Does your horse's mane and tail look matted, drab, or even grimy? Is your horse's mane dull or yellow, even though you've been regularly conditioning it? Did you lose points at the last show due to the poor condition of your horse's tail? If so, you're probably not using the right grooming techniques.
"Soft, silky tails and manes don't just happen," says Audrey Bray, an American Horse Shows Association judge in Seminole, Fla. "Nature has a big part to play in terms of the quality and texture of your horse's mane and tail. But as a horse owner there's plenty you can do to enhance what nature has given to your horse." Here are some grooming tips:
One of the best ways to keep your horse's tail and mane looking great is by regularly washing them. Exactly how often you should do this depends on how often you are showing your horse, the climate where you live, and whether or not your horse has dry or flaky skin. Generally, it's best to wash your horse before every show, and about once a month during times of the year when you're not showing. "If you live in a dry climate, or if your horse has flaky or dry skin, you may want to wash his tail less frequently," Bray suggests.
Use a shampoo specifically made for horses. "Don't use human shampoos to try to save money; they are formulated for people and have the wrong pH level for horses," says Sue Herbes, manager of the Libertyville Saddle Shop in Libertyville, Ill. If your horse has a yellowing problem choose an equine-formulated tail-whitening shampoo.
To wash the mane and tail, wet the hair and then apply the shampoo, using as little as possible to get a good lather. Let the shampoo sit a few minutes before rinsing. "Always rinse well because leaving behind soapy residue can lead to itching and skin irritation," Bray says. When you are done washing you can apply a made-for-horse's conditioner on the mane and tail. Be sure to rinse out the conditioner.
Brush, Brush, Brush
After every washing and before every ride brush your horse's mane and tail. Doing so removes dead hair, prevents tangles from developing and spreads the horse's natural oils throughout the mane and tail, giving the hair a nice sheen.
Use a wide-toothed mane and tail brush designed for horses, or a natural bristle, medium-stiff-to-stiff human hairbrush, suggests Pam Hunter, owner of Hunter's Pony Farm in Washington State. She finds that the natural bristles work well on her ponies. "The natural bristles are gentle and bring out the natural oils and shine in the mane and tail."
Before you start brushing, use your fingers to pick out shavings, burrs or foreign material that may be stuck in the mane or tail. Then start brushing at the base of the mane and tail where the hairs are shorter, working outward to the longer hairs. Keep brushing until the tail and mane appear soft and silky.
Detangle With Care
If you come across mats or tangles while you are brushing, separate them with your fingers. If that's not possible, Herbes suggests you work the tangles apart with a wide-toothed comb. "Once broken up, they should be thoroughly combed, first with the wide-toothed comb, then with a finer one," she says. With serious tangles, you may want to spray some equine or human hair de-tangling solution onto the troubled area.
Lisa Leady, a professional groomer in Hoffman Estates, Ill, says another trick is to use cornstarch to eliminate tangles. "Put some cornstarch in a metal salt shaker can, sprinkle it on the horse's tail, rub it in, let it sit a couple minutes, and then start brushing the hair," she suggests. Not only does cornstarch help ease out tangles, she says it also helps prevent brush burn.
After you get the tangles out apply a mane and tail hair polish such as Show Sheen to keep the tail and mane shiny.
Keep the Tail Under Wraps
Once the tail has been washed, brushed and detangled, a good way to protect it is to loosely braid it and then put it in a tail bag when your horse is in the stall, paddock or pasture. Braids and tail bags help prevent the tail from getting tangled and dirty, which is especially important during the summer when your horse probably will be swishing his tail a lot at flies.
Make it a loose braid and always braid beyond the dock of the tail so that you're not cutting off your horse's circulation. If you've never braided your horse's tail before, ask an experienced equestrian to show you how to do it. "The braid can be too tight, which can cause damage to the tail and that will defeat the purpose of keeping it clean in the first place," Hunter says.
Most tack shops sell a variety of tail bags. Herbes recommends choosing a tail bag made out of nylon. A nylon bag will hold up better than one made out of lycra or polyester; with a nylon bag, the horse can turn around in his stall and if he catches his tail on a splinter, it's not going to shred the bag.
Herbes also suggests using a large man's tube sock for a tail bag. Tube socks work very well, and being terry cloth, it keeps the moisture in the tail and helps prevent the hairs from breaking off.
So, if you want your horse to have a gorgeous mane and tail, make these suggestions part of your regular horse care routine. When you start noticing your horse's long and luxurious tail and mane, you'll realize the extra time you spent grooming him was well worth it.