Braided, bundled, banged or natural.
Go to any horse barn or event and you are likely to see a wide variety of horse tail styles. Don’t get me wrong – they will all be beautifully cared for. But, depending on the discipline, you may see them in all shapes and forms.
While the rules for the particular discipline does not include how the tail should look, many of the disciplines have “tradition.” And many of these traditions are based in practicality.
In polo and occasionally in the marathon (cross country) phase of combined driving, you will see horse tails braided bundled up into a fat braid. This is mostly done for safety. In combined driving, you have numerous reins as well as traces (the leather lines that connect the horse to the vehicle). With all the twisting and turning in marathon driving, it could be easy for a tail to get caught in the reins or under a trace, making the horse uncomfortable. In polo, the braid can help the tail stay out of the way of a swinging polo mallet or a competitor’s face.
In dressage, the tails are always long and lush. It is part of the beauty of the dressage movements. Did you know that some competitors even use fake tails to get the look? And, yes, it’s legal for most breed associations. Check the bottom of tails and you will see that they are cut straight across. This is called a “banged tail.” Actually, the bottom is cut on a bit of an angle so that when the horse moves, he lifts his tail and this type of clip will make it look like his tail is cut straight across. And, when the tail hairs are all one length, they are less likely to break off, keeping the tail looking full.
Some tail styles help show judges select winners. In hunter shows and in equitation classes, the tail is almost always braided. This helps the judge see how the horses uses himself on the flat and over fences. Braiding a horse’s tail is fun for some and a nightmare for others. If you don’t have the technique or the patience, it’s usually best to hire a professional braider.
When in doubt as to what style your horse’s tail should be, you can’t go wrong with leaving your horse’s tail in its natural shape. Make sure it’s clean with no tangles or bits of shavings stuck in it. Neaten up any hairs that really stick out and you’re good to go.
There are lots of tricks to give your horse a beautiful tail. Some people buy a “tail bag” and keep the horse’s tail in it to keep it clean and untangled. Some swear by certain shampoos and conditioners (both made for horses and made for people). Most will warn you to never brush your horse’s tail – you can break off some of the hairs and get that “punk” look. If your horse’s tail has tangled, gently use your fingers to pull the tangles apart. If you do brush, always start at the bottom and get that tangle free before moving up the tail.
Remember, as one of my horse show friends used to say, “It’s not as important to be good as it is to look good.”