As funny as it might sound, I will never forget the defining moment that forever changed the way I care for my horse’s tail. The incident happened years ago, when I boarded at a public stable. I had my horse tied outside his stall and I was just about to brush his tail when the resident dressage trainer walked by. She stopped abruptly, gasped, grabbed the hairbrush out of my hand and shook it in my face.
“Never, ever, use one of these on your horse’s tail!” she exclaimed.” Then she threw the brush in a nearby trash can and marched off.
I was so shocked that I just stood there with my jaw gaping, my horse’s tail still in one hand and other frozen in place, palm open and now devoid of the hairbrush. After a moment, I regained my composure and looked toward the garbage can, contemplating whether or not to retrieve the brush. As if she could read my mind, the trainer, now far down the barn aisle, looked back over her shoulder and shook her finger at me.
I did retrieve the brush from the trash can, but I didn’t use it. I was too afraid the trainer would catch me. Instead, I sought her out while she was grooming her own horse. I looked at her horse’s tail. It was gorgeous. It was long and thick, right down to its neatly banged end. I peeked into her grooming box and didn’t see any tool that resembled a hairbrush.
Once again, she read my mind. “If you use a hairbrush on your horse’s tail, you will only pull the hair out faster than it can grow back,” she said. “I never brush my horse’s tail,” she declared. “I pick out the shavings and I use my fingers to detangle any knots. If you would stop brushing your horse’s tail, it wouldn’t be to thin.”
My horse’s tail was thin. I never used a hairbrush on it again.
Grooming your horse serves many purposes. It is an ideal time to get to know your horse and to bond with him. Horses, in general, enjoy being brushed. Thorough grooming promotes good health and a shiny coat by removing dirt and dander that can cause dry, itchy skin. If you take the time to groom your horse thoroughly every day, you will notice any small cuts, abrasions or irregularities that you otherwise might not find. A grooming session is also a good time to teach a young horse good ground manners, such as standing quietly and picking up his feet when asked.
Most horse owners want to do everything possible to promote a long, healthy, thick tail. Like your horse’s coat, his tail requires some elbow grease, but of a different kind. Here are some tips to help your horse grow a healthy tail and to help you keep it long and thick.
1. Healthy hair comes from the inside out. No amount of potions and conditioners will improve your horse’s coat, mane and tail if he is not receiving proper nutrition. Healthy hair comes from protein, amino acids and vitamins in quality forage and feed.
2. Use grooming tools designed for manes and tails. Human hair brushes will break the hair and pull it out. Use only wide-toothed combs and dandy brushes on the tail.
3. Don’t brush your horse’s tail every day. In fact, don’t brush it at all. Although it looks nice when it is brushed out, if you brush it every day, it will gradually get thinner and thinner. It takes years to re-grow each long strand of hair that is pulled out.
4. To stimulate growth, brush the dock of your horse’s tail daily with a dandy brush. This will loosen and remove dirt and dander, which can make your horse itchy. Brushing the dock and upper part of the tail bone also increases blood flow, which stimulates growth. Read more about the 5 Essential Horse Grooming Tools.
5. If your horse is rubbing his tail, determine why. Horses rub their tails for several reasons. Parasites will cause itching, so make sure your horse is on a regular de-worming program. Insects will also cause itching and some horses are more prone to skin reactions caused by insects. Protect your horse from insects by using insect repellants. Horses will also rub their tails in response to irritations around the sheath and anus area. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect this might be the problem.
6. If your horse has developed sores or “hot spots” on the dock of his tail from rubbing, treat them promptly. An effective way to do this is to pre-soak the sores with Cowboy Magic® Greenspot® Remover, a water-less skin cleansing wash that’s a shower in a bottle. Spray the irritated area, let it soak for five minutes, and then gently scrub and rinse. Repeat these steps, if needed. If the wound has scabbed over, Greenspot® Remover can also be used to soften and remove a scab in order to treat the underlying tissue. Once the wound or irritation is thoroughly cleaned, it can then be treated with a topical ointment to promote healing. Any sores or hot spots should be cleansed and treated daily until completely healed.
