Using Clippers for the Perfect Tail

The Perfect Tail

Photo: Christina Handley Photography

By Marcus Koll

A horse's tail is its prized possession. It's used for comfort, to swish flies from itself and other horses, and it's used for balance and communication. Trainers can use the horse's tail to see if the horse is frightened, excited, or uncomfortable. In the show ring, a clean flowing tail can really catch the judge's eye.

So how do you get the perfect tail? Well, first of all, it needs to be clean, and keeping a tail clean - especially a white one - is a big topic. Here, we're going to talk about how you can clip and trim the tail to help your horse look and feel its best.

What kinds of tail trims are there?

What type of look you go for depends on your horse's breed and what kind of work it will do. Some breeds, like Arabians, are usually shown with a natural, long, free flowing tail. Dressage horses will have a tail closely trimmed at the top to accentuate the hindquarters. Show ring hunters will need a tail that can be easily braided. Polo ponies and driving horses need close trimmed tails that can be easily tied up short to protect them from getting tangled up in traces or the polo mallets. Even horses that don't show will benefit from a tidy tail to help keep it clean and keep it from getting matted and tangled.
Once you decide on the look you want, you get started with trimming the tail, and that will help you choose which tools you need in your horse grooming supplies.

Trimming the base of the tail

The base, or top of the tail, is the most conspicuous part. If you are going to braid the tail you will need long, smooth hairs that will lie flat in a plait or braid. You will need to protect the tail from rubbing with a bandage or tail guard if your horse has the habit of scratching its tail on doors or fence posts. Fortunately for you, though, you don't need to do a lot of trimming. That said, after you plait the tail, you may find that some hairs keep sticking out. Trimming these away with a good set of hand trimmers will make for a perfect show ring braid.

If you want a natural tail, again you won't need to do much. The real work is for those that want a 'pulled' tail - that means keeping the hairs at the top of the tail very short for a close, neat finish. Traditionally, this used to be done by pulling out the long hairs, but many horse owners don't like to do this. There's no doubt that the horse's tail is more sensitive than its mane, so pulling the tail is more uncomfortable for the horse than pulling the mane. And with some practice, you can get a better look with hand trimmers than you can get with a pulling comb.

Why? Well the problem comes as the hairs grow out. A newly pulled tail looks great, neat, tidy, and it really shows off the horse's quarters and can accentuate its movement. But as the hairs grow out, they get prickly, and yet they aren't long enough to grasp them to pull. That means you have an unsightly 'bristle' period until the hairs are long enough to get a grip on them. This isn't a problem with hand trimmers!

With hand trimmers or clippers, you can choose how short you want the hairs to go. You can use wide clipper attachments to get slightly longer hairs, which are easy to get to lie flat, this is best for the top of the tail. Choose a closer trim for the sides of the tail to clip the hairs away and really show off your horse's quarters. Use a tail bandage and some baby oil or conditioner regularly, and you will get a smooth, professional finish. Keeping a good set of hand clippers and attachments in your horse grooming supplies means you will have a perfect finish every day.

Trimming the end of the tail

The end of the tail will also need trimming. For horses that aren't showing, keeping the tail trimmed back to at least halfway up the cannon bone will help to keep it clean and prevent tangles and mats. Horses that show with a natural tail may just need a little tidying up now and again for a good shape. Working horses might just need the tail shorted a little so it can be easily tied up. Show horses like hunters and dressage horses though, need a perfectly even, or 'banged' tail.

uneven horse tail

Using scissors to trim the end of your horse's tail can result in an uneven finish. Clippers provide a much neater trim. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

Getting a perfectly level tail takes two people - that's because you need to try to simulate where the tail will be when the horse is moving. One person needs to hold the tail up just a little, so that it hangs where it would be when the horse naturally raises its tail when it moves. The best way to do this is to put your arm under the dock and simply rest the tail over. Then the second person can start trimming. Most people will choose to cut the tail at about midway up the cannon bone. However, if you are trying to make your horse's legs look longer or shorter, you may want to cut lower or higher, or you may want to cut to match socks or stockings for a more even look. Either way, don’t use scissors.

Why not use scissors? Unless your horse has a very thin tail, there's no way to get a perfect finish. It will take more than one cut, and that means edges and uneven ends. If you have a lot to cut off, you can start with scissors, but finish with hand trimmers. Holding the trimmers upside down, you can cut along the bottom of the tail. Unlike scissors, good, sharp clipper blades won't push the hairs away, but will catch them and trim them evenly for a perfect flat finish. It takes a little practice, but the results are worth it.

Choosing a trimmer for tails

If you are going to be trimming your horse's tail regularly, you should consider having a good set of horse trimmers in your horse grooming supplies. It will make keeping a “pulled” and banged tail tidy easier for you and more comfortable for your horse. If you are going to be braiding your horse's tail for shows, a good set of cordless trimmers will be essential for tidying up stray hairs - not just on your horse's tail but for any last minute show ring touch ups. Here's some options form the major suppliers:

Wahl horse clippers. The Wahl Bravura is a versatile hand clipper that can be used for manes and tails and more sensitive, precision areas. It can be used both with the cord and cordless, so you can take it with you to shows, and it's quiet but powerful. It comes with a set of four attachments for clipping different areas. It's a great choice if you can have only one set of trimmers in your horse grooming supplies.

Oster horse clippers. The Oster Powermax is a coat clipper, rather than a trimmer, but it's a great value choice if you need one clipper that can do everything. The two-speed operation can get through thick coats, and the slower speed lets you do more sensitive work. You won't get the precisions finish of a specially designed trimmer, but if you can only afford one set of clippers this one is more versatile than most. It will certainly make a good job of tail trimming, and it comes with a selection of attachments.

Andis horse clippers. The Andis Freedom Trimmer is a great cordless choice. It's lightweight, lasts for an hour when fully charged, and runs quiet. You get a good choice of blades with the Freedom trimmer, so you can use these trimmers for careful work on fine hairs, then switch to more robust blades for the mane and tail.

Always choose clippers and trimmers from one of the main horse grooming suppliers. This way you will get a warranty, you can be sure your clippers are safe to use, and getting replacement parts and blades will be easy.

For trimming a perfect tail, you need to be sure your blades are sharp. If the coarse hairs of the tail get caught in dull blades, not only will you get uneven edges and broken hairs, but you risk pulling out hairs and hurting your horse. Invest in a few sets of blades, so you always have a sharp set in your horse grooming supplies, and you have spares when you need to send them away for sharpening. With a good set of trimmers and sharp blades, you can keep your horse's tail looking neat and healthy every day.

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Main Photo: Christina Handley Photography,