Over the years and decades, a lot of extremely bizarre claims have been made when it comes to matters of a Fortean kind. They include the rumor that the alien “Greys” like strawberry ice-cream, that ETs once left a man named Joe Simonton a plate of pancakes, that crop circles are made by mating hedgehogs (this one was meant as a joke that backfired), and that…well…you get the picture. Beyond any shadow of doubt, though, one of the strangest claims of the paranormal kind is that multiple, supernatural entities have a particularly liking for braiding the manes of horses! And, no, it’s not April Fools’ Day!
While it’s a scenario that, at first glance, sounds manifestly absurd, the fact is that throughout history there are stories of strange creatures with a fascination for horse-braiding, including none other than the world’s most famous monster of all: Bigfoot. Certainly, the leading expert in this admittedly curious field is Lisa Shiel. She is the author of many books, including Backyard Bigfoot and Forbidden Bigfoot. Shiel, whose books chronicle her very own encounters with Bigfoot, says: “I first encountered the mane braiding phenomenon while living in Texas. In the beginning, I allowed myself to dismiss them as natural tangles or perhaps the handiwork of the neighbors’ children. As time went on, however, I found it more and more difficult to stick to my original hypothesis.”
Indeed, in the 2000s, and particularly in 2005, Shiel experienced numerous examples of horse-braiding when Bigfoot activity in her vicinity was at its height. Before dismissing this odd aspect of Bigfoot lore out of hand, it’s worth noting there is nothing new about the phenomenon of horses, hair-braiding, and strange beings. In the 1200s, the Bishop of Paris wrote of a fairy queen whose female underlings would stealthily enter stables in the dead of night, “with wax tapers, the drippings of which appear on the hairs and necks of the horses, whilst their manes are carefully plaited.”
Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable talks about the “Hag’s knot,” which he goes on to describe as “Tangles in the manes of horses, etc., supposed to be used by witches for stirrups.”
Similarly, Newbell Nil Puckett said: “When you find your hair plaited into little stirrups in the morning or when it is all tangled up and your face scratched you may be sure that the witches have been bothering you at night…Horses as well as humans are ridden; you can tell when the witches have been bothering them by finding ‘witches stirrups’ (two strands of hair twisted together) in the horses’ mane.”
In Dorset, England – the site of many so-called “wild man” reports in centuries long gone – there was a spate of mysterious hair-braiding of horses in 2009. Even the British Police Force found themselves plunged into the heart of the hair-twisting (rather than hair-raising) mystery. Police Constable Tim Poole, one of the officers that investigated the Dorset cases, said: “We have some very good information from a warlock that this is part of a white magic ritual and is to do with knot magick. It would appear that for people of this belief, knot magick is used when they want to cast a spell. Some of the gods they worship have a strong connection to horses so if they have a particular request, plaiting this knot in a horse’s mane lends strength to the request. This warlock said it is a benign activity, albeit maybe a bit distressing for the horse owner.”