Does your horse's tail swing?

If a horse's tail gets caught between his hind legs he is not using his body properly. If the tail lays flat and listless these are clues that energy, messages and feedback from the brain to the body and back may not be traveling up and down his spine properly. If the tail is clamped down, the horse may be in fear or in pain, closing the hindquarters down. This is something to discuss with your veterinarian.

If your horse's tail swishes constantly and more so during transitions, changes, or anytime you make a request, your aids may be too loud or he may be frustrated with the work. A little swishing when asked to do something demanding for a short time is different from constant swishing. We must observe and know our horse to figure out what is concentration and what is upset.

The tail reflects the health of our horse's spine. As the spine undulates in a slightly serpentine pattern through our horses' body, his tail should carry through this motion.

As our horse uses his back and body better and better, as his balance changes and improves, he will use his tail differently. We want to keep an eye on it and note improvements or set backs as they tell us how well the training is progressing or is stalling.

We look for a tail that is carried in a soft arch slightly away from the body with the mass of hair rhythmically moving from hock to hock in a pendulum motion.

Touching your horse's tail, gently lifting it and rotating it, combing the hair with your fingers, taking segments and gently pulling them in a circular motion while observing your horse will give you feedback about how he feels in his back and body. This should be done easily with no resistance, the tail should have a good weight in your hands and feel alive, not dead. 

PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Stand to the side at first and stay close to the croup. If your horse reflexively clamps down or threatens to kick, do not try to force the issue or become aggressive. Reassure your horse with a neutral touch and your voice. If the problem persist, contact your health care pro, do not insist as you and your horse may get hurt.

UPDATE: For additional insights into crooked tail and detailed and extremely well illustrated massage recommendations please check this pdf article which was shared by Debranne Pattillo

UPDATE 2: We read a very insightful post from one reader we wanted to share relating to the potential relationship between a harder tail grooming and washing experience and possible surrounding muscle soreness:

Fran Welsby wrote: " Hi, do you find how a horse accepts their tail being washed also gives you clues? We shampoo, condition then use a de-tangle spray thru the tail then using our fingers carefully separate out the hairs from the roots to the ends. 

I have found that the ponies that relax, give me their tails to do all this generally fall asleep while I work, those that don't often will be the ones with some haunch/ham string issues."

An interesting observation.

TAIL TELLS.....Tail to One Side

FROM EQUINOLOGY: "There are numerous reasons for a tail held to one side. A spinal misalignment, an injury,  restrictions to any of the soft tissues, a reproductive concern or a lame limb can be one of the many issues. If a horse is not bearing equal weight on a limb in a unilateral (one sided) issue the horse tends to rest that limb. In resting that limb it swings the pelvis forward and points the sacral (croup) and caudal (tail) bones towards that limb. 

Try it for yourself. Put your hands behind your back; hold your hands against your spine in an upside down “prayer” fashion. Now, lift your heel to offload your leg so your pelvis of that side moves forward and you will see that your fingers point to that leg. It doesn’t take long for this adaptation of posture to show up and begin compensatory issues. 

Some of the other muscles that you need to consider are two of the hamstrings; the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus. Horses are a bit different than us and have attachments to the spine; with 2 strong attachments to the first two tail bones. If one of these 
hamstrings are tight and when they are in this shortened state, they will incline those bones to 
the restricted side. Voila, crooked tail."

FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AND MORE ADVICE on how to massage the hamstrings and help release and straighten the tail, please read the detailed and extremely well illustrated attached pdf from Debranne Patillo

©2014. Manolo Mendez Dressage & Training for Wellness

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