Where Horses Come First ...

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Sun, 28 Jul 2019 11:02:00

If you follow horse groups on social media you’ve probably noticed that one of the aspects of horse care that concerns horse owners the most is the condition and appearance of his tail.

When it comes to grooming tails receive a great deal of attention. When they’re ratty and sparse, we worry, and when it comes to competition or showing we dither about whether and how to bandage, braid, thin or bang (cut or clip) … tails are problematic!

To fully understand the treatment and care of a horse’s tail, let’s take a look at this beautiful and versatile caudal component of a horse’s physical make up, that evince properties far more important than just their good looks.

Anatomy of a Horse Tail

The horse’s tail is an extension of his spinal column. It is made up of two portions … the dock and the skirt. The dock is the solid part, made up of muscles and up to 18 vertebrae (the number varies), covered with skin. Below the dock long, thick hairs fall down, growing from all around the dock, making up the skirt. The dock is supplied with blood by two arteries, but because the dock is narrow it’s not well supplied so this is why injuries tend to take time to heal here, and injuries can be hard to cure.

The hair of the skirt is thick and coarse, made up of hard protein, each hair consisting of three layers and, although it seems smooth, the outer layer or cuticle has overlapping horny scales.

Depending on the composition of the twisted protein strands of the middle layer tail hair may be curly or straight.

Purpose of a Horse Tail

A horse’s tail is flexible and strong and nature has evolved it that way to fulfil various purposes, which involve protection and communication.

The most obvious purpose is evident in any horse out in pasture on a summer’s eve. He’ll flick his long, luxurious tail like a fly swat to keep away biting insects. In a herd he’ll do this not only for his own comfort but for his companions too. You’ll often see horses standing head to tail, swatting flies away from each other’s faces.

More important is the horse tail’s role in communication. The tail is a vital tool in relaying body language. It’s the way your horse talks to you and his companions, communicating his physical and emotional state.

Tail signals have an important role to play in horse life in the herd. Mares, for example, will lift their tails up and to the side to invite a stallion, and also once impregnated will warn the boys away with an aggressive swish of the tail.

The tail also sends a signal to be alert if danger threatens a herd … stallions become protective by lifting their tails, prancing and defecating.

A twitching tail is a sign of impatience with a youngster, who, once told off, will clamp his tail between his hind legs to signify subservience.

Horses speak to their riders and carers too using their tails. He’ll swish his tail in anger if he’s not pleased, or clamp his tail when he’s really angry, frightened or discomforted. Learning to read the tail signals is part of good horsemanship.

Here’s a simple guide to horse tail language:

·        Curled Tail – calm and relaxed
·        Swishing Tail – annoyed
·        Wringing or twirling tail – aggressive
·        High tail (lifted up) – excited, feeling good
·        Straight down Tail – apprehensive
·        Tucked in Tail – Afraid

Horse Tail Care

Now that you understand how important a horse’s tail is beyond just how it looks (and that’s important too!) you’ll realise the need for keeping your horse’s tail healthy, long and thick, as opposed to short, thin, dry or frizzy!

First of all, you should know that just like human hair, healthy hair comes from the inside. Proper nutrition is essential – healthy hair needs the correct balance of proteins and vitamins. Feed your horse a general conditioner to keep his tail sleek.

Use properly designed mane and tail brushes – especially wide-toothed combs and dandy brushes – when grooming his tail, and brush it infrequently. It can take years to reconstitute a tail hair that has been brushed out. Do, however, brush the dock every day with a dandy brush, to increase blood flow and stimulate growth.

If your horse is rubbing his tail, find out the reason. It could be that parasites or insects are making him itchy. Use insect repellants. If he has sores on his dock from rubbing treat them immediately and keep any wounds clean.

Keep your horse’s tail clean and moisturised, both the dock and the long hair strands, using conditioner.

Be careful when wrapping the top of your horse’s tail, so as not to cut off the circulation. When you have to wrap or bag the tail use a proper tail bag and leave it on for as short a time as possible. Also never turn him out with a wrapped or bagged tail, in case he catches it on a fencepost or other hazard, causing damage.

When releasing a tail braid comb out the kinks with your fingers rather than a brush or comb which will only leave a frizz. Never leave braids in for too long or the hair will break.

Always wash off any product you use for showing and grooming the tail as soon as possible … the residues can be drying and damaging.

Remember, normal horse tail hairs are naturally elastic and shiny because lubricating sebum is released from the hair follicles. If you notice horse tail hairs falling out in large numbers this is a sign of ill health, and its best to consult your vet. Interfere with the tail as little as possible to preserve the natural oils, and always rinse thoroughly if you shampoo.

.Your horse will thank you for taking good care of his tail … a vital part of his physical anatomy which means a great deal to him! If you need help with a tail problem, Totally Tack is here with advice and experience!


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