Priority Tail

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We’d all love our horses to have a full, flowing tail. A thick, flowing mass of hair is the epitome of beauty. But looking at a lovely long tail and comparing it to the short, thin or frayed tail on your own horse can sometimes make the dream of a beautiful tail seem impossible.

While genetics, nature and a healthy diet play a part in long, healthy tails, there are several things you can do to encourage your horse’s tail to grow and look beautiful.

Not all horses are created equal, and neither are all tails. If your horse’s genetics have given him a thin, wispy tail, then it may never reach the ideal in your mind. Some people have thicker hair than others and the same applies to horses. However tails can be improved and whether your aim is the show ring or just for your own pleasure, careful attention can really help it bloom!

Rubbing is usually an indication of pinworms. Rubbing is usually an indication of pinworms.

Tail rubbing is common in horses but it’s also extremely destructive to tails. Many a beautiful tail has been completely destroyed after only a few days of vigorous rubbing…and it may take years to grow back. Tail rubbing destroys the hairs at the top of the tail, leading to knots, broken hairs and even bald patches.

The most common cause of tail rubbing is worm infestation, usually pinworms. These microscopic parasites lay eggs around the horse’s anus, causing discomfort and itching. This can result in the horse rubbing his rear end on anything that might be available…stable walls, fence posts, feed buckets, trees etc. Regular worming will kill the pinworms and the rubbing should stop.

If parasites have been ruled out as a cause of rubbing, other causes should be examined. A dirty udder or sheath may be itchy and regular washing can help prevent this. The skin on the dock could be dry, causing dandruff and irritation. Washing the tail using a dandruff shampoo and finishing with a moisturizing conditioner can help relieve the itching. The tail should also be carefully inspected for any other signs of cuts, sores or skin irritations and if found, treated by your Vet.

What NOT to do! What NOT to do!
Once tail rubbing has been eliminated as an issue, how do you get that tail to grow? First and foremost, STOP BRUSHING IT! Ever wonder how horses in the wild often have lovely thick, long tails? It’s because they’re never brushed! Constant brushing pulls out hair faster than it can grow back. Gently finger-comb through your horse’s tail, leaving brushing for special occasions such as shows. Never use fine-toothed combs on manes and tails, use special wide-toothed combs…and even then, only very gently and infrequently. Use of a mane and tail detangler will also help minimize knots and snarls. If you do find knots in your horse’s tail, don’t yank them…use a detangler (there’s lots of excellent products available in saddle shops) and gently ease the knots free with your fingers. Never use curry combs or dandy brushes on manes and tails. Ever. Wash and condition your horse’s tail at least once a month. Some swear by horse-specific shampoos and conditioners while others find human hair products work just as well on manes and tails. Leave-in conditioners can provide long-term protection to the hair.

Make sure all soap and reside is thoroughly rinsed out as any left behind can cause irritation which could lead to itching and rubbing. After washing and conditioning, allow the tail to dry completely before brushing it through gently as wet hair is more fragile and likely to break when being brushed. If you must brush your horse’s tail, start at the bottom and work up, concentrating on small sections at a time until the entire tail is detangled and smooth.

Keep flies away from your horse as much as possible during summer as constant tail swishing can weaken the hair, or it can get caught in fencing, buckles or tree bark, yanking out hairs. Use a fly repellant and cotton sheet on your horse. Just as in human hair, horses get split ends at the bottom of their tail, leading to hair breakage and damage. Cutting the very ends of the tail off on a regular basis will remove the split ends and strengthen the rest of the tail. Don’t cut too much off…just a few centimetres will remove most of the split ends and leave the tail with a neater look.
Regular use of a tail bag can improve a horse Regular use of a tail bag can improve a horse's tail. NEVER tie around, or close to, the dock!
If a long, thick tail is your goal, then consider using a tail bag. Usually made of lycra or cotton, tail bags cover the tail and tie just below the bone of the tail, protecting it from pulling, breakage, sun damage, dirt and tangles. Loosely plait the washed and conditioned dry tail from the base of the dock to the end and secure with a hair tie or rubber band. Fold the plaited end into three…it doesn’t need to be neat! Pull the tail bag over the folded plait and thread the bag tapes through the top of the plait and tie securely.

NEVER tie a tailbag around or near the dock, which can interfere with circulation!

Using a tail bag can significantly improve the quality of your horse’s tail and help it to grow more quickly. Many show horses wear tailbags 24/7 to keep them in peak condition. Even owners of Friesians or Andalusians with long, flowing manes will keep them loosely plaited for protection. The next time you’re tempted to brush your horse’s tail, or yank out knots, consider this…it takes around seven years for the hair at the top of a horse’s tail to grow down to the level of their fetlocks. So what might look neat short term, will look messy long term.

Your horse’s tail won’t grow overnight and you might not notice a difference in quality or thickness for some months. But with careful attention and a lot of patience, you can help your horse’s tail achieve its full potential!

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