Horses rub their tails for many reasons.
In this article, we’ll discuss several of the most common reasons for horse tail rubbing and a few simple solutions to soothe itchy tail bones, decrease tail breakage, and re-grow tails thinned by rubbing.
A horse doesn’t have hands to scratch and itch, so when their manes, tails, or bodies itch in places they can’t nibble with their mouth, they often rub on anything sturdy enough to scratch the itch.
Unfortunately, this rubbing creates friction that breaks tail hairs off near the root. If a horse continues their tail rubbing habit, it can create bare patches on a horse’s tailbone.
It can take 7 years to grow out a tail fully, so horse owners often lament the loss of each and every hair a horse rubs out! Since tail management doesn’t offer a simple solution like roaching a horse mane, sometimes horse owners resort to using false horse tails to compensate for thin rubbed-out tails, though even these offer little help to hairless tailbones.
Reasons Horses Rub their Tail:
Fungus or a Skin Irritation
A primary cause of horses itching their tailbone on fences, trees, and stalls is a fungal infection, but even simple skin irritations like dry skin can be the root of a tail rubbing problem.
To determine the cause of tail rubbing, part the hair on the horse’s tailbone and examine the skin below. Is the skin oily? flaky? scabbed?
If the skin appears infected or severely irritated, call your veterinarian. If the skin is moderately dry and flaking you may want to apply a moisturizer and see if that resolves the irritation. Simple dry skin can be resolved via internal and external approaches:
- Horse-specific skin moisturizers or just plain petroleum jelly applied in small amounts and massaged into the tail can moisturize skin and reduce itching.
- Feed supplements can help. Try adding a supplement designed to help skin issues, such as oil or flax seeds, to your horses feed and veterinarian recommended amounts.
- If there are signs of a fungus (signaled by bumps or scabs on the tail bone) keep the tail clean and dry and start applying an antifungal treatment.
- Some horsemen and women of the previous generation still endorse dousing a tail with original-formula Listerine to kill fungal infections, though modern horsekeeping offers a number of solutions without the sugar and alcohol content of mouthwash.
Tail Rubbing Due to a Dirty Sheath or Teats
Some horses rub their tails because of dirt built up on or around their genitals.
Many horses stay clean without intervention but some horses, particularly geldings, will need their sheaths cleaned about once a year. This can be done by an experienced horseperson or by your vet for a small fee. Tail rubbing due to a dirty sheath usually stops after the sheath has been cleaned.
Allergic Tail Rubbing
Allergies can also be the cause of tail rubbing and, subsequently, lost tail hair. Sometimes the itchy tail is due to a specific allergy (a common allergy to gnat bites is known as Sweet Itch).
Your vet can diagnose whether your horse is tail rubbing due to allergies, but often allergies remain unspecifically diagnosed. Thankfully antihistamines are as effective and as easily administered for horses as they are for people. Ask your vet about a powdered form of equine antihistamine which can be added to your feed to help your horse stop itching and start regrowing a long, lovely tail.
Supporting a Horse with Allergies:
- Even if you begin your horse antihistamines, be mindful of potential allergens and minimize them- even antihistamines can be overwhelmed by a very strong allergic reaction.
- Since many allergic reactions are to plants or insects, insect control in your horse’s living area is a must.
- To help control plant allergens you’ll want to make sure overgrown pastures are mowed before weeds go to seed and possibly use a sheet for turnout to minimize exposure to pollen.
- Keeping a calendar that records when your horse has itching attacks may help you isolate the season that the particular allergen your horse reacts to is in bloom, knowledge which can help you better control your horse’s environment.
Easy Solutions to Prevent Hair Breakage Due to Tail Rubbing
Sometimes, it can take weeks or even months to determine the cause of a horse’s tail rubbing, and even longer to find a remedy that works effectively to soothe itchy skin and remove a horse’s motivation for rubbing their tail.
Unfortunately, a horse can do a lot of damage to a thick and beautiful horse show-ready tail in the time it takes to identify and resolve the issue. Because of that, you may need some interim solutions to discourage tail rubbing and to protect sensitive tail bones from the friction of scratching.
Short-term solutions to stop the behavior of tail rubbing:
Restrict access to tree trunks
Rough tree bark seems to provide the most satisfying scratch for itchy horse tails- and it can also be a surface especially damaging to those long hairs that take seven years to regrow. If you have a horse that has begun rubbing its tail, switch them to a pasture paddock without access to trees until the skin has cleaned and tail rubbing has stopped.
Add electric fencing
Fences are another common surface that horses rub their tails on when their tails are itchy. Using extenders to attach a single line of electric fence tape along the interior of your existing fence is an inexpensive way to completely stop tail rubbing on fences. As a bonus, the addition of electric tape can extend the life of fences by preventing horses from leaning, rubbing, or pressing against fence panels or posts.
Use a sheet or blanket with a silky lining
Many sheets and blankets include a flap over the tail that is lined with a silky polyester fabric. This slick material tends to slide rather than scrape across the surface of fur and hair. If your horse scratches while wearing this type of blanket, it’s likely that less damage will be done to the tailbone, roots, and hair.
Use skins soothing topical treatments
While you and your veterinarian work to identify a cause of your horse’s tail rubbing and implement changes to medication or feeding, it may be appropriate to use a skin-soothing topical treatment. Ask your vet about appropriate ways to reduce itching while the root causes are being investigated.
Final Thoughts on Horse Tail Rubbing
Resolving horse tail rubbing requires a multi-pronged approach. Good horse management in the situation means investigating to find the root cause of the tail rubbing (usually with the help of a veterinarian or even veterinary dermatologist, which you can locate through the professional organization’s directory) as well as applying short-term solutions to minimize the damage to your horses tail while you are resolving the cause. Remember, removing a horse’s opportunity to scratch doesn’t resolve the itchiness – left itchy but without a place to scratch most horses are inventive enough to find a way.
Once the rubbing has been resolved, be sure and check out our tips on regrowing long horse tails.