Are Horse Hair Shaving Brushes For You? Don't Say "Neigh" Just Yet!

Horse Hair

Sharpologist has recently discussed synthetic hair shaving brushes (summary here).  Let’s now look at horse hair shaving brushes.  Horse hair brushes are coming back after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, following an anthrax scare around World War I.  Though still relatively difficult to find compared with other types of shaving brushes, horse hair shaving brushes offer some unique properties. 

“Animal-Friendly”

Material for horse hair shaving brushes are simply cut from the horse’s mane or tail: the animal is not harmed.  On the other hand badgers and boars are killed for their hair (and meat).  Of course, in some areas the animals are considered pests so this is not necessarily a “bad” thing, but if it is a concern then your conscience should be clear by using horse.

“Middle Of The Road” Performance

I have found horse hair shaving brushes to perform better than boar hair and less “scratchy” than many “pure” grade badger brushes.  Although I don’t think they hold quite as much water as “super” or “silvertip” badger brushes, they are more than adequate for the job.

Price

The price for horse hair shaving brushes are usually quite reasonable for their performance and build quality.  The downside here is availability: they are not found as easily as other brushes.

My Usage

I have two horse hair brushes, both Vie-Long (I got them from Fendrihan), a “pure” horse (mane/tail hair) and a “mixed” brush (horse/badger).  I quite like the “pure” horse hair brush: it broke in quickly, makes a generous lather, works well with soap and cream, and is reasonably soft on the skin.  The “mixed” brush is a bit softer but I didn’t notice it performing any better than the “pure” brush.

One Word Of Caution

The only real downside to a horse hair brush is the smell.  The first few times it gets wet the smell can only be described as ghastly.  Do yourself a favor and wash it thoroughly with a pet shampoo, rinse well with warm water, and allow to dry before its first use.  In fact, you may want to do this a couple times before you start using it.  Of course, over time the smell will disappear.

Do you have a horse hair shaving brush?  What do you think of it?

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Comments

  1. Attila says

    Thanks for the article! Though I believe the brand you have is Vie Long not Via Long. I used to have a Vie Long Horse hair brush, the longer barber shop style one. Performance was quite good but the new Muhle Synthetics displaced it. I own a 23 and 25 mm Silvertip synthetic and don’t feel a need to buy any other brush, they’re that good. Even my Vulfix Super Badger hasn’t seen any use and has been stored.

  2. says

    I have 4 Vie-Long horse hair brushes and 2 Turkish no 6’s. I like them all soft tips and firm backbone, what more could you ask for.

  3. El-a-Menthol says

    Good writing, as always. Glad you still make the YouTube videos, and I can understand why it’s hard to keep coming up with time and even more so, subjects you haven’t covered yet. You are one of the pillars I started wet-shaving, and I am deeply grateful for this.
    I have a boar (SOC), a badger (Muhle silvertip), a synthetic (Muhle Silvertip Fiber) and a Vie-Long, pure, in olive wood.
    I decided I wanted at least 1 brush of every hair type, and build my collection from there.

    Keep up the good works!

  4. says

    They are for me! I’d encourage anyone to try a Vie-Long; my favorite is the 13061 — a great brush whether you get the natural color or the dyed bands. One of my top three favorite handles.

    Vie-Long’s natural knots are 35/65 mane/tail, so somewhat stiffer than the dyed bands, which are 50/50. (I suggest lathering and rinsing the dyed knots several times before using to get rid of loose dye.) After using both, I’ve developed a preference for the natural — but they’re all great. I think the horse smell fades faster than badger smell.

  5. Dr. K says

    I was very much looking forward to a horse hair brush, having read about their supposedly excellent lathering capabilities. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed with the Vie Long brush I purchased. I found it harsher than any of my badger brushes. I didn’t find the hairs to be stiff, but the ends seemed prickly. It was somewhat irritating to my skin, and I had a more difficult time getting a good lather than with my badger brushes, most of which are silvertip or super. I ended up taking it out of my rotation after several months of repeated use yielded no improvement or decreased discomfort. Maybe it was just one bad brush, or maybe it was just me. The smell was noticeable but not particularly worse to me than that of badger hair. For anyone wanting to not have dead badgers on their conscience, I would recommend one of the better synthetics. There are some good synthetics that cost little more than the horse hair but deliver much better performance, at least in my hands.

  6. Johnny says

    I have not tried horse hair at this time. I am a boar man and consider the boar hair as just a side benefit from all the ham, bacon, and sausage I eat.

  7. Ted Pettinicchi (TAP119 on B & B) says

    Both thumbs up and a +10 for Johnny’s comment, although I’m not a fan of boar brushes.

    After reading so many raves about horsehair brushes on B & B, I decided to take the plunge and try one during my last paroxysm of shave brush acquisition disorder. In January of this year, I purchased a Vie-Long #13061 all horsehair brush from BullGoose and found it to be more reasonably priced than badger. The brush seemed to be well made and both my SWMBO and I really liked the red and white-swirl handle. I especially like that they are made in Spain, since I’d lived there 34 years ago in preparation for teaching Spanish (which I did before becoming an ER nurse). However, as I wrote on B&B, the smell of the new brush was very bad:
    “… Wet dog is a genteel fragrance next to this horrible stench and some kind of evil lather from The Dark Side came out of this brush when I test-lathered it. That stuff was a hideous grayish-brown, not white….”

