Friday, August 14, 2009

The Tale of Tails

A lot of people in the horse industry have probably at some point envisioned themselves mounted upon a great horse with a long flowing mane and tail. Some of us still aim and hope for that for our current horses. A few of us consider that long, thick, flowing tail a blessing, others might think of it as a curse instead.

For many of us, the tail just adds to the overall picture and makes the horse look 'complete' or otherwise astheticly 'balanced'. I know one of my own mares has a tail, that at the moment resembles something you may find on an elephant- stick like with fringe at the very end. It is not "appealing" nor does it "complete" or in any way compliment the overall picture she presents.

Manes and tails are to some degree a product of the horses genetics. I have seen and dealt with wispy tails on a number of horses from the same sire, dam or combination of the two. Their resulting foals don't seem to stand a chance in this category and they are forever resigned to a life with a thin, wispy mane and tail. Appaloosa's generally didn't have much to speak of in the way of manes and tails. Some of them were blessed and for the most part- the rest were not. I have also dealt with thick full manes and tails, which were passed on for generations in various breeds.

Within the Saddlebred and Tennesee Walking Horse circles, tail setting harnesses are quite common in the show barns. (The one pictured is $399 from World Champion Horse Equipment.) To many of their enthusiasts, a tail comes out of the horses haunches high and flows streamingly out behind them. I have seen tail setting harnesses on Hackney ponies and a few Shetlands as well. It seems they too are striving for that same look. Arabian horse folks seem to agree and like that look, but haven't yet gone as far as the tail sets and harnesses to attain it. At least not that I am aware of.

When you shift your focus to the draft breeds, you'll find some of the owners and breeders prefer to dock the tail. It keeps it from becoming entangled in the harness and causing problems while they are working in the field. Others choose to braid it up instead. Docking the tail leaves the horse without one of their natural defenses against flies.

On the market there are a number of items you can purchase in hopes of growing, protecting, enhancing or otherwise caring for your horses tail. Some of them work to a varying degree, others are a waste of time, money and hope. Shampoo's, conditioners, sprays, lotions, ointments, gels, leave in, rinse out- the list is long and the price may vary, but it can be shocking the amount people will spend to get a look for their horse to have what they have deemed a "pretty" tail.

**Don't worry, I will be addressing gingering, tail bags/wraps and fake tails in their own discussions. I feel they each deserve their own attention. **


  1. I used to work for a Saddlebred trainer. While I'd be happy to see tail sets go the way of the dodo, there's nothing inherently cruel about them. For all the straps and buckles, they are no tighter than they need to be to keep the brace in place when the horse lies down or rolls, and that's not very tight. And it usually goes over a blanket.

    Of course they are for stalled horses only. It would take incredible stupidity to turn a horse out in one!

    I'm blessed that my horses (Appy and QH) both have good tails. I won't braid them or put them in bags; I think it's silly to deprive them of their primary anti-fly weapon. In fact, I fly-spray the tails, too, to give them an edge.

    Both braiding and bagging can be detrimental unless it's done right. The tail MUST be brushed and re-done every day, or some hair will be broken off short. Think of the look when they rub their tails and break off the hair - that's what it's like.

    Also, make sure there is no barb wire, splintery wood, or any thing else that's not smooth. If they hang the tail bag up on something and panic, they can pull all or most of the hair out by the roots. (One of our Saddlebreds did that.) That's another reason I won't use tailbags.

    As for tail care, I've never used any OTC products except cheap shampoo - but that doesn't mean I never will. I've noticed an extra gleam from the fly spray. But, just like the rest of the body, if you brush it every day, it should shine.

    I use the soft fingery thing (Unigroom? Zoomgroom?) to gently curry the top of the dock, which helps with flakiness issues, and supposedly stimulates hair growth. At least, that's what some human barbers say.

    Flakily, Ruthie

  2. Glad you explained that one ! I was looking at that picture and wavering between WTF and Damn am I a bumpkin! I as you may remember have Appys so I am familiar with the scarcity of mane and tail . though most of mine do have at least a reasonable tail and I have a couple that would put a Shetland to shame. Good info , I learn something new every day

  3. I forgot to post the link, but that is a 2 year old? Belgian stallion on Draft Horses for Sale. Cute but I like tail.

    HNDL- I am going to go into tail bags and such in the near future. We don't use them, but I know some people swear by them.

    FV- yep, I remember when Appys didn't so closely resemble QH's. Very few were blessed with a reasonable mane & tail.

