As horse owners, we all have enough to worry about.
Horses are constantly determined to do themselves harm. You can literally put them in a padded room and they will come out damaged. That’s actually one of the warnings you sign off on if they have major surgery. (“Even if your horse makes it through surgery without incident, he may stumble around upon waking up in the padded room and break a leg. Sorry.”)
It turns out that even one of the most innocuous pieces of horse equipment can pose a threat to their life. What would this deadly item be? The tail bag.
I’ve shown Arabian horses for YEARS. We love a full tail dragging on the ground—the longer the better for most events. To get this tail, you have to keep it clean, conditioned, and wrapped up at almost all times.
Yes, I realize the ridiculousness and impracticality of this, but when you’re indoctrinated, you go with the flow. They just look so pretty!
We all know the potential danger of wrapping the top of the tail too tightly, or tying the tail bag too close to the tip of the tail bone.
Wait, you haven’t heard of this absurd peril?! Wrapping too tightly or too close to the tailbone can cut off circulation, and cause the whole thing to die and fall off. I know you’re thanking me now for that tidbit of information.
So what’s the danger with a tail bag placed at a safe distance from the end of the bone? First of all, it’s not just the bag that can do them in. A secure braid, wrapped up “bundle tail” or even a burr/mat-filled pasture tail can do damage, too.
I’ve heard stories of horses getting their bagged or matted tail caught on a fence post or tree branch and pulling the whole darn thing off. Yes, skin and bone, too.
“There must be more to the story,” I thought skeptically.
Spoiler alert: I’ve now had two tail incidents (!) and my horses are both fine.
Here’s what happened:
Little Princess Haley was at the vet clinic, sedated, for a routine procedure. As the assistant led her out of the exam area, she lurched sideways a step (she’s a cheap date) and swished her bagged tail as she walked between the two sets of stocks. The handle caught in the hair below her tail bone, above the bag.
Since she was sedated, she pulled into the pressure, but didn’t freak out. The vet and I, however, both saw it at the same time and totally freaked out. We got her backed up before anything bad happened.
Our vet, like most vets, has seen just about everything, but even he was rattled. (“I don’t want to re-attach a tail today!”). After that, no more tail bag for her, since she gets turned out where there are some trees and the fence posts are such that she could possibly hook it on the tops (unlikely, but clearly, stranger things have already happened).
You’d think I’d learn from one personal incident and the tales of friends, but some things take a while to sink in.
My gelding, Chapo, still had his tail up for a while after Haley’s debacle. He was always in a stall and pipe turnout, where there were no trees or fence tops to hook it on. Chapo was finally closing in on a nicer-than-natural tail (I know, I know; it’s just vanity), and I wanted to keep it nice so he’d look BEAUTIFUL in the show ring.
One morning at feeding time, we found him stuck in the corner of his stall. He had slid his tail between the gate and the wall, and the bagged tail was caught on the other side—a thin, just-the width-of-a-handful-of-smooshed-tail-hair gap. (A leg couldn’t fit in there; we were very careful with this stall design that EVERYTHING was super safe and smooth. Ha.).
Now, this is a horse that is not known for his grace under pressure. He’s afraid of his own shadow. He spooks Every. Single. Time. you turn the hose on to fill his water bucket, even as he watched you do it. How he did not rip his entire backend off is beyond me. But there he was, bug-eyed and stuck, not moving a muscle.
My horses all have natural tails now.
Everyone gets their tail brushed out on a regular basis (no tangles or burrs allowed around here!), and I encourage full tails with nutrition and fancy conditioner. That is, until they find a way to kill themselves with that too.
About the Author
Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.