Last Updated on April 2, 2022 by Allison Price
A horse’s tail can reveal a lot about his overall health and well-being. It should be visible at rest as well as during exercise. It should be lowered and carried with ease. It should be viewed from the side and move with the horse. The individual horse’s croup and breed will determine the height of their tail carriage. A Morgan might naturally have his tail higher than a Thoroughbred.A horse’s tail can reveal a lot about his overall health and well-being. It should be visible at rest as well as during exercise. You should allow the tail to hang straight down, and it should be carried in a relaxed way.
(Photo by Amy K. Dragoo
A horse may have his tail bent or slanted for many reasons. A chiropractor is an equine veterinarian who can assess horses for abnormal tail carriage. A restriction in the movement of the sacrum (or a loss of motion in its surrounding joints and/or soft tissues) is one example. The sacrum has a triangular shape. It is composed of five fused vertebrae. The last one articulates with the tail vertebrae. Seven articular surfaces are found in the cranial (frontal) portion of the sacrum, with two being the Sacroiliac joint. This is an area that is often affected by dressage horses. You can restrict the sacral apex (the area closest to the tail) to either the left or the right. This will often cause the tail to move in that direction. A manipulation or “adjustment” will usually restore normal movement to your tail if this happens.
Sometimes, nerve damage can occur when the tail is damaged or fractured. This can cause the tail to appear sluggish or unable to move normally while the horse is being worked.
Horses can have an active tail, especially when they are being ridden. This behavior is normal in some horses. However, it’s important to have your horse examined by a veterinarian to rule any possible causes. The horse may be exhibiting tail-swishing due to tension. This can often be caused by back pain or other orthopedic problems. A good place to start is to check your saddle fit and back health. Equine gastric ulcer syndrome is another common reason for tension under saddle.
The horse’s overall health can be determined by the appearance of his tail. The tail should be full and shiny with hair reaching the top or base of the tail. In summer it is not uncommon to see signs of tail-rubbing such as broken hairs, bald patches, and skin lesions. This could be due to pain, allergies, parasites and internal or external parasites.
Pinworms ( OXYURIS equi), a common cause for tail-rubbing, are becoming more prevalent due to an increase in resistance to antihelmintics (dewormers). Pinworms are found in the rectum, where they lay eggs. Extreme itching can be caused by the eggs being surrounded with a yellow/white substance. Pinworm eggs cannot be identified by a standard fecal count test such as that used to diagnose other gastrointestinal parasites. Your veterinarian may apply clear tape to the area around the anus in order to collect eggs. Then, the veterinarian will examine the tape under a microscope to identify the eggs. Pinworms can be a problem if they have infested your horse’s home. This requires extensive treatment and decontamination.
Ticks can be active throughout the year, and horses may rub their tails. It is important to inspect your horse for ticks daily due to the high incidence of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and other parasites.
Tail-rubbing can also be caused by culicoides hypersensitivity (or “sweet itch”), which is a serious allergic reaction to small biting flies. In these cases, horses will rub their abdomen, mane and tail. The disease can progress with age, and in some cases the horse may rub these areas until they are raw. The treatment includes treating the itching, treating secondary bacterial infections, and limiting contact with the flies. This can be done by using special blankets, fans and insect repellents. Avoiding turnout at dawn and dusk when the insects are most active.
Sometimes, I’m asked to assess a horse for sitting on water buckets or tail-rubbing. This is if there are no signs of parasites. Sometimes these horses may have back pain and need to be able to lean on the buckets or wall for relief.
If you have a gray horse, your tail could be the first spot you see melanomas. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer that affects horses, is usually benign.
The horse’s tail can indicate many issues in his body. Talking to your veterinarian is a great idea if you notice any unusual itching, changes in carriage, or excessive swishing while riding. Your horse may be trying to tell you something.