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A four strand braid is a simple braiding style- useful for horse manes, human hair, and even the occasional friendship bracelet! It adds a bit of an extra challenge in the braiding process that pays off with lots of extra “wows” on the finished result!
How To Braid a Mane in Four Plait Braids
Most people learn to braid so early in life that they can braid by muscle memory, without having to think too much about the process.
When it comes to learning to braid with four strands of hair, there is a technique to learn, but the hardest part might just be communicating to your brain, with each crossed strand of hair, that you are not actually completing a traditional 3 strand braid!
Practice to Learn the Four Strand Braid
The best process for learning a four plait braid is the method I was taught- where you crossing strands in pairs. In the video below you can see 2 of my different methods for braiding this style of braid: first is the simple crossing-over method, which is great for leaning the braid on a stable surface (like practicing with yarn), the second half of the video shows the hold-and-twist method for braiding a 4 strand braid- where you hold all four strands and use a twist of the wrist to create the unique braid.
The video above shows what a simple process it can actually be- and with practice you’ll be able to put this braid in a wiggling horse’s mane or tail in just a few moments.
Cross-Over Method for Braiding a 4 Strand Braid
This method for breeding a four strand braid is the easiest to learn, but the hardest to braid on a living model (either horse or human!). Nevertheless, I have included the instructions for this simple four strand braid because it is, I think, the best way to learn. By spreading strands of string, floss, yarn, fiber out on flat surface like I have, you can get your brain wrapped around the four strand braid construction. Once you understand how the brain works, you can progress to the wrist twist method of braiding a four strand braid – which, although more technically difficult, works much better on live horse and human hair.
Begin with four strands finger combed or lined up parallel and anchored at the top. I’m using four different color strands to illustrate this braiding method and to make explaining a little easier.
To begin braiding, pick up purple and cross it right over blue. Then pick up pink and cross it right over yellow. Next, join these two twists together by crossing yellow left over purple, as shown.
Now, cross blue right over yellow, and cross purple to the right, crossing over pink.
Again, join the twists together by crossing the two middle strands, crossing pink left over blue.
Keep repeating this pattern down the braid: outside-left strand right over left-middle, right-middle over outside-right, then middle-strand-right left over middle-strand left. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a simple “right, right, left” rhythm.
Wrist-Twist Method of Braiding a 4 Strand Braid
The wrist-twist method is the braiding method you’ll want to use for putting four strand braids in horse or human hair. It’s better for live models because, by holding all four strands through the braiding process, it’s easier to get tidy braids in a wiggling model.
Wrist Twist Method for Braiding Four Strand Braids
Total Time: 5 minutes
Divide Hair or Fiber into 4 Strands
For this advanced method, start by separating hair or fiber into 4 equal strands. Work with freshly brushed hair or finger-combed fiber.
If braiding horse or human hair, a spritz of hairspray before you start can make the hair easier to grip while braiding.
Grasp two strands in each hand and divide with index fingers
Line up the four strands and grasp two in each hand, but keep the strands separated with your index finger.
With this method you’ll always be twisting left, so line up your hands as shown to make wrist rotation easy.
Rotate both hands 180°, twisting strands
Now, twist each wrist 180° to the right. (If your palm is facing down, turn it right to face up, if your palm is facing up, turn it right till it’s facing down). The strands will cross over each other as you twist your wrists, forming the braid.
In this demonstration, purple goes over blue, and pink goes over yellow.
Cross middle strands: right over left
Next, join these two twists together into a braid by crossing the two strands that were placed in the center through the last maneuver. While, for the four strand braid, the wrist twists are always to the right, joining the middle strands together is done by crossing the right-middle strand over the left-middle strand.
In this demonstration, yellow goes over purple.
Return to starting position: 2 strands per hand, divided by index fingers
Now, instead of purple and blue in the left-hand and pink and yellow in the right-hand, now I’m holding blue and yellow strands in the left hand and pink and purple strands in the right-hand.
You’ll likely be working with strands of hair or fiber that are the same color, but note that two of the four strands have traded hands by this step.
Turn each wrist 180°, crossing strands
Again, twist your wrists 180° so that the two strands held in each hand cross over each other. In this demonstration, blue crosses over yellow, and purple crosses over pink.
Cross middle strands: right over left
After you’ve completed the wrist twist to the right, cross the middle-right strand over the middle left strand. Now, yellow and pink are in the left hand and purple and blue are in the right-hand.
Notice that by this point, after two braiding cycle repetitions, all the colors have switched hands, and swapped order. Using colored strands while you learn to braid is helpful for double-checking that you are braiding the four-strand braid correctly.
Continue Twisting, then Crossing
Continue the cycle of wrist-twist, then middle-cross until you reach the end of the hair or fiber you are braiding. Tie the end of the braid off with a ribbon or place a reprimand rubber band around the to keep them from unraveling.
- Practice on colored yarn or rope for the easiest learning
Learning this braid takes some practice (and a horse patient enough to remain still while you learn!) You’ll probably want to practice at home on something that can’t move when it gets bored.
The easiest practice material is a soft old t-shirt cut into strips, long felt strips, or- perhaps after practice on fabric strips- a false tail extension borrowed from your barn’s show tack.
Different Braiding Styles
Because the four strand braid is a braiding method, not a style, per se, it can be incorporated any nearly any braiding style that typically uses the traditional three-strand braid.
Four Plait Running Braid
The photo below shows a running braid braiding in a traditional 3-plait braid. Practice the 4 strand braid upside down (crossing strands of hair under, rather than over, each other) to create a dramatic braid that pops like this one- but with four strands instead of three interwoven down the crest of the mane.
Mane Braiding Hints & Hacks
Young or old, most horse owners get a kick out of braiding manes and tails from time to time. Whether you are braiding for show, for fun, or as a way to keep necks cool and long manes tidy, it can be helpful to know a few braiding tricks.
At Curlyfarm.com we’ve written on running braids, pasture braids, Dutch braids, and 4-plait braids, but there are dozens more braids to experiment with. One of the best resources we’ve found for eye-turning mane braiding styles is actually instruction books for braiding human hair!
Our favorite resource, “Twist Me Pretty” has step by step instructions for 45 braiding styles, many of which can be transformed into even more dramatic looks by completing the braid with a four plait braid instead of a standard 3 strand braid.
Picking up the 4 strand braid can be a challenge at first, but we’ve found this braiding tool– designed to hold four strands, to be the perfect aid to make the learning curve much easier!
With a Masters Degree in Psychology and two decades of experience as a horseback rider, breeder, and tack store owner, Tatum has developed a unique approach to coaching adult riders that integrates the physical and emotional aspects of developing as a confident rider.