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Horse Hair Loss – Ideas for Treating Bald Spots and Thinning Tails

Do you struggle with trying to grow long tails, thick manes, and or even body hair on your horse? Horse hair loss can show up on horses in multiple ways such as short or thin tails, bald patches on mane or body, and rubbed out sections of mane. The way in which your horse’s hair loss appears, and where it appears, can help you understand the cause. This article briefly covers the subject of horse hair loss and what you can do to prevent, treat, and reverse it.

Preventing and treating horse bald spots


Types of horse hair loss include:

  • a thin or scraggly horse tail due to root damage on the tailbone.
  • bald patches caused by friction, such as patches that appear underneath your saddle, breast collar, bridle, halter, etc.
  • Bald patches that appear on other places on the horse’s coat.
  • Horses that develop scabs which create small scars where hair can’t grow.

On Missing Mane Hair – Treating bald patches

This is one of the most common types of horse friction-based hair loss. It tends to affect horses that graze in pastures with short or no grass, where the horses spend time reaching between horizontal fence boards to reach green grass on the other side of the fence.

If your horse’s hair loss is among the crest of the neck, it’s a good chance it happened against a fence. In addition to horses reaching for green grass and losing mane by accident, mane hair loss can be caused by a fungal or parasitic infestation in the root of the hair causing horses to seek surfaces to scratch their neck against, which can result in hair loss as brittle hair rubs against and gets caught in the fibers of tree trunks, fencing, or stall walls. To prevent mane loss caused by horses reaching through the fence you have several options: install wire mesh along the inside of your fence to prevent accessible gaps, run a wire of electric fence along the interior of your fence, and/or regularly mow grass that is just outside of your fence.

cf 2006 okie curly stallion long mane 3973
Reaching through fences commonly causes mane hair loss, although a combination of round rails and electric fence, as seen here, typically minimizes damage.

Missing tail hair

Missing tail hair can potentially be caused by some of the same causes that cause mane hair loss: itchiness.

Often when horses lose hair from their tails, it’s due to the horse backing up against a tree or fence post to satisfy an itch- in the process getting hairs caught and pulled out. Read more about treating this particular issue via our article on growing long and luxurious horse tails, where we discuss various options for dealing with horses with itchy tails.

cf 2006 chestnut mane short 1891
Genetics have a huge impact on mane and tail growth- some horses, like this mare, may easily lose tail hairs at the slightest irritation.

Bald spots under Tack

Patches of hair missing directly underneath the girth, saddle, bridle, or horse-blanket may indicate that these items are not fit well for your horse. Like humans, one size doesn’t always fit all, and even when the correct size is purchased, sometimes the build of an individual horse means that an item won’t work for them. Like wearing a blazer that’s too tight in the shoulders but otherwise fits, when I owned a tack store it wasn’t uncommon for horse owners to find that a horse with very broad shoulders needed a horse blanket cut with extra shoulder allowance in order to avoid uncomfortable blanket rubs. Poor fit of most tack items can result in bald spots, and these spots are very important to pay attention to because they are a precursor to saddle sores. Saddle sores can appear anywhere – not just under the saddle, as a result of friction that first removes the hair and then removes layers of skin until an open sore remains. Pay attention to bald spots and make adjustments as necessary before the blemish turns into a wound.

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An example of a bald patch caused by friction from tack

Larger bald spots on Horse’s hide

It’s normal for some horses to unevenly shed their winter coat in the spring, these horses may appear to have bald spots while remaining shaggy and other areas. Typically this is not an area of concern, but if it occurs outside of shedding season, you’ll want to pay attention. Loss of hair in a certain area could be a sign of trauma – such as having been cast in their stall or trailered in a too-small trailer stall. Smaller patches of hair loss not caused by tack may be a result of roughhousing in a pasture with other horses. Kicks and bits that don’t break the skin can still scrape hair off- but thankfully these patches grow back quickly.

Anytime a patch of skin or missing hair appears to be crusty, oozing, or damp, it’s time to call in your veterinarian. This may be a sign of serious bacterial infection, parasite, or fungal infection.

One common fungus that causes hair loss in horses is rain rot. Rain rot is a fungus that infects horses and causes small scabs that, when brushed away, leave bald patches on the horse’s coat. Rain rot is common in some climates and, if not serious, the first line of defense can be treated with MTG- our favorite hair loss treatment for our horses.

