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Tips for maintaining the perfect tail

My horse’s tail is…Thoroughbred-y. It’s longish, but oh-so-wispy. How do you help a tail grow/fill out more – and how do you keep it from getting destroyed?” – Sara F. from Weymouth, MA

My grandad would always say, “it’s the tail that makes the horse”. He was always wanting his hunters to have thick full tails. If they weren’t pulled properly then either he or I would braid them for hunting and they had to be banged at the correct length!

To keep tails well maintained I follow a few basic rules, these apply no matter what type of tail your horse has.

  • Never comb / brush out a wet tail.
    Wet hair stretches therefore damage can be caused when trying to comb thru a tail when it isn’t dry. Always place any detangle product in a clean wet tail and then allow to dry before attempting to brush through the tail.
  • If tails are not washed on a daily basis then I only finger groom them. Teasing out any knots and removing straw, hay or shavings with my fingers rather then using a comb that will pull out more hairs and break the ends.
  • My personal choice is to keep tails banged. I run my hand down the length of the tail to approximately one inch below the chestnut and then cut straight across the tail. For some people this may be considered too short. Tail length is a personal choice. I feel at this length banged tails give an overall impression of being ‘more full’ as well as being easier to take care of.
  • bangingTail

  • Condition your tail on a regular basis. This to me is more important in the summer due to their tails being used so much for removing flies. Remember, the more pliable the hair – the less likelihood of it breaking off through the summer. I find a good human conditioner does the trick. Obviously you need to use more than you would for yourself! After washing the tail with your shampoo apply the conditioner liberally. Leave it in for at least 5 minutes and then rinse thoroughly, you can then apply a spray detangler. Once dry you should have a clean, soft and very flexible tail! For those tails which are extra dry or knotted I will apply plastic wrap to the tail and then bandage it up for about an hour. This helps the hair to take up more of the conditioner and therefore become more flexible.

Tips for those thin, wispy tails

It can take time to improve the look of a horses tail however with a bit of TLC it can be done. The Shapelys product, MTG is great for improving hair growth.

Shapley's Original M-T-G

(144 reviews)

Apply thru the length of the tail and then braid it over night to prevent tangles. You can repeat this process every night however to prevent tail getting really ‘greasy’ doing this process every third day is just as effective. Done over a long period you should see improvement in the length of tail as well as hair thickness.

At the end of the eventing season I will bang tails extra short. For very thin tails I will go above the hock. This is not aesthetically pleasing to begin with however this does develop a fuller tail by the time eventing season starts up again.

Although I have not used this method myself daily bagging of a tail is a common method used to prevent breakage and tails becoming thin. Some cotton sheets and fly sheets are now available that come with attachable tail bags. You can also buy a tail bag and then sew it onto your sheet if you are handy with a needle and thread!

I hope some of these tips work for your tail.

Emma Ford

Emma Ford is one of the most respected grooms in US Eventing. Born and raised in the UK, Emma came to the US in 1998 to groom for top eventer Adrienne Iorio. After seven years with Adrienne, Emma moved to True Prospect Farm to work with five-time Olympian and 13-time USEA Leading Rider of the Year, Phillip Dutton. During her tenure with Phillip, Emma cared for many famous equine athletes including Connaught, TruLuck, Woodburn, and Mystery Whisper. She’s groomed at Burghley, Blenheim and Boekelo, cared for horses at the 2006 and 2010 World Championships, 2007 Pan Am Games, and 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and groomed at Rolex Kentucky and Fair Hill International every year since 2001. And now she’s here to help you! Submit your grooming questions and Emma just may be able to teach you a few of her tricks!

Posted in Ask The Groom

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16 comments on “Tips for maintaining the perfect tail
  1. Cindy says:

    I also bang my horses’ tails just below the chestnut-

  2. Sue Callahan says:

    Loved the videos of If horses were people. Video 7 was especially humorous – the gal biting on the counter. Now that was funny. Thanks for the laugh and the visit to the pasture!!!

  3. Pat seaman says:

    Appropriate information I will use.

  4. Colleen Clement says:

    Thank you Emma. I live in the hot dry southwest. Keeping the tails mositerized is always a challenge. And keeping the fine dirt from sticking to a greasy tail can make efforts self defeating.
    I like the idea of wrapping the tail with Saran Wrap and letting the conditioner set for an hour. When I do apply mtg I usually braid the tail and bag it for a day to allow the product to soak in to eliminate the dirt soaking into the mtg.

