ECP Faculty Members Jennifer Howlett Rousseau and Robin Walker about all things related to the ECP. From the USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels to the benefits of pursuing certification, selecting the best coach for you, recapping this year's Symposium, and more - this week's USEA podcast is the perfect educational tool for coaches and riders alike!