I get a lot of compliments on my horses tails and even my own long, thick hair. Everyone asks whats your secret? Well, there really isn't one. People think it's strange that I never bag the horses tails and they are outside 24/7, yet their swatters are the epitome of every horses rear end.
It's all about how you maintain them. I have learned a lot between having two white horses and having a mother who is a hairdresser what works and what doesn't.
First before I even get into this if your horse has a short tail or a sparse one you must put three facts into consideration to know if you can grow that tail.
a) Genetics. Some horses grow tails as you watch, others you could watch every second of your life and it wouldn't get any thicker or longer. Genetics are the main ingredient in a nice, full tail. Don't get discouraged though there will be some tips here for those thin, short tails.
b) Nutrition. I have said it time and time again, get your hay tested so you know what is in it. You essentially want your horses healthy hair to grow from the inside out. Good hay/grain means healthy skin and hair.
c) Time. Are you willing to put consistent time into taking care of your horses tail as it grows, thickens and transforms into something lovely? On average for a tail hair to grow from the very top of the dock to the ground takes 5 to 7 years. Some less, some more. You are not going to see a nicer, thicker tail in a month, not 6 months. Maybe a year. You need to commit to taking care of your horses tails in order to get the results you are looking for.
Just like you wash your hair nearly every time you hop into the shower your horses tail needs to be washed often. Dirt, oils from the skin and products you may spray into the hair can make it weak and brittle. You don't need a hose for this, just access to a bucket and water.
With a bucket and water you can wash a tail all year round. It may take a little more time but it's doable. Hair care has to continue in the colder months because this is normally when the horse is it's dirtiest.
Here is what I use on all horses when I wash tails. Tried and proven I have found the products so far to be invaluable. I would love to hear if you have any product suggestions.
Whitening shampoo: Although not all the horses we will be washing will be white, whitening shampoo is designed to break down stains. Some stains you might not be able to detect with your naked eye but they will be there no matter the horse. These shampoos break down dirt better and rinse out easier in my experience. I am using white n brite, the container it was originally in got dropped and broke so it now resides in an old body wash container. I also like cowboy magic's yellow out shampoo.
Conditioner: Avoid conditioner/shampoo with a lot of silicon in it such as herbal essences, pantine pro V, fructise, mane n tail etc. This goes for your own hair too. What happens with silicon is it coats the hair shaft. This is fine if your horses are kept inside away from the weather and you are only going to be washing their tails once or twice a year. The problem with the silicon coating the hair shaft is the hair stops producing it's own natural protectants. Same thing with products such as show sheen. Do not use them often, they are no good. I have cowboy magic's demineralizer conditioner. I like the fact that it gets the little rings of dirt off each hair shaft and is kind on the skin. It also does not leave a film or residue on the hairs after it is rinsed or left in and if you happen to have chemicals on the horse like fly spray it will take that off too.
Comb or soft bristled brush: Lets face it, de-tangling with our fingers does not bring the results no matter how long you rake through the hair a brush or comb does. Do not use a human hair brush. They may seem fine but they really do take out more hairs than you would believe. They stretch and break hairs which in the long run results in tangles from the damaged hairs. A large, wide toothed comb (which is missing in the picture because it grew legs and walked off) or soft bristled brush (see the red one in the pic) to brush the hair before you wash it. Make sure when you encounter a tangle or snarl to un-do it by hand.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, brush from the bottom of the tail to the top!
This will minimize breakage and snarls in the hair. Very good habit to get into for your horses hair and your own.
Other: I have a black wash mitt on there and mane n tail shampoo/conditioner. I normally wash the hocks and between the back legs when I wash a tail. I don't want dirt on my nice clean tail. I do not use mane n tail shampoo or conditioner on the actual tail. I found it leaves the hair heavy with this kind of almost thick oily residue making the hair feel dry and tangle easier. I use it for the body because it does not make my saddle slip.
Once your horses tail has been brushed and is detangled when dry you can begin wetting it in preparation for washing. Remember to brush from bottom to top.
Indigo has a long, thick tail. It hasn't been brushed but it has no tangles. I can run my fingers through it easily without snarls. This is the before picture.
Next I wet the hair, making sure the water runs clear before applying white n brite or other similar whitening shampoo. I do not dilute the whitening shampoo but apply a generous pop bottle cap size or more and squish it around in the tail hair until the blue/purple colour of the whitening shampoo is no longer there. Make sure to get right down near the tail bone where the ground in dirt is. Your suds may be brownish instead of my white. Indigo's tail is cleaner than most so the suds are white.
