How to Condition Your Horse’s Tail
Your horse’s tail condition can make them look spectacular or like a spectacular fail. But there are more than looks to consider. Keep the tail clean, and then condition the hair for maximum health.
Why condition the tail?
- A healthy and conditioned tail takes regular care and thus reminds you to check around the tail for anything new. Tails are notorious for housing ticks, tumors, and hiding butt cheek skin problems. You may also find lice, mites, tangles, dandruff, and even sores from scratching itchy bums.
- A conditioned tail is also soft, less likely to tangle, easier to untangle, and repels stains. So many wins all around.
- There has always been a few debates across the horse industry about tail care. Some equestrians favor daily tail care, others weekly. You may prefer using a comb or brush, or those tools are verboten. Are you on Team Tail Bag, Braid, or Free-Flowing locks? If it works for you, run with it.
- However you decide to manage your horse’s tail, daily care is more effective than random care. Getting ahead of itching, ticks, tangles, and dirt is much easier with a quick daily inspection.
Tail care tools
Manes and tails benefit from having their own set of grooming tools.
Combs and brushes
- Whether you like combs or brushes better, it’s best to use a wide-toothed comb or brush to start grooming the tail. Then you can come back with a finer comb if you like.
- The WET brand is one popular brush type for horses that works well with horse tails. The bristles are soft, flexible, and won’t rip out tangles. You may need to make many passes through thicker tails.
Detanglers and sprays for tails
- A detangler serum or grooming oil is ideal for detangling tails and removing burrs, stickers, and hay bits. A little bit goes a long way, and if used too frequently or with too much product, the tail may start to attract dirt. This isn’t a huge problem, as the dirt should rinse off easily.
- Sprays, like sheen sprays, often have a lot of drying ingredients. They can do in a pinch and create a relatively stick-free coating on the hair. The downside is drying out the tail and creating a lovely place for stains to settle.
Comb and brush the tail from the bottom up.
Grooming oils for conditioning your horse’s tail
- For deeper conditioning and, hopefully, some stain protection, opt for creamy conditioners or grooming oil. You can rinse out cream conditioners or leave them in for a more profound treatment. If your horse’s tail is a tasty snack for pasture-mates, leaving a goopy condition is a deterrent for tail chewing. It’s messy, but it might work for some tail-chewing bandits.
- Grooming oils are harder to rinse away if you go overboard, but a dollop of oil in a tail does the job. If you accidentally use too much, lightly wash the hair with a mild shampoo. You can use grooming oils as a deep treatment and rinse out a day later.
- The ultimate deep conditioning treatment for a tail is to goop it up with oil or cream and then bag it. Countless designs, colors, and styles abound in tail bags that exist to protect the tail.
- Braiding the tail is an option before using a bag, making it easier to put on. Loose braids are best, and they must start below the tailbone. The tail bag’s closure should rest below the tailbone, too.
- Avoid using tail bags if your horse needs to swat flies. Some styles of bags have tendrils, and some enterprising equestrians often attach twine or string to the bag to mimic tail hair.
Some horses have their braided tail covered when not in the show ring. This one is also folded up.
- For horses that travel or need tail braid protection, tail covers are an option. Some brands make neoprene covers that fit over the tailbone and are secure with velcro. An ace bandage is another option to cover the tail, but don’t pull the wrap taut! It should have ample room and not pose a risk of cutting off blood flow through the tailbone.
- Some show horses have groomed tail tops, and clippers are one way to do this. Clipping the sides of the tail tidies up stray hairs and creates the illusion of more musculature alongside the tail. In a sense, to make the butt cheeks look beefy.
- It takes practice to get a super sharp finish on the tail when clipping. There’s always the possibility that your clippers will slip. Scissors are another way to go, or you can ride super fast and no one will be the wiser.
This event horse has his tail clipped on the sides so those butt cheeks look a bit bigger.
Cold weather care and conditioning
- Winter poses tail-cleaning challenges, but you may be able to “wash the tail” in a few ways. Careful aiming of water allows for shampooing of the tail bottom in cold weather, although your hands may not love this.
- You can also vary the hot-toweling technique with no-rinse shampoo, hot water, and a few cloths. Either mix hot water and no-rinse shampoo in a bucket to marinate the washcloths. Wring the out and wipe the tail down. Or, spray the hair directly with spot-remover and use a damp, hot cloth to wipe down the tail.
- It’s less messy in winter to condition the tail with grooming oil. A dollop is all you need to keep tangles at bay.
- If your horse has an itchy tail, it could be irritated for many reasons. Narrow down the causes, and then you can address the issue.
Common causes of itchy tails:
- Dandruff and dry skin
- Product residue
- Sweet itch
- Skin infection
- Most horses with an itchy tail will do all they can to scratch that itch. To protect an itchy backside from damaging the tail hair, you have a few options after identifying the problem.
Tails are sometimes stained from dirty shavings. Keep bedding clean and this will minimize the problem.
Horse tail care tips
- Use sheets with a tail cover. If the tail cover is lined with slippery fabric, even better. In the summer, eliminate sweet itch as a cause. If the itching stems from sweet itch, use a specialty blanket that covers most of your horse.
- Loosely braid the top of the tail to add some layers and cover the skin.
- Boost your horse’s Omega fatty acids in the diet. Chia seeds are good, and plenty of supplements address skin and coat health.
- Many horse people swear by Listerine as a tail rinse. I would start with white vinegar, then move on to mouthwash.
- Get your vet involved if the itching’s source is a mystery. Vets can help you treat pinworms, lice, mites, allergies, and more.
- M-T-G is a topical skin and coat treatment famous for its bacon smell. It can help with hair growth and itchy skin, so do a patch test on your horse first.
More tips for healthy tails
- Play around with your horse’s tail care routine. Switch up brushes, pick things out by hand, try different grooming oils and conditioners, or experiment with tail bags.
- When brushing the tail or applying grooming oil, should the tail be wet, dry, or damp? It’s your choice. Do what works best for your horse and is most efficient for you.
- Detangle tails from the bottom up. Gripping the hair above the brush or comb prevents discomfort if tangles are tugged too much.
Tail care is part of grooming, and staying ahead of brittleness will help repel stains and prevent breakage in the long run. It’s a marathon, for sure! For more on washing the tail in cold weather, read this.
How to “wash” the mane and tail in winter when it’s too cold to bathe
Add some grooming oil to the tail for detangling and shine.
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