Human companions who pay attention to their horses’ tails may be more in tune with their equine friends than those who don’t. Horse tails are a vital part of the animal’s ability to communicate with other animals and with humans. Continue reading to learn how our horse’s tail can give you clues about his health and emotional state...
A slightly raised tail, in conjunction with pricked ears, is often a horse’s way of alerting its herd to possible danger. A mare in heat may lift her tail high and to the side to signal to a stallion her readiness to reproduce. Like many other animals, horses will put their tails between their legs as signs of submission and fear.
A side-to-side swish is a clue to agitation or displeasure, while a stiff tail might indicate anger (if the rump muscles are also tightened) or even stomach discomfort. A tail held to the right is a good indicator of problems in the hind gut.
As the horse moves forward, the tail should sway gently from side to side. Agitated or uneven motion is an indication of pain during movement. This is often the first sign of a gait or neurological problem. The balance and movement that a tail provides help maintain normal innervation to the spinal muscles and organs in the caudal portion of the abdomen, like the bladder and reproductive organs.
The condition of the hair on your horse’s tail can be an indicator of your horse’s health. Shiny hair is a marker of good health; if the tail hairs seem dull or brittle or begin to fall out, it may mean some dietary changes are in order. It could be an early sign of disease as well, so horses whose manes and tails suddenly become dull and scraggly should be checked.
IMPORTANT CONNECTION TO THE BRAIN
The bones of the tail are attached directly to the sacrum of the horse’s spine. This area of the spine acts as the distal anchor of the dura, the protective sheath that surrounds the central nervous system. The sacrum acts to balance the input that is going into the horse’s brain. One of the main duties of the nervous system is to ensure that the eyes are always even and the horse is ready to move away from predators.
Many conditions can lead to improper movement of the sacrum and tail of your horse. A fall, backing into the stall or trailer wall or just inactivity can cause this area of the spinal column to move incorrectly. Since balanced movement in the horse requires every muscle, joint and bone to move correctly, any lack of motion in one area will result in a change in other areas.
INDICATION OF LAMENESS
The movement of the tail is very important in the overall balance of the rear end of the horse. The tail may be an indication of lameness in the hind limbs if, rather than swinging from side to side as in the normal horse, it moves up and down, with the up motion occurring when the injured extremity contacts the ground.
Any pathology that decreases the side to side motion of the tail may affect the gait of the horse. Lack of motion in the pelvis will contribute to lack of motion in the sacrum and tail. A problem with motion in the pelvis may be caused by a problem in the lumbar spine, thoracic spine, neck or mouth of the horse. This is why a certified animal chiropractor will begin at one end of your horse’s spine and check the entire length, no matter the complaint. They will adjust the tail and sacrum if it is needed. This adjustment will be a direct adjustment with a known line of correction, not just a yank on the tail.
Dr. Bill Ormston graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988. After attending Options for Animals in 1998, he received certification from the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and began using chiropractic to treat his animal patients. Jubilee Animal Health is a mobile mixed animal practice in the Dallas Metroplex area, using mostly alternative methods. Dr. Ormston is one of the founding instructors of the post-graduate course in Animal Chiropractic at Parker Chiropractic College in Dallas. He has lectured nationally and internationally on Animal Chiropractic and biomechanics, and gait analysis in the quadruped. jubileeac.com