  4. My boy has a lovely tail. And it actually grows pretty fast. I've had to trim it 3 or 4 times in the six months I've had him, to keep it off the ground. His mane was pretty thin and un-even, so my trainer cut it short and it looks like it's going to grow back in much fuller.

    Despite an overwhelming urge to comb it daily, I restrict it to once a week. I use a regular shampoo (usually Suave) about every two weeks for his tail (I use baby shampoo on his body). Once a week, I condition it with Pantene Pro-V conditioner. I use enough so that I can untangle it with my fingers (this often requires half a bottle or so and about 10 minutes of work). The Pantene works so well that I can usually comb (I use a wide-tooth comb) though the entire tail top to bottom, while wet, with no snags at all. In the winter when it's muddy, I just rinse the mud out every few days or so.

    I tried Show Sheen and HATED it. I also think the leave-in conditioners attract more dirt (he is turned out 24/7.

    I also use the Pantene on his mane.

    I love the way his tail looks if it has been braided, but I am too paranoid to leave a bag or wraps on it when he is in pasture. Plus, it turns into kind of a weapon when it's wrapped and he whacks me with it!

    I like his tail set the best. I assume he uses it for balance (I'm new to horses), because whenever he canters or has a rider on his back at any pace, up it goes! He's part standardbred, so I think that's part of it as well. He would never be a WP horse with his tail up in the air all the time, but I love it!

  5. Here's a pic of a Saddlebred stallion in his tail set, probably 30-odd years ago. After the days when I was his groom, anyway. That's my boy Prim Style, and he ain't wearin' no showsheen!

    Nostalgically, Ruthie

  6. My QH mare had a full, ground-brushing tail with purple highlights on the inside hairs. Gorgeous, and the envy of all the Arab people, except it was very coarse and cut my fingers like piano wire. I swear each hair was twice the diameter of a normal horse hair. That probably gave it its fullness, though. Very long tailbone too.

    Remember when a stock horse HAD to have a tail barely below the hocks, well-pulled?

    And in ANY discipline, a "banged" straight-across tail was a HUGE no-no - unlike the fake tails of today.

    Also, I thought that a sparse mane and tail were part of the Appaloosa breed standard....

  7. Ruthie- ya forgot the pic dear. lol

    NHM- I have used both ShowSheen and Laser Sheen (the cheaper concentrate version) in the past. They are great as far as getting knots out and making it shiny, but over time they tend to dry out the hair and it breaks off more easily. Defeats the whole purpose.

    I am not a big fan of leave in conditioners for the reasons you site, but there is a great one called Know Knot which is excellent! I think it smells really good too. It works and is reasonably priced. Their fly spray is also another great product.

    JR's red mare Johnie has an incredibly thick tail. For the most part we leave it alone, washing it occasionally and picking it out by hand just before a show. Hers is just beyond anything I have dealt with and yes, it nearly drags the ground. Which means it gets in the way when she slides, spins and sometimes when working cows...

  8. ...and that's why a stock horse was supposed to have a shortish tail. To keep it out of the way.

    But I confess that a flowing natural tail is a joy to behold.....

  9. Yeah, how'd that happen?

    Please note: it's a copyrighted work.

    I think the long flowing tail thing is based in our little-girl fantasies. And in competitive spirit: My horse's tail is longer than yours!

    And, of course, if the standard calls for a long, flowing tail, then "more is better" begins to apply. I don't know why judges fall for that. it's the lack of a long, flowing tail that should affect the placement.

    I've often wondered what would happen if a dragging-tailed horse got run up on by the horse behind it. Ouch.

    AQHA and their bad rules... don't get me started. (icon of a "bronx cheer" here)

    Too ready to pontificate, Ruthie

  10. HNDL- He is gorgeous.

    No spray will create that shine, only enhance what's already there.

    I will likely put up pics of our horses tails for the upcoming posts. There is only 1 which I have already mentioned, which is anything but long, thick or flowing. It has somewhat returned from the way it looked before, but has quite a ways to go even still.

    Tails that drag the ground are not anything that I particularly care for or seek out. I haven't seen another horse step on them, but when backing or spinning your horse, they certainly can get in the way, underfoot and part of it pulled out.

  11. I'll have to try the Know Knot!

    I leave his tail pretty long, but not long enough to drag or step on. And he does lift it when riding or moving really fast (it's about 8" higher off the ground when he has it up). And I bang it straight across the bottom because I like the way that looks.

    And I do mentally compare his tail to the other horse's tails!

  12. The Aussie detangler conditioner works really well actually.... but it's a little pricey and you have to rinse...