Horse Tails 101
Caring for and enhancing your horse’s tail
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. So what do you need to do to replicate this look for your horse? Read on to find out all you need to know about how to do this...
Why does a horse’s tail need to be groomed?
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, flowing tail fits with our stereotypical perfect image.
Some breeds, like Dales for example, tend to have naturally long, thick tails. If your horse has one, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. However, if he has a short, sparse or otherwise “wimpy” tail, you’re most likely trying to find ways to improve it.
A horse’s tail needs to be groomed regularly otherwise the hair will soon stick together forming something resembling dreadlocks. Grooming it regularly will prevent the dreadlocks from forming.
Like it or not, how well your horse looks, i.e. how well he’s groomed even if he’s retired in a field, is taken by onlookers as a reflection of the type of owner or caretaker you are.
Should a horse’s tail be groomed?
The jury is divided on whether or not to groom 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.
How to groom a horse’s tail
A couple of tips to bear in mind whilst you’re doing the tail:
- Pay particular attention to the horse’s tail bone as you’ll notice any concerns, such as sores, a tick, or dry, flaky areas of skin
- Go gently so as not to damage the hair's structure as one hair of the horse's tail grows for 3 years and its regeneration is extremely difficult. Broken hairs take a very long time to reach full length.
Before you start, run your fingers through the hair to separate any hair that’s clumped together. It’s also a good idea to spray your horse's tail with a preparation that will make it easier for you such as a detangling product. Use more as you go, if necessary. More importantly it will help to prevent the horse’s tail hair from breaking.
Hairs that are regularly coated with a detangling product will be slicker and less likely to hold on to objects that get caught. Glossy hair is also less likely to twist into tangles on windy days or warmer days when the horse uses his tail to swat annoying flies!
Look out for specialist detanglers such as the Leovet Power Detangler For Pale Horses which enhances the colour of light tails.
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.
Hold the tail in your left hand and brush or comb small sections at a time. Do this gently so that you're pulling on the root of the hairs as little as possible. Use slow, smooth strokes as this will help you work out knots gradually and gently, thus reducing breakage.
Use a hard brush or one designed to brush manes and tails.
How often should it be groomed?
Grooming a tail every day is important because it stimulates the roots of the hair which causes the tail to grow. Taking care of the tail is good for the horse’s health as well as for your relationship with the horse.
How can I improve the appearance of my horse’s tail?
Grooming a horse’s tail is only cosmetic unlike full body grooming which has health benefits and conditions the coat and skin.
Whenever you groom your horse’s tail, inevitably you pull out some hair or the hair breaks, usually about halfway down the tail which is why some horse’s tails are thicker at the top than they are at the bottom.
As there’s no real need to groom the tail every time and the more you groom, the thinner the bottom of the tail will become, try to limit how often you do it and you’ll find that this will noticeably improve the appearance.
What’s the best way to wash a horse’s tail?
Start washing from the top of the tail and really work the shampoo in all the way to the bottom.
The tail can get very dirty so you want to make sure you are working the shampoo right into the base of the tail to avoid missing any dirt.
Once you have reached the bottom of the tail leave the wash in for a couple of minutes for it to really take effect. There's a vast selection of shampoos available to wash your horse's tail from great brands like Lincoln or if you're in to showing, you'll probably prefer Supreme Products.
Once the few minutes are up, you can wash the shampoo out with water. Make sure, again, that you rinse right from the base of the tail and remove all the shampoo. This will ensure that you don’t cause any skin problems to the horse.
Once the tail has been rinsed thoroughly, run your hand from the top to the bottom of your horse’s tail, squeezing out the excess water as this will help it dry quicker.
Be sure to rinse thoroughly to ensure that there's no sticky shampoo residue to cause further build-up of products. Layering on stickiness is asking for problems!
Any conditioner will keep your horse's hair smooth and healthy. If you use a rinse-out conditioner, make sure to leave it on for several minutes for maximum absorption, then thoroughly rinse afterward. Also consider using a leave-in conditioner, which will keep hair from drying out and becoming unmanageable.
There's a good choice of conditioners available, like the Lincoln Classic Mane and Tail Conditioner and Carr & Day & Martin Canter Mane and Tail Conditioner
Note: Be careful washing your horse’s tail prior to a show as it tends to leave the hair very fluffy which makes it difficult to style and plait. Try to wash your horse's tail at least two days before a show, this way it’s still nice and clean but a lot easier to style.
How can I make my horse’s tail grow faster?
To encourage growth, the tail should be kept clean. However, this doesn’t mean excessive washing. Try shampooing the tail weekly for the first month, then going to once every two weeks. Avoid over-washing though as this will strip the hair shaft of its own natural oils.
What's the best way to tackle dandruff in the tail?
Some horses do have dandruff in their tail. This problem should not be neglected, because apart from its ugly aesthetics, your horse feels discomfort from it in the form of itching. When the dandruff shows, you need to use a product specially designed for this condition. The Effol Hair Root Liquid mentioned above reduces the formation of dandruff or the Leovet No Rub below is very effective.
That's it! Follow these tips and hopefully you'll have a tip top tail in no time! Have any tips for your fellow equestrians? Share them below - you never know, your comment may just help a fellow rider.