Tie up the horses tail in a quick release knot as seen here with the shampoo in and let set for 5-10 minutes. This is especially important with whitening shampoo to loosen stains.
Take out the knot, put the nozzle of the horse (invest in one of the multi spray nozzles, they are very useful) to soaker or shower and press it right up into the hair to get all that soap out. Start at the top, go down to the bottom. Do this until the water is clear. If you do not have a hose use a bucket and keep changing the water until it is clear, swishing around the tail each time.
Once your tail is free of shampoo apply conditioner generously.A lot of conditioner and preferably a natural or demineralization as I mentioned. Rinse it out completely where the tail bone is but you can leave a little in for ease of getting tangles out on the hair below the tail bone.
Avoid temptation: Never, ever brush a wet tail. The hairs will stick together and you will break more than you will de-tangle. Bring ol clip clop outside, let the air get at it and fluff the tail like so. You will be surprised at how quick it dries.
When the tail is still slightly damp if you followed the washing instructions properly you should be able to run your fingers through the hairs and separate them without having to brush or comb them. Braid and tie off at the end with an elastic. If I were going to trailer her anyplace important I always braid her tail. White horse + horse poop/pee in a trailer + clean tail= dirty, gross tail and all your efforts to get a clean, presentable horse with a nice tail down the drain. I would not un-braid her tail at this point until she was at our destination
Once the tail is dry and your horse is full on grass (yeah right) un-braid the tail and brush/comb bottom to top. The tail drying in the braid will give it extra volume when you brush it out. See.
Not braided. It's wavy but lacks volume and it's still a little wet because it was before I left it in a braid for a long time and brushed it.
Combed after drying in a braid. Notice how full and fluffy it looks compared to the picture before. The longer it dries in the braid the more wave and volume you will have. Works wonders with thin tails, you can even add a little mousse.
Oh and I did find my good comb. See the big, wide teeth? That is what you want in a comb to minimize breakage. I have no clue how it made it's way out onto the lawn but I am glad I found it.
My mom used to use one of these on my butt length hair when I was a kid until I could take care of my own. I remember her brushing my hair every time after a bath with leave in conditioner when I was young. It didn't hurt as much as a brush but did take longer.
Once your hair has been washed and dried you need to cut it. Yes cut it. I said it.
A long tail is nice, but not what we are getting at here. A tail longer than the horses fetlocks that is not braided constantly is going to be subject to getting stepped on and torn out when the horse backs up, rolls or is being worked. Nothing is more damaging than ripping out large chunks of your horses tail from it being too long. Imagine how long it will take to grow back!
Start with scissors or clippers if your horse will allow and cut the hair by the centimeter. Let the hair rest, cut another centimeter. The reason why you don't just cut it all to the desired length at once is because you might get it to the fetlocks and oops, it's lopsided. Time to cut more off and before you know it the tail is too short. I trim Indigo's tail every time I cut her bridle path, about every 4-6 weeks. A nice clean line makes a tail look thicker even if it is not as long as the horses fetlocks.
If your horse has trouble growing hair applying vitamin E to the tailbone and working it in a time or two a week helps. There is also a wonderful product that I used on Naigens tail when I first got her and Indigo's for a winter called MTG. Make sure when you apply this, apply it to the tailbone at the base of the hair follicle. This stuff really does work miracles and I have used it on animals other than horses with amazing results. I don't know what I would do without a bottle of this stuff for hair re-growth or my pony's summer sweet itch. Seriously worth the money even if your horse already has a nice mane and tail. Good for growing hair back on scrapes too.
Now to wrap this up.
Rule of thumb for tails:
Wash when the hair is dirty feeling and hard to brush and keep un-tangled. Do not wash more than I am going to say once a week/every two weeks.
Do not use products that have silicon, especially products like showsheen or de-tanglers very often. Remember they will eventually stop the hair from producing it's natural protectant. A good time to use a de-tangler is before wind and dampness. Wind + damp weather means witches knots, deadlocks and tangles that break hair.
Comb from the bottom to top and with care. Try not to brush too often but keep the hair tangle free.
Trim the ends. This not only means a cleaner look but the dead ends that are no longer there will make the hair easier to manage.
Of course all of the above can be applied to manes minus the braiding unless you intend to invest or make mane bags. See nice and shiny clean. Right Indigo?
NOOO! NOT THE DIRT!
"All clean now mum"
Yeah...Right. Your lucky I love you so darned much to let you get away with murder there girl.