I think we can all agree that long thick horse tails are a sight to behold! In an effort to achieve them we commonly braid, wrap and/or use tail bags. Despite the best of intentions, these efforts can cause harm - including hair loss, permanent nerve or muscle damage or, worst of all, amputation.
Read on to learn why your horse's tail is more than an ornament and how keeping it healthy and natural provides benefits and prevents injury.
All hair on your horse serves a purpose - from whiskers to tail. Allowing a natural tail not only enables your horse to use it as intended, but can prevent injury as well.
The horse’s tail serves many purposes:
If the tail is altered in any way, benefits of the tail are impeded.
Horse Tail Anatomy
Potential Risks from Braiding, Wrapping & Tail Bags
Getting Lodged or Stuck - Braided or bagged tails can potentially become lodged between fence posts, gates, pipe panels, horse trailer dividers or tree branches - pretty much any opening where it can land and become wedged. If the horse panics, the entire tail can be ripped off at the dock.
Too Much Pressure Cuts off Blood/Nerve Supply - The dock is extremely sensitive to pressure. Any wrap or bag applied above the last vertebrae that applies prolonged pressure acts as a tourniquet, which results in loss of blood and nerve supply to the entire dock. Wrapping too tightly or too close to the end of the tailbone can cause the entire tail to die.
Potential Pain with Every Tail Swish - Have you ever been standing next to a horse with a tail bag or a tail braided to the end and felt the full impact from the swat of their tail? It hurts! Compare that to the feeling of a tail swish in its natural state - the ends of the hair are wispy and disperse the impact over a much larger surface area.
Decreased Insect Control - Tails braided to the end and tail bags decrease the ability to naturally deter biting insects that carry disease and cause irritation. The horse’s natural tail is far more effective hitting targets if allowed to expand at the ends. The force of the displacement of air from a natural tail swish expands the protective boundaries beyond the ends of the hair. The lighter the insect, the broader the protection barrier.
Promoting a Naturally Healthy Tail
Although genetics play a large role in tail thickness and length, diet is key. Tail bags and braids cannot compensate for brittle unhealthy tail hairs. Deficiencies or imbalances of nutrients, such as protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, impact your horse's skin, hair and hooves. Proper nutrition promotes optimum keratin production and healthy vibrant hair strands that don’t break off.
Routinely groom/comb to remove debris (burs and pieces of foliage) and dead hair that can cause matting. Start at the bottom of the tail and work your way up with a wide rounded tooth comb.
Bathe the dock and tail hairs with a mild shampoo to remove mud and help to prevent conditions of the skin underneath. Let the tail dry completely prior to combing.
Keep the tail docked if necessary (a few inches off the ground) to prevent your horse from stepping on it.
All Things Considered
Providing a natural lifestyle including a natural tail, proper nutrition and basic hygiene promotes happier, healthier horses and aids in the prevention of discomfort or injury to your beloved companion.
Helpful How To Resources
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About the Author:
Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.
Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition and digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, Horse Back Magazine, The Horse's Hoof, and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.
Redrup, G. (2014, November 10) All you need to know about your horse’s back. Retrieved from https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/understand-horses-back-463245
King, S. (2019, July 25) What Your Horse's Tail Tells You. Retrieved from https://equusmagazine.com/horse-care/horsetail_062206
Hu, D. L. (2018, October 18) What's the Use of a Horse's Tail? Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/whats-the-use-of-a-horses-tail/
Rich-Gutierrez, N. (2017) A Cautionary Tail. Retrieved from https://horsenetwork.com/2017/04/a-cautionary-tail/
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