Grooming: Caring For and Enhancing Your Horse’s Tail
April 04, 2017
Walk through any museum or gallery featuring equine art and take a close look at the horses’ hindquarters. When it comes to tails, most artists render them as long and flowing—equine versions of Rapunzel—all the better to ripple in the breeze.
The appearance of a horse’s tail doesn’t tell you anything specific about the individual animal any more than a gorgeous woman’s photo defines who she is as a person. That said, horse people like attractive horses and a long, flowy tail fits with our stereotypical image of “pretty.”
Some breeds (think Morgan, Arabian, Andalusian, Friesian, etc.) naturally tend to have long, thick tails. If your horse has one, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. But if he has a short, sparse or otherwise “wimpy” tail, you’re most likely trying to find ways to glamorize it.
Grow your Own
The jury is divided on whether or not to brush tails. Some professional grooms use only their fingers and wouldn’t be caught dead combing or brushing out a tail. Others say a brush is fine, but never use a comb. Still others think either a brush or comb is fine, but must be used carefully.
“Instead of resorting to tail extensions, I always encourage owners to pay attention to their horses’ tails and grow a naturally thick one,” says Lynn Salvatori Palm, whose Fox Grove Farm is located in Ocala, Florida. A long-time clinician with a successful competition record, Palm has won nearly three dozen world and reserve world championships. The 2007 AQHA Horsewoman of the Year, Palm has a record four AQHA Superhorse wins and is also an AQHA judge.
“Grooming a tail every day is important because it stimulates the roots of the hair, which causes the tail to grow,” says Palm. “Taking care of the tail is good for the horse’s health, as well as for your relationship with the horse.”
Some people won’t use a comb in a tail, but Palm finds the use of a wide-tooth comb acceptable, and DON’T tug! Her preference, however, is a human hair brush.
Whether you use your fingers, a brush or a comb, always start at the bottom of the tail and work your way up. This will keep you from pulling out hairs if you hit a tangle. Applying a detangling product like Farnam's Laser Sheen or Vetrolin on the tail first will help.
“Many people never touch or pay attention to the horse’s tail bone, but this is a good thing to do because you’ll notice any concerns, such as sores, a tick, or dry, flakey areas of skin,” says Palm.
To encourage growth, the tail should be kept clean, but that doesn’t mean excessive washing.
To encourage growth, the tail should be kept clean, but that doesn’t mean excessive washing. Palm suggests shampooing the tail weekly for the first month, then going to once every two weeks.“Be sure to rinse thoroughly," she adds. "If you notice a light gray color or any ‘gummy’ feeling at the base of the tail bone, this means the shampoo wasn’t washed out thoroughly and the hair isn’t clean at the roots.”
Palms uses a wash-out conditioner after shampooing, using warm water since she feels this conditions the hair better than cold water. After rinsing out the conditioner, she applies a leave-in hair conditioner.
“This will help keep the tail tangle-free so you can brush it without breaking the hairs,” she notes.
Put a Bag on It!
If you’re trying to help your horse grow a long, healthy tail, get your hands on a tail bag, or more specifically, “tail tubes.” And yes, there is a difference!
A tail bag is just for short term use, such as when trailering or when you’re at the show overnight and want to keep the tail clean of manure and shavings. If you want to protect the tail from the elements and encourage growth, tail tubes are helpful.
If using a tail bag for the day or overnight, wash and condition the tail first. Let it dry and then brush the hair smooth, using a detangler, if needed. Divide tail into three equal sections; a bit of hair gel can make it easier to handle. Braid the tail, keeping even tension, but don't pull it tight. Comb the hair with your hand as you braid. At the end of each braid, tie off with human hair bands. Insert the braids into the tail bag, and tie the bag in place just below the tail bone.
Tail bags come with two or four ties; which you use is personal preference. Avoid bags with hook-and-loop closures because tail hairs will get caught in them.
If you want to keep the tail protected longer than overnight, opt for tail tubes instead. Divide the tail into three sections and insert each section into a tube. Then braid those tubes together. This way hair isn't rubbing against hair, as in a normal braid, which can cause breakage--precisely what you don't want if you're hoping to grow a long, thick tail.
Tail Tip: How to “Bang” a Tail:
Once exclusively an “English thing” typically seen on eventing, dressage and racehorses, banged tails (blunt cut across the bottom) are now seen in Western events. Depending on the natural length of your horse’s tail, you can “bang” the tail just a couple inches above the ground, at the fetlock or four to five inches from the bottom of the hock.
You’ll need a pair of clippers or sharp scissors.
First, brush the tail so it is smooth and without tangles. Don’t wet it or spray on a grooming product.
Next, have a friend trot your horse so you can observe how he normally carries his tail when moving. Then tie your horse and have your friend loosely hold the tail in the same position as when the horse is in motion. Hold the end of the tail with the hairs tightly together. Use the scissors or clippers to cut straight across the ends to achieve a “squared off” look.
Untie your horse and have your friend walk him so you can check the tail’s appearance. It should be square to the ground when the horse is in motion. If necessary, trim the end again to obtain the desired length. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution rather than cut off too much at one time!