Dres­sage Health

your horse’s tail health

Dressage Today - - Content - By Me­gan P. Gra­ham, BVetMed

The ap­pear­ance of a horse’s tailL both at rest and dur­ing ex­er­ciseL can tell us much about his gen­eral health and well-be­ing. the tail should hang straight down and be car­ried in a re­laxed man­ner. when viewed from be­hindL it should swing gen­tly from side to side as the horse moves. the height of the tail car­riage de­pends on an in­di­vid­ual horse’s croup con­for­ma­tion and breed. for in­stanceL a mor­gan may nat­u­rally carry his tail higher than a thor­ough­bred. there are many rea­sons that a horse might hold his tail crooked or off to one side. As an equine vet­eri­nar­ian cer­ti­fied in spinal ma­nip­u­la­tion (chi­ro­prac­ticIL i am of­ten called in to as­sess a horse for ab­nor­mal tail car­riage. One such cause is when there is a re­stric­tion (loss of mo­tion in a joint andOor sur­round­ing soft tis­suesI of the sacrum. the sacrum is roughly tri­an­gu­lar in shape and is made up of five fused ver­te­braeL the last of which ar­tic­u­lates with the first tail ver­te­brae. the cra­nial (frontI part of the sacrum has seven ar­tic­u­lar sur­facesL two be­ing the sacroil­iac jointL which is a com­monly af­fected area in the dres­sage horse. the sacral apex (the part near­est the tailI can be re­stricted ei­ther to the left or to the rightL and of­ten­times this will cause the tail to point or move more in that di­rec­tion. if this is the caseL a ma­nip­u­la­tionL or “ad­just­mentL” will of­ten re­store nor­mal move­ment to the tail.

in some cas­esL the tail may have been frac­tured in the past or sus­tained other trauma lead­ing to nerve dam­age. these tails may lack nor­mal tone and move­mentL seem­ing floppy or overly still while the horse is work­ing.

some horses have a very ac­tive tail dur­ing ex­er­ciseL swish­ing ex­ces­sive­lyL es­pe­cially while be­ing rid­den. while this may be nor­mal for some hors­esL i rec­om­mend hav­ing your horse eval­u­ated by a vet­eri­nar­ian to rule out com­mon causes for this be­hav­ior. tail-swish­ing in­di­cates ten­sion in the horseL of­ten from back pain or other or­tho­pe­dic is­sues. Check­ing sad­dle fit and back health is a good place to start. An­other com­mon cause of ten­sion un­der sad­dle is equine gas­tric ul­cer syn­drome.

the ap­pear­ance of the tail it­self can give us in­for­ma­tion about the gen­eral health of the rest of the horse. the tail should be full and lus­trous with hair grow­ing up to the base or top of the tail. it is com­monL es­pe­cially in the sum­merL to see ev­i­dence of tail-rub­bingL such as bro­ken hairL bald patches and even skin le­sions. there are many pos­si­ble causes for thisL such as in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal par­a­sitesL al­ler­gies and pain.

pin­worms ( Oxyuris equiI are a com­mon cause of tail-rub­bing andL un­for­tu­nate­lyL due to in­creas­ing re­sis­tance to an­thelmintics (de­worm­er­sIL they are be­ing seen more com­monly and can be chal­leng­ing to treat. the adult pin­worms live in the rec­tum and de­posit eggs around the horse’s anus. the eggs are sur­rounded by a yel­lowOwhite sub­stanceL which can of­ten be seen around the anusL and causes ex­treme itch­ing. pin­worm eggs are not typ­i­cally iden­ti­fied with a stan­dard fe­cal egg count testL such as the one used to as­sess for other gas­troin­testi­nal par­a­sites. how­ev­erL your vet­eri­nar­ian can ap­ply clear tape to the skin around the anus to col­lect the eggs and then ex­am­ine the tape un­der the mi­cro­scope to find the eggs and make a di­ag­no­sis. Once pin­worms have made your horse their homeL it takes treat­ment not only of the horseL but also ex­ten­sive de­con­tam­i­na­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment to be rid of them.

ticks are ac­tive dur­ing much of the year and will also cause a horse to rub his tail. due to the high preva­lence of lyme dis­ease and anaplas­mo­sisL it is a good habit to check your horse daily for ticks.

An­other cause of tail-rub­bing is culi­coides hy­per­sen­si­tiv­i­tyL or “sweet itch.” some horses de­velop a se­vere al­lergy to the saliva of these small bit­ing flies and will rub their maneL tail and ab­domen. this dis­ease of­ten pro­gresses with age andL in some cas­esL the horse will rub un­til these ar­eas are raw. man­age­ment in­volves treat­ing the itchL treat­ing any se­condary bac­te­rial in­fec­tions and lim­it­ing con­tact of the horse with the flies

us­ing spe­cially de­signed blan­kets, fans, in­sect re­pel­lents and avoid­ing turnout at dusk and dawn when the in­sects are most ac­tive.

Some­times I am asked to eval­u­ate a horse for tail-rub­bing or sit­ting on wa­ter buck­ets when there is no ev­i­dence of par­a­sites or his­tory of al­ler­gies. In some cases, these horses have back pain, and lean­ing on the wall or their buck­ets gives them re­lief.

Fi­nally, if you own a gray horse, the tail may be the first place you spot melanomas. Me­lanoma is a type of skin can­cer, which in the horse tends to be be­nign in most cases.

Your horse’s tail can be a barom­e­ter for many dif­fer­ent is­sues go­ing on in the body. Whether you no­tice sud­den, in­tense itch­ing, a change in car­riage or ex­ces­sive swish­ing dur­ing rid­ing, it is a good idea to have a con­ver­sa­tion with your vet­eri­nar­ian as your horse is likely try­ing to tell you some­thing.

The ap­pear­ance of a horse’s tail, both at rest and dur­ing ex­er­cise, can tell us much about his gen­eral health and well-be­ing. The tail should hang straight down and be car­ried in a re­laxed man­ner.

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