Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We've had sub-zero temps around here the last few days. I have a secret to share. I'm kind of ashamed.

When my eyes crack open in the gray light of early dawn, I look out my bedroom window. I love to lay still and watch the creeping light turn the hillside red, inch by inch, as the sun comes up.

I come up through the layers of my sleep and let the approaching day run through my mind. I stick my foot out of the bottom of the sheets and test the air, trying to get a feel for how cold it is without getting my dogs wound up and jumping around.

My first groggy thought is automatically about chopping ice. How thick will the ice be and will the pumps need to be thawed?

Then I remember my life has changed.

I slowly pull my foot back under the covers, roll over, and fall back asleep with a smile on my face.

Full care is a wonderful thing.

Somebody asked me about the Morgan guys tail growing technique. I wrap my horses tails in the fall after the flies are gone. By spring it's dragging the ground on most of them. So I unwrap them and leave them free for fly season. I like a beautiful, flowing mane and tail as well as the next guy, but excessive hair is a pain in the butt. My horses tear out their tail hair when they back and mane hair gets tangled in my romels. So I let them be free for the summer and get shorter naturally. It works for me.
Here it is.

You need:
Strips of old bed sheet about three inches wide and the length of the sheet
Vet wrap
Orange twine from a hay bale (if you wrap it in the summer)

I always start with a clean, brushed tail. I don't brush out my horses tails unless we're doing photos or showing, so this in itself can be a project.

I finger pick the worst of the snarls out. I separate out the Rastafarian stuff and check for burrs, sticks, whatever.

Then I take a bottle of cheap hair conditioner and saturate the tail from the tail bone down. I don't load up the hair coming off the tail because sometimes the conditioner will irritate the tail bone.

I leave this gooey mess overnight.

The next day I wash the tail (cheap shampoo again).When I bathe my horses I use a bucket and a brush I got from an auto supply store. It works great.

Anyway, then I let the tail completely dry. Then, finally I comb it out. I start at the top and work my way down. I'm slow and careful.

Next, divide the hair into three chunks to make a braid.

Then I take three strips of the sheet and tie them together in the hair below the tail bone. Don't worry about the hair on the tail bone, it just hangs there (I didn't say it was pretty).

Make a relaxed braid with a strip of sheet wrapped around with each chunk of hair. Does this make sense so far?

Braid the hair down to the very end of the tail and tie it off.

Then take your vet wrap and, starting at the top of the braid, wrap all the way down to the tip.

Now you should have a long, stiff, stick thing. Double the tail to the base of the tail bone and vet wrap that....

Ta da!

It looks stupid. I'll see if I have a picture.

Then just leave it. I don't take it out until spring.

Oops, I almost forgot. If you want their tails wrapped during fly season then leave a little loop at the bottom when you double the tail and vet wrap it. Then run several strands of twine through the loop and tie them off. It makes a very effective fly swatter.


  1. Hmm... this seems interesting, I may have to try it! One question though - when you saturate the tail with conditioner and leave it overnight, do you wrap the tail or anything? If not, does conditioner get everywhere?

    Just curious, my mare's tail is a disaster after foaling and nursing all summer (UCK), I can't even begin to think about how I'm going to get it detangled and get all the crud out of it. Still too cold to wash it out, unfortunately!

  2. Thats called sheeting heres a good tutorial with pictures. http://www.horsegroomingsupplies.com/horse-forums/sheeting-step-by-step-with-pics-30445.html

    It works better than the tail bags that you braid/tie on because they can rip those and hair out.

  3. First thought: You must not live in Indiana, where in the winter the sun doesn't come up til 8am. If I did what you did, I'd be late for work!

  4. Leslie-nah, I just let it drip all over.

  5. Sydney- I always thought sheeting was when each section of the braid was wrapped in the strips of sheet.
    This way is much faster.

  6. I do my horses' tail the same way. with an old sheet. Its cheaper that way. I have never wrapped it with vet wrap though...That could become a weapon! When I did my mares tail that way, she would aim with it and slap me with her tail...I had bruises on my thighs from her whacking me when I would kick her to make her go with the cow. But, I got smart and I tied her tail to the saddle...pissed her off for a few times, but she got over it....It works great though! I have done it the way you discribe it and I have also braided each section and then wrap with the sheet..I find it stays in better with the 3 sections braided. I change mine every few weeks though.

  7. It's a slight aside here, but I think that the biggest asset to keeping a long and flowing mane and tail is not doing much with it. My horse is ever so hairy and I'm sure one way he keeps his long fresian-looking locks is because I only brush through it once or twice a month, at best, and his tail ( which is ridiculously huge ) gets washed once or twice a year and brushed through then. There just isn't time otherwise.

    Unfortunately, when people want tips for how to help their horse grow a bigger mane, they're usually looking for grooming tips and "don't touch it" is not normally an answer they can understand...

