By Liv Gude of Professional Equine Grooms, special contributor to Heels Down Magazine
Your horse’s tail is like his signature – it’s the last thing you see as he does his super fancy trot across the paddock.
But what if his tail is not so super? Is there anything, anything at all, that you can do to encourage his tail to grow long and healthy? Yes! But it’s going to require a little bit of understanding, work, and patience.
Science of Hair Growth
First, we need to address the scientific component of hair growth which happens in three phases. And the phases are determined by time, not length.
“Tail grooming can be discipline-specific so before you bust out the scissors, make sure he won’t look silly in the show ring.”
Your horse’s tail (and all of his hairs) are actively growing when they are in the anagen phase of hair life. This is usually a two to seven year cycle. Then the individual hair enters the catagen phase, where it’s basically just chilling out for a bit, usually for a few weeks. A new hair is starting to grow in that follicle. Then the individual hair enters the telogen phase, where it falls out. Nothing you can do about it!
You can’t affect the programmed life cycle of your horse’s tail hair, however, you can improve hair health and prevent breakage during the growing and resting phases.
Formula for a Luxurious Tail
1) Your horse better have a well balanced diet! If your horse’s anagen phase is six years, you have six years to make sure that every tail hair has the best nutrition possible. Horses literally can’t make hair if they don’t have the nutritional building blocks to do so.
2) It’s your job to take care of the tail hairs. Keeping them untangled and slick goes a long way. Slippery hairs don’t get knots, and don’t get caught on things like fences, buckets, and all of the things that your horse rubs his butt on.
3) You can help a tail look better through selective grooming practices. Perhaps you can trim the sides of the tailbone up high, which creates the illusion of a longer tail and accentuates your horse’s derriere. You can also “bang” the bottom of his tail to create a tidy finish to his tail. Tail grooming can be discipline-specific, so before you bust out the scissors, make sure he won’t look silly in the show ring.
4) Be careful about using tail bags. They must be attached below the tailbone. You also need to be sure that your horse can swat flies so let him have some pieces long. Also know that mares sometimes drench tail bags in urine, which creates a whole new set of cleaning tasks.
5) Don’t go overboard on shampoos and whitening treatments for tails. Some whitening shampoos can be super caustic, causing damage to the tail and allowing for more stains to set in. Keep the tail conditioned and detangled but do not use any household cleaners, detergents, or chemicals on your horse. EVER. These are designed to remove grass stains from soccer uniforms and clean your toilet, not your horse. If a dirty tail is always a problem, work on keeping your horse’s rolling and sleeping spots extra clean rather than resorting to harsh chemical cleaners.
6) Don’t sweat it. Tail length is largely genetic, so work carefully with what you have and enjoy the time you spend with your horse!