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Preventing Tail Rubbing

Split tail hairs got you frazzled? Learn why your horse rubs his tail and how you can prevent it.

By Sharon Biggs | May-07

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Tail RubbingIn the good old, bad old days, we used to think tail rubbing was just an annoying habit. Take a look at any horse care book written 30 years ago and you might find the author advising readers to either bandage the tail, set up a tail board in the stall or install a strand of electric wire to zap the horse each time he tried to rub. Nowadays, we know more about autoimmune problems and other health issues, so we understand that blaming the horse isn’t logical. The rule of thumb when dealing with chronic tail rubbing is to try to look for the obvious problems first and then enlist the help of your veterinarian.

Tail Rubbing Troubleshooting:

1. Does your horse have pinworms? The physical symptom of pinworms is tail rubbing. Pinworms crawl out of the anus to lay their eggs. As you can imagine, this causes the horse to rub his tail. Pinworms are unlikely if you’ve been diligent about your deworming. To treat a pinworm infestation, use an equine dewormer labeled for pinworm control. However, consult your veterinarian if you are unsure. Horses heavily infested with parasites should be under a practitioner’s care.

2. Does your horse have dry skin? Susan Harris, Centered Riding Clinician and author of the book Grooming to Win, says to shampoo the tail with a gentle shampoo, then moisturize with a conditioner and finish by rubbing baby oil or Vaseline through the hair and into the skin at the top of the dock. “The hair will be greasy, but this doesn’t matter,” she says. “You’re trying to soothe the skin and stop the itch.” If this doesn’t solve the problem, contact your veterinarian. Your horse could have contact dermatitis caused by something in his environment, such as his bedding.

3. Does your horse have a dirty udder or sheath? If so, tail rubbing is eminent. The cure is to clean the sheath or udder. If you’re unsure, ask a knowledgeable person or your veterinarian for help. (See Sheath Cleaning for more advice.)

4. Does your horse have “sweet itch?” Sweet itch or summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis, is an overreaction to the saliva of a gnat called Colicoides pulicaris. It is thought that sweet itch may be genetic and seems to be most prevalent in ponies. Symptoms include itching, sores, weeping discharge and hair loss. A horse with this affliction will be tormented by itching and will scratch his skin is raw. If you suspect your horse has sweet itch, consult your veterinarian. He or she can show you how to manage this distressing and chronic condition.

That telltale sign of rubbing—ugly splayed tail hairs with a bald patch in the middle – can be disheartening. Remember, your horse doesn’t want to itch. Find the underlying cause of his condition instead of reaching for that tail wrap. Your horse will thank you for it.

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Reader Comments

Courtney    Belpre, OH

12/30/2012 5:58:12 PM

My quarter horse gelding is rubbing his butt on one of my red panel fences. His tail is all red from the fence. But when you move is tail on the sides of his rear is nothing but flesh. Its not bleeding, and we haven't changed anything that he eats, drinks, etc. We just wormed him twice in a month and half. The fleshy patches aren't cut up or sliced. It also looks like someone took a razor a shaved the hair off. (HINT: I board my horse at a friends house.)

Susan    Bonita, CA

5/23/2012 12:09:05 AM

Yes, this year our horse is rubbing off her tail hair on top right in the center. Unfortunately, this article really didn't provide me with any good insights to help the condition. I doubt our horse has pinworms as she is wormed regularly and I don't see any signs of worms. A neighbor's horse does have tail rubbing problems worse than our horse but her stable companion, an older mini horse, has no tail rubbing issues at all. The only difference is that the mini horse is a male and my horse and neighbor's horse are mares. Is this a more common issue in mares? I wish you could give me information to narrow down the tail rubbing cause so treatment might be possible.
Thank you,

Susan    Black Creek, BC

7/8/2008 11:11:26 PM

My horse Sierra is a thoroughbred and only gets the tail itch in her heat cycle. I found that the best way to manage it is with listerine mouth wash, baby oil and a few drops of lavender only twice a day and rub the sides of her tail area with gold bond skin cream. She is happy and it stops the itching.

Sydney    Harrow, ON

3/2/2008 5:47:48 AM

I have learned first hand that baby oil mostly does more bad than good. I would never use it on a horse except for maybe detangling (like a whole wad of burrs in the mane or tail it works good). A product specifically for dry skin on horses is the best option. I like to use mane and tails hoofmaker as I have a mare with dry skin on her tail bone and the crest of her mane in the winter.

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