  8. I used to keep my horse's tail up year round, but found it to be too much of a hassle. I now only put it up during the winter to keep it free of snow, straw, dirt and manure. He's also much happier now in the summer being able to swat flies with his own tail.
    - Kim

  9. Excellent description of the "Morgan tail method"! When our show horses' tails were wrapped in the summer we left a good amount of long hairs from the top of the tail out of the braid so they could still swat flies. They weren't long enough to step on and break, but thick enough to swat with.

  10. I always take it 3 steps further and add an old sock over the vet wrap. Then, I put electric tape over two sections of the sock. Then, if there are flies, I snip several pieces of bindertwine and tie the through a cut loop at the bottom of the sock for swishing. Of course, some of the Morgans I ride have tails that drag the ground for many inches - I don't know how functional that is, but it looks pretty in the show ring. For a horse that tends to rub, MTG works wonders - daily and in between washings, I rub MTG into the dock front and back....

  11. Thanks Mugs... you shouldn't feel guilty. Warm covers are a beautiful thing when you know your horses are taken care of! grin.

  12. Also, if you want to make your horse look freaky you could do what our vets do for colic cases and plait the tail then wrap it in an extra-long veterinary rubber glove.

    The horses seem fine with that, but it looks pretty weird to humans.

  13. MTG is a wonderful thing for growing hair but smells like hell fire. Seriously. It's like some kind of weird 'BBQ sauce from the devil' sorta of smell.

  14. I have two Appaloosas, so I'm paranoid about losing main and tail hairs. I rarely brush out and ask my students not to as well - not easy to tell a 10 year old girl to NOT brush the mane!! I'm very much in the "leave it alone" line of thinking. Maybe twice a year, since they're not show horses.

    Luckily my gelding has a tail that would make any horse jealous!

    As for winter mornings... I had the subdivision life for a lot of years. I'm okay with heading out to the barn every morning. Now that I have a shelter for them I can leave them outside most nights. I have a tank heater so they water doesn't freeze, and the pipe is wrapped to keep it from freezing, and I put a tin can over the tap to keep it from freezing... if they stay in the barn overnight and don't drink all the water, I tip it out before it freezes solid. Otherwise I have to up end the bucket and tap the bottom with a hammer to get the ice out (in a solid chunk, but at least it takes the grunge out with it!)

    Winter horsekeeping is hard work but I think it's worth it!

  15. I had that feeling years ago when I awoke to the sound of ice on the skylight, and we lost power. My daughter's horse was boarded at that time at a farm down the road. Suddenly the board bill seemed very cheap!! Now of course, I have 4 in the back and one at the trainer's! Three trips to the barn today, bitter cold to me, but they are fine. We have had more winter already than we usually get for the entire season! Hope my hay stores are adequate.

  16. I would like an opinion on what to do with a mane that just won't be tamed! My old mare is an expert at creating witch's knots (dread locks) in her mane in about half a day just by rolling.

    I've tried keeping it in loose braids, but those seem to break more hair when she rolls. I've kept it trimmed short, but it seems a shame to do that since she grows such a lovely mane (when it's not in snarls and knots!).

  17. This is what I learned from my trainer, who is a saddlebred person.

    Wash tail with Orvus shampoo. She swears by it, and I have to admit they do get pretty sparkly clean.

    Spray thoroughly with showsheen.

    Brush out, let dry.

    Braid tail, starting a few inches below the tail bone. Then you kind of loop the tail back on itself and then wrap with vetwrap.

    Repeat every 8 weeks, or sooner if needed for shows.

    Or a little longer, if the AZ winter suprised you by being like Ohio cold.....

    My mare's tail used to barely go past her hocks, now it's to the ground.

  18. Oh, and BTW, the vetwrap thing does hurt. And if you use pink, be aware, the color fades and it looks like your horse is sporting a flesh-toned sex toy....

  19. I struggle making any kind of tie it/plait in tail bag work, as it drops a couple of inches below the very tip of his dock and my poor little fairy princess horse swishes his tail NON STOP in the damp, muggy, buggy Aussie summer we are having (even when i'm trying to replait it GRRRR) and as a consequence, ends up with a horrible, snarled, tangled knot in that area between dock end and plait start, no matter how close to the base of his dock I try to start plaiting. Even covering the area between dock tip and down over the top of the tail bag with vet wrap doesn't work - it too slips down after a day or 2 of continous and obesessive swishing.

    What would you guys suggest? I'm at my wits end with him and desperate to encourage a nice thick tail for the coming show season, but at present I'm doing more harm than anything, through pulling and breaking so many hairs out when I brush through his snarled rats nest.

    I don't wash often, but I condition without fail when I do and I use PLENTY of No Nots and Show Sheen any time I have to touch it.

  20. Sam - I would go with the "Don't Touch!" plan personally.
    In the winter I load my horses out on pasture with Vasoline. Greasy and gross, yes, but it doesn't freeze and they don't pick up burrs or snarls.By spring they look great and the weather washes them out.