7. The best way to keep your horse from rubbing his tail is to keep it clean and moisturized. If your horse’s tail is dirty or his skin is dry, he will rub his tail to relieve the itching that is caused by both. Use Cowboy Magic® Rosewater Shampoo to thoroughly clean your horse’s tail and restore moisture to the hair and skin at the same time. After shampooing and rinsing, apply a small amount of Cowboy Magic® Rosewater Conditioner to the dock of the tail and massage it into the hair and skin. To condition the long strands of hair, rub a small amount of conditioner on your hands and then work it into the hair using long strokes with your hands. Leave it on for several minutes and then rinse. Rosewater Conditioner will remove the buildup of residue caused by minerals and chemicals in your water. The conditioners penetrate below the surface to moisturize the hair and skin.
8. Give your horse’s tail a bubble bath. A handy trick for washing your horse’s tail is to put a small amount of shampoo into a small bucket and then add water to make it sudsy. Hold the bucket in one hand and dunk your horse’s tail in it with the other. Swish it around thoroughly, then rinse.
9. Get lasting results with Cowboy Magic® Detangler & Shine. Once you have washed and conditioned your horse’s tail, apply a small amount of Detangler & Shine to the hair, working it in from the top of the tail to the bottom Detangler & Shine will help loosen any tangles and prevent new ones from forming. If you want to comb out your horse’s tail, use a large-toothed comb, start at the bottom and comb out small sections at a time while you work your way up the tail. Hold the hair firmly in your other hand while you comb so that if you hit a tangle you won’t pull the hair out.
10. Protect your horse’s tail while it dries with a slip knot. If you want to keep your horse’s tail up off the ground while it dries, put it in a loose slip knot. This way, he won’t be able to step on it and the hair will still dry quickly.
11. Never wrap the top of your horse’s tail. It is nearly impossible to keep a wrap on a horse’s tailbone unless it is so tight that you run the risk of cutting off the circulation. Furthermore, if the wrap irritates your horse, it may actually encourage him to rub his tail.
12. If your horse’s tail touches the ground, you can “put it up” to keep him from stepping on it. Three popular methods for protecting a long, show tail are wrapping, bagging and ragging. Wrapping involves braiding the longest section of the tail, looping it up several times and then wrapping it with a self-sticking bandage. The wrap is hidden inside the center of the tail and the horse is still able to swish flies. Bagging is similar to wrapping, but instead of wrapping the tail, the braid is put down inside a special bag made just for tails, or you can use a large sock. Ragging entails braiding three strips of sheet and braiding the entire tail by wrapping each section in a strip of sheet. The ends are then tied up and the excess sheet gives the horse something to swish.
13. If you have your horse’s tail wrapped, bagged or ragged, be cautious about turning him out in a paddock or pasture where he might get his tail snagged on a fence or tree. As horses swish their tails at flies they often snag hairs on fence posts and lose a few strands in the process. If your horse catches a wrap or piece of ragging on a fence post and panics, the resulting damage could be severe.
14. Even if your horse’s tail is wrapped, bagged or ragged, you still need to care for it regularly. When you remove the braid, straighten the hair using your fingers, rather than a brush or comb. The hair will be kinked from the braid, and combing it will only make it frizzy. The best way to remove the kinks is to wash and moisturize the hair. Hair left bagged, wrapped or ragged for long periods of time is prone to breaking at the point where the bag, rags or wrap is attached.
15. An alternative to bagging or wrapping a horse’s tail is to knot it. Knotting involves putting several figure-eight knots in long sections of hair below the end of the tailbone. The knots stay in place, resist tangling and keep the longest part of your horse’s tail up off the ground.
16. If you are showing and want use gel or hairspray to smooth down the short hairs at the top of the tail, wash the tail thoroughly when you are finished. These products are drying and may cause your horse to rub his tail to relieve the itching.
17. To tidy up the appearance of the top of your horse’s tail for the show ring, trim the sides rather than plucking the hairs.
18. Bang your horse’s tail to give it a neater, thicker appearance. “Banging” is the traditional term used to refer to trimming the bottom of your horse’s tail. Banging gives the tail a thick, boxy appearance. For best results, trim it when the hair is wet and combed out. Cut only the longest hairs straight across the bottom.
19. As a safety precaution, stand beside your horse when you groom his tail, not directly behind him. Even if your horse has never kicked at you in his life, you never know when something might startle him. Also, if you are at a public stable, keep in mind that other, less experienced equestrians might be watching you, and so you want to set a good example by demonstrating proper horse-handling skills at all times.
20. Take your time. This is your opportunity to spend quality time with your horse. With your busy life, you many not have time to hand pick shavings out of your horse’s tail one chip at a time, but you should still make every moment with your horse a quality one.