Every horse’s mane and tail are unique and serve some very important functions. Manes can help keep your horse’s neck warm in cold weather and provide some fly protection. The tail is used for insect control, swatting away flies and other pests, and can convey emotion as well. Think of an Arabian floating across a field, tail raised high enjoying his gallop, or how an angry horse swishes his tail to tell others to back off. While appearance isn’t a real “function,” you want your horse to look great and having a beautiful mane and tail is part of his overall look.
So how can you achieve a stunning full mane and tail? First, realize that genetics are involved. Morgans, Friesians and many draft crosses are known for their luxuriant manes and tails; on the other end of the spectrum, Appaloosas and donkeys are known for their