    Other shavers advised me that the best way to extract the severe odor was: “… to soak it for 20 minutes in very cold water mixed with 1 tsp. vinegar per ounce of water, rinse and lather with a strong-smelling lather like Tabac (which I had). The lather is left in the brush for a while to further overcome the stinky smell. ” Whew! Did it stink! But, this treatment did take care of the smell and I added the Vie-Long to my rotation.

    I was very disappointed in the performance of horsehair. I found that I had more difficulty building lathers with it, even after full-time use with soaps and creams for a few months. It didn’t hold enough water, seemed to not have a dense enough knot and was rough on my face.

    Perhaps I’d been spoiled by the re-knotted and “scratchbuilt” badger brushes I had made; badger worked better for me. I’ve since removed the Vie-Long from my rotation and stay with my Finest Badger re-knotted Ever-Ready 100T handle for everyday use.

    On a cultural note, badgers are considered unclean animals in many cultures. This is why, in Muslim countries horsehair and synthetic brushes are very popular.

  8. trent s says

    i have two Turkish horse hair shaving brush no:6 and a no:7 the 6 is my go to brush the no:7 is a bit small and runs out of lather

  9. Dean says

    i absolutely love my no:6 horsehair brush from bestshave.net. i paid under $3 for it and i love it. i am a boar brush kind of guy, i have some middle of the road badger, but i found myself every day going for my vdh boar brush because i preferred the scrubbiness of it and how it did a much better job picking up soap from a hard puck. but now with this horse hair, its softer than a boar brush, but has as much backbone, if not more than my boar. its amazingly good. use it every day, for soap or cream.

  10. Tim_McD says

    I had a Vie-Long 13061 and loved it – I would still have it if my brother-in-law had not taken up wet shaving and begged for a brush (he got my 13061 and a Frank’s silvertip).

    Of course that w/n/h happened if I didnt already have a LE Vie-Long Beehive – which has the same knot as the 13061.

    Horsehair makes a great brush! I use it with hard English soaps, soft Italian soaps and all types of creams – it works well with them all. It is a bit stiff at first, but soon yields to a firm-but-soft face feel (I face lather exclusively).

    I am two brushes away from a full 7 day set and one of those future adds will be another Vie-Long (a 13066 or a 13064)/

  11. Mondo Johnson says

    I have 3 Vie-Long brushes all are excellent brushes although I’m partial to the natural 13061m with a 50 mm loft. You didn’t review the mixed horse badger which I like enough to get another. I really want to try the horse boar mix but don’t like the handle and will need a custom loft. If your reading this Juan one with the 13061 handle would be keen. Anyway thanks for the review.

  12. Michael D says

    I like my horse hair brush, and I’m a vegetarian, but don’t try to convince yourself the hair comes from live horses. Some small amount may come from trimmings off live horses, but the largest source of horse hair in the world today is slaughterhouses in China.

    One source: http://www.johnsonstring.com/horse.htm

  13. Joe Bell says

    I too am becoming a fan of Badger alternatives. (though the boar we eat and the badger is a pest: think “giant rats”)
    I have a horse hair knot that I purchased from PC Woodcraft which has become my favorite.

    Needs about a 2 minute soak before it’s ready lest it suck up moisture as it’s lathering on the face. Even with a very short loft on that 24mm knot, while not floppy, it becomes quite “squishy” against the face after it’s properly soaked. After soaking it holds heat, water and suds well enough.

    And I really like the feel of quality horse hair on my face. Better than badger and far better than boar. IMHO/YMMV- to each his own. Synthetics will come next for comparison…

  14. Bambooculm says

    I use a Turkish number 6 horsehair brush, and it’s great !!!!
    I did wash it with dog shampoo when it was new, only once and the smell was gone. I also use an Omega boar brush and a Parker synthetic. I only face lather as I feel that it is more efficient than using a bowl or mug. Regardless of what some critics say, I find that my Parker synthetic works very well when face lathering. The Turkish number 6 horsehair brush is so much better than a boar brush, and is only $2.45 from bestshave and is the best budget priced brush available.

  15. Jerald says

    Gotta admit, I tried the very inexpensive #6 and immediately liked it better than any of the half dozen boar brushes I own. Now I’m in the market for a better quality horse, because this little brush has opened my eyes to horse.

  16. Dr Bones says

    I have a Vie-Long 13070 with an olive wood handle. I find that it looses a lot of the backbone strength after it gets wet, but that can be said for most hair brushes. But I quite enjoy the brush. It is the smallest of my 7 brushes, but lathers well and hold enough for three passes. I have 2 silvertips, a super badger, 2 synthetics (which I love) a boar and this horse hair. It is worthy of my rotation and feels great on my face. FYI try Dr Bonner’s liquid soap (Peppermint) to defunk any brush as the first step shampooing twice…then go a strong cream…one more shampoo and you’re set . Highly recommended!

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