Addressing Tail Rubbing
Horses rub their tails for many reasons. A horse doesn’t have hands to scratch and itch, so when their manes, tails, or bodies itch in places they can’t nibble with their mouth, they often rub on anything sturdy enough to hold up to their rubbing. —
Unfortunately, this rubbing breaks tail hairs off and can create bare patches on a horses tailbone. It can take 7 years to grow out a tail fully, so horse owners often lament the loss of every hair a horse rubs out. This post explains a few reasons- and remedies- horses rub their tails.
Fungus or a Skin Irritation
A primary cause of horses itching their tails is fungus, but simple skin irritations like dry skin can be the root of a tail rubbing problem.
To determine the cause of tail rubbing, part the hair on the horse’s tailbone and examine the skin below. Is the skin oily? flaky? scabbed? If the skin is dry and flaking you may want to apply a moisturizer. There are horse-specific moisturizers but plain petroleum jelly applied in small amounts and massaged into the tail can help. Begin adding a supplement designed to help skin issues, such as oil or flax seeds. If there are signs of a fungus- signaled by bumps or scabs on the tail bone- keep the tail clean and dry and start applying an antifungal treatment. Some horsemen and women of the previous generation still endorse dousing a tail with original-formula Listerine to kill fungal infections.
Tail Rubbing Due to a Dirty Sheath or Teats
Some horses rub their tails because of dirt built up on or around their genitals. Many horses stay clean without intervention but some, particularly geldings, will need their sheaths cleaned about once a year. This can be done by an experienced horseperson or by your vet for a small fee. Tail rubbing due to a dirty sheath usually stops after the sheath has been cleaned.
Allergic Tail Rubbing
Allergies can also be the cause of tail rubbing and lost tail hair. Sometimes it’s a specific allergy- a common allergy to gnat bites is known as Sweet Itch. Your vet can help you diagnose your horse’s tail rubbing due to allergies, but often allergies remain unspecifically diagnosed. Thankfully antihistamines are as effective and as easily administered for horses as they are for people. Ask your vet about a powdered form of equine antihistamine which can be added to your feed to help your horse stop itching and start regrowing a long, lovely tail.
Even if you begin your horse antihistamines, be mindful of potential allergens and minimize them- even antihistamines can be overwhelmed by a very strong allergic reaction. Since many allergic reactions are to plants or insects, insect control in your horse’s living area is a must. To help control plant allergens you’ll want to make sure overgrown pastures are mowed before weeds go to seed and possibly use a sheet for turnout to minimize exposure to pollen. Keeping a calendar that records when your horse has itching attacks may help you isolate the season that the particular allergen your horse reacts to is in bloom, knowledge which can help you better control your horse’s environment.