Tail rubbing can be particularly irritating both to a horse and its owner! Because horses can’t reach back and scratch a spot that feels itchy, areas of the body that they can’t reach with their mouth they will typically rub against objects like trees, stall walls, or fence posts in order to relieve their itching. Unfortunately, a horse’s tail is one of the spots most likely to itch and often an owner has no warning that the area is itchy until the horse has lost a significant amount of tail hairs from aggressive rubbing on objects.
Because horse tails can take up to seven years to grow out to full length, caring for and preventing tail rubbing is a priority for many owners who love their horse’s long and luxurious tails.
The abrasive rubbing of the horses tail on rough objects such as tree trunks and fenceposts both pulls out hair from the room and breaks it off by sheer force. In this article will talk about several reasons why your horse may be rubbing its tail and we will outline a few remedies for tail rubbing.
Reasons for tail rubbing
Common skin irritants include fungus and allergies, but even something as simple as dry skin can be the root of the problem. However the solutions are not simple, combating dry skin with moisturizer can create an itchy residue causing more rubbing than ever. For that reason it’s best not to just guess about the cause but do a little investigating:
Part the hair at the top of the tail so that you can see your horses tailbone. What do you see?
Is it bumpy? – that indicates an allergic reaction or potentially fungus
is it flaky? – Flakes can indicate either dry skin or a fungus
is it scabby? – Scabs usually indicate a fungus that can be the result of aggressive itching due to allergies or dry skin.
Does the tailbone look totally normal? – Healthy skin on the tailbone might indicate the horse is rubbing because it’s itchy in another area – most commonly around the sheath for geldings or the teats for mares. If you aren’t comfortable or experienced cleaning this area of your horse, ask a more experienced friend or your vet. Build up in this area should be checked and, if needed, cleaned annually.
Remedies for tail rubbing
To cure tail rubbing quickly, call your vet out for a farm call ASAP. While it’s not an emergency, if it is important to you it’s worth getting an accurate diagnosis quickly so the treatment you apply will be effective.
If the rubbing is minimal or you want to try a cheaper remedy for investing in a call to your vet, here are some remedies:
1. General Remedy: Older horsemen swear by applying Listerine to the root of horse tails. Listerine has a bleach–like effect on bacteria, microorganisms, and fungus without the harshness of bleach. Dilute 50-50 with water and apply morning and night to the horse’s tailbone
2. Allergy Remedy: if your horse is responding to an allergen – commonly to gnats (an allergy called sweetitch) you can try adjusting your turnout schedule.
- Putting your horse in a stall during the time when insects are most active may reduce insect bites.
- Using a fly sheet with a tail flap may prevent insects from biting and rubbing from being quite so destructive.
- Over-the-counter allergy remedies are available, just like for people, or you can call your vet and ask for a basic equine antihistamine powder that can be added to your horses feed to reduce allergic reaction causing the itching.
3. Fungus remedy: if you suspect your horse is itching due to fungus, you can use a antifungal treatment such as Dermal Aide or Shapely’s MTG. You may also want to try keeping your horse dry – bringing them into the barn before rain and carefully avoiding the tailbone when washing off after a hot workout.
4. Dry skin: skin moisturizers are available for horses, and even a bit of plain petroleum jelly can work wonders. When applying petroleum jelly use a very small amount and rub in very well, to prevent build up which could be itchy. More effective dry skin treatment can be achieved by adding a supplement to your horses feed such as flax or even plain sunflower or corn oil.
Minimizing Damage from Tail Rubbing
Tail rubbing can be destructive to both your horses tail and, sometimes, the objects they choose to rub against.
Provide a Designated (and Less Destructive) Scratching Surface
To reduce damage to areas your horse is rubbing on, you can try bolting the head of a push broom onto a very sturdy surface in a safe area – such as a sturdy tree trunk, a hitching post in an area where horses are turned out, or on a beam in a stall or barn. Providing horses a designated place to itch can redirect their itching behaviors to an area and the surface that will do less damage both to their tail and your property.
Tips to Reduce Tail Breakage During Tail Rubbing
To minimize tail hair breakage when your horse rubs you may want to turn out your horse in a lightweight sheet. Some sheets have a tail flap attached that includes a slick satiny lining. This lining may frustrate your horse by making their itching less fruitful, thus keeping tail breakage minimal.
Whatever you do, DO NOT WRAP YOUR HORSE’S TAIL TO PREVENT TAIL RUBBING. Tail wraps are not meant to be left on for long periods- they reduce blood flow to the tail and may cause rubbing and cause hair loss secondary to rubbing.