Neu Perspectives

A Tragic Tail

A crime was committed in our pasture recently, and the victims were each left with chewed off tails.

I’m at war with crime.

Yes, criminal action has occurred at my place. It flares up around here time and again, and my battle with this particular misconduct is disheartening, frustrating and downright ugly. 

See, I take a lot of pride in my horses’ tails. I’ve never been one to braid them or put them in a tail bag, but I do like to keep them clean, conditioned, full and trimmed short enough to prevent hairs from being pulled out. I have an array of shampoos to fit the needs of whatever horse needs washed, and I only brush through them when they are clean and soft, to prevent breakage. When we work a cow or do a lot of backing, I even tie them up temporarily to preserve their fullness. I know each and every tail on the place, whether they belong to me or not. 

So, one can imagine my dismay when I went out to my broodmare field a few days ago and I saw that our beautiful golden palomino, with her thick, creamy colored mane and tail, was sporting a new cut. Her tail—the one I’ve spent so much time on in years past with purple shampoo and detangler—had been hacked up by her baby’s teeth—at least that’s what I thought at the time. My jaw dropped. I cursed her stud colt: “I don’t care if you’re a Metallic Cat! You’re getting weaned!” And then I looked around. 

foal with tail chewed off
Aesthetically, there is nothing elegant or beautiful about a horse with a chewed-off tail.
Photo by Kelli Neubert

Uh-oh. Two other mares had obvious signs of having chewed up tails. Long hairs and then whack—short pieces amongst them. The crime was so fresh that the saliva wasn’t even dried yet. The culprit? One of seven baby foals in that field. Someone was a tail chewer, but my guess was a shot in the dark as to who. 

Often, the younger horses have this tendency, although I have seen it in older ones randomly as well. Their reputation precedes them—if I know a tail chewer is coming, he will have solitary confinement waiting for him with an empty pen between him and his neighbor, just in case he reaches through the fence. Usually, our horses are turned out in pens together and it takes a bit of deduction to figure out who the troublemaker is (hopefully we can get to the bottom of it before he’s the only one with a tail left). I’ve seen some horses so chronic about the bad habit that they will chew off the tail of a horse that’s temporarily tied up next to them. And although, long ago, a short tail was in fashion, I know of no one today who prefers a bobbed look to a long, thick tail. 

I’ve heard of plenty of remedies to prevent chewed off tails. A round bale helps, as does a protein tub. I know of plenty of folks who will apply a bitter tasting spray or spicy concoction to tails to deter the chewer. I’ve even heard of horsemen cutting off a limb of a tree and leaving it in a colt’s pen, just to give it something else to chew on. When young horses are being worked with every day, it seems that they are less liable to smoke a tail. But there’s no guarantee that any of the above can keep another’s horses hair safe. 

As a human, I’ll never totally understand it. How do they eat that much hair? How can there be any appeal to doing that? And why does the other horse just stand there and let it happen? 

Understand it or not, it happens. We do our best to have a grip on the situation, but new criminals are born every day, as my broodmare field has proven lately. And as long as we are riding colts and raising horses, I’ll have to try harder to stay one step ahead of the culprits. 

So if anyone needs me, I’ll be out in the pastures, checking tail hairs and fighting crime. 

One bitter spray pump at a time. 

2 thoughts on “A Tragic Tail”

  1. I have used Conditioner with amazing results!! Prevents the foals from getting a good hold on the tail. Coat it good and the safe conditioners are not toxic to the horses :). They hate it too. and the benefit is the tail gets better.

  2. I had a neighbor who kept a small flock of sheep on his 5 acres, along with a pair of horses and a pair of ponies. His buddy was a 32-year-old Palamino that he bought as a 2-year-old. You could say that they were close. The neighbor, John, had a lot of pride in how well the old man looked. Until that day when the horse’s tail was missing. It had been eaten to about a foot long. John went in to detective mode and had his answer within hours. His pride and joy was standing with his rump up to the sheep pen. The sheep were crowded around, fighting for position as to who got to snack next. When he realized that it was the horse’s option to stand there, he figured that it must feel good. He moved his horse so he couldn’t get trimmed. And, he figured that he better move the other 3 equines before they could take a turn.


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