  5. Barbara says:

    It’s also important not to start brushing out the tail in the middle of the tail. Use a nice brush with soft tines and grip the tail about 5 inches from the bottom, as if you’re going to bang it, and brush out that section first. Then move your holding hand up a few inches and brush that section out, holding the hair tight so it won’t pull out. Continue gradually moving your holding hand up until the bulk of the tail is brushed out before finishing with the top and sides sides. This method will reduce pulling out the tail hairs and works great. It’s also more comfortable for the horse. Use patience! Enjoy that gorgeous tail 🙂

  6. Kay says:

    May seem crazy – but the best way to get “tangles” out of a tail or mane is “WD 40”. Spray, let it sit for a few minutes, and pick out with your fingers and a hair pick. Don’t worry about the “grease” – the next day it will be gone – absorbed into the hair. I learned this from an old groom and have done it for years – especially with my broodmares that run in the pasture – their manes get so knotted up sometimes. I never use a brush on my show horses’ tails/manes – alway pick out using my fingers and hair pick – small sections at a time. Many believe in only washing tails/manes with rain water – keep braided and in a tail bag – use black electrical tape to secure the braids. Had one show horse with a very full tail that was so long it could be wrapped all the way around him – never used a brush – it breaks the hair.
    A great product is “Olive Oil” sheen spray – can be purchased at most drug stores and WalMart – is for African American hair – it’s cheaper than the sprays specifically for horses and just as good if not better – use it on the tails and manes to avoid breakeage.

  7. Andii says:

    You would be remiss to note that if you are using MTG that you need to keep the horse in a stall or lean to and not let them have access to standing in the sunlight.

    The main ingredient of MTG is Mineral Oil, which serves as a carrier for the powder that makes MTG. Exposing a horse to the sun while it’s slathered in mineral oil can cause sunburn. It would be equivalent to putting mineral oil on your scalp and doing yard work. That is no bueno for the skin, or the hair.

    MTG works good, but there’s a lot of other methods that work just as well that dont require you frying your horse medium well.
    Just sayin’ ….

  8. Diane says:

    Thank you for all the comments and suggestions. I am making tail bags using a thick coated material. Like gortex. Will this be ok for the tail or does a softer more breathable material work better?

  9. Stephanie says:

    I use a combination of 2 c olive oil, 6 drops peppermint oil, and 2 tbsp of vitamin E oil. Apply to mane and tail. To coat every strand use a Boar Bristle brush ONLY! Be sure to massage the tail and neck with your fingers. Do this every 3 days, then wash/condition and repeat.

    The olive oil is a nature conditioner. The peppermint oil stimulates the capillaries around the hair follicle providing the hair roots with more nutrients for growth. The Vitamin E oil also stimulates growth and provides nutrients.

    This “recipe” has caused me to completely lose where I had shaved the bridle path in a month to 4 inches of mane! I have wonder success with this and he took 1st in halter this show season.

    • lk says:

      Interesting combo. I was curious so I looked it up Peppermint also acts as a natural analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic & antifungal. According to a pub med article* Peppermint essential oil was effective against 22 bacterial strains and 11 fungal strains. With some pregnant women it when diluted and taken orally reduced the effects of Pruritus Gravidarum, skin itching and has a cooling effect. Noted warning to dilute and watch for any allergic reactions which I believe were not common. Check the Pub Med info, etc. It is used as a traditional drug in Iran.

      *Antibacterial and antifungal activity of ten essential oils in vitro.

  10. Catie Schaetzel says:

    Not only is a full, glossy long tail esthetically beautiful but it is a kindness to your horse to help him deal with pesky flies! Summers in Colorado are hot and dry so to keep her tail from drying out and breaking, I wash my warmblood mare’s gorgeous full chestnut tail once weekly with water only and apply Ventrolin grooming spray, just using my hands to smooth it in – don’t brush until it’s dry. After riding, I loosely braid it below the tailbone but leave at least 6″ tail unbraided at the bottom for her to get at the flies. Loosely braiding it keeps the big snarls out so I don’t break any hair off when brushing it out for our next ride. Use ponytail holders NOT rubber bands!!!

  11. Judy Burdge says:

    I believe in well groomed horses. However, I give my horses fish oil capsules twice a day and they no longer have dandruff and coats and tails are beautiful. Health comes more from the inside. JPB

  12. Jint says:

    I think too many people want to brush the horse’s tail from top down. Just like human hair, if the tangle is suspected, then you should always start brushing from the bottom. Spray detangler from top to bottom. Grab the bottom 3 inches of the tail, firm. Tease and brush the tip under your fist. Move your hand up another 3 inches, repeat the gentle teasing brushing. Repeat all the way up. When you finished, you should be able to combe the tail from top to bottom (gently) down in one sweeping motion. If you find any resistance, stop, and brush below that level carefully. I always, always had a great tail on my horse. And I mix human high quality detangler liquid with non-oily horse coat spray liquid.

  13. Mary Lauer says:

    Question about banging … my new horse is half-Arab, and he flags his tail all the time like a full-blooded desert horse! If I bang his tail straight, will it look “right” when he flags it, or do I need to do an angled cut? I *need* to trim it soon, it is almost touching the ground!

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