Bald Spots on Horse Tails: Preventing Rubbing

tips for reducing tail rubbing

Tail rubbing can be particularly irritating both to a horse and its owner! Because horses can’t reach back and scratch a spot that feels itchy, areas of the body that they can’t reach with their mouth they will typically rub against objects like trees, stall walls, or fence posts in order to relieve their itching. Unfortunately, a horse’s tail is one of the spots most likely to itch and often an owner has no warning that the area is itchy until the horse has lost a significant amount of tail hairs from aggressive rubbing on objects.

Because horse tails can take up to seven years to grow out to full length, caring for and preventing tail rubbing is a priority for many owners who love their horse’s long and luxurious tails.

The abrasive rubbing of the horses tail on rough objects such as tree trunks and fenceposts both pulls out hair from the room and breaks it off by sheer force. In this article will talk about several reasons why your horse may be rubbing its tail and we will outline a few remedies for tail rubbing.

Reasons for Tail Rubbing

Common skin irritants include fungus and allergies, but even something as simple as dry skin can be the root of the problem. However the solutions are not simple, combating dry skin with moisturizer can create an itchy residue causing more rubbing than ever. For that reason it’s best not to just guess about the cause but do a little investigating:

Part the hair at the top of the tail so that you can see your horses tailbone. What do you see?

Is it bumpy? – that indicates an allergic reaction or potentially fungus

is it flaky? – Flakes can indicate either dry skin or a fungus

is it scabby? – Scabs usually indicate a fungus that can be the result of aggressive itching due to allergies or dry skin.

Does the tailbone look totally normal? – Healthy skin on the tailbone might indicate the horse is rubbing because it’s itchy in another area – most commonly around the sheath for geldings or the teats for mares. If you aren’t comfortable or experienced cleaning this area of your horse, ask a more experienced friend or your vet. Build up in this area should be checked and, if needed, cleaned annually.

Remedies for Tail Rubbing

To cure tail rubbing quickly, call your vet out for a farm call ASAP. While it’s not an emergency, if it is important to you it’s worth getting an accurate diagnosis quickly so the treatment you apply will be effective.

If the rubbing is minimal or you want to try a cheaper remedy for investing in a call to your vet, here are some remedies:

1. General Remedy for horse tail hair loss:

Older horsemen swear by applying Listerine to the root of horse tails. Listerine has a antiseptic effect on bacteria, microorganisms, and fungus without the harshness of bleach. Dilute 50-50 with water and apply morning and night to the horse’s tailbone

2. Allergy Remedy for horse tail hair loss:

if your horse is responding to an allergen – commonly to gnats (an allergy called sweet itch) you can try adjusting your turnout schedule.

  • Putting your horse in a stall during the time when insects are most active may reduce insect bites.
  • Using a fly sheet with a tail flap may prevent insects from biting and rubbing from being quite so destructive.
  • Over-the-counter allergy remedies are available, just like for people, or you can call your vet and ask for a basic equine antihistamine powder that can be added to your horses feed to reduce allergic reaction causing the itching.

3. Fungus remedy for horse tail hair loss:

if you suspect your horse is itching due to fungus, you can use an antifungal treatment such as Dermal Aide or Shapely’s MTG. You may also want to try keeping your horse dry– bringing them into the barn before rain and carefully avoiding the tailbone when washing off after a hot workout.

4. Dry skin remedy for horse tail hair loss:

Skin moisturizers are available for horses, and even a bit of plain petroleum jelly can work wonders. When applying petroleum jelly, use a very small amount and rub in very well, to prevent build-up which could be itchy. More effective dry skin treatment can be achieved by adding a supplement to your horse’s feed such as flax or even plain sunflower or corn oil.

Minimizing Damage from Tail Rubbing

Tail rubbing can be destructive to both your horses tail and, sometimes, the objects they choose to rub against.

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Provide a Designated (and Less Destructive) Scratching Surface

To reduce damage to areas your horse is rubbing on, you can try bolting the head of a push broom onto a very sturdy surface in a safe area – such as a sturdy tree trunk, a hitching post in an area where horses are turned out, or on a beam in a stall or barn. Providing horses a designated place to itch can redirect their itching behaviors to an area and the surface that will do less damage both to their tail and your property.

Tips to Reduce Tail Breakage During Tail Rubbing

To minimize tail hair breakage when your horse rubs you may want to turn out your horse in a lightweight sheet. Some sheets have a tail flap attached that includes a slick satiny lining. This lining may frustrate your horse by making their itching less fruitful, thus keeping tail breakage minimal.

Whatever you do, DO NOT WRAP YOUR HORSE’S TAIL TO PREVENT TAIL RUBBING. Tail wraps are not meant to be left on for long periods- they reduce blood flow to the tail and may cause rubbing and cause hair loss secondary to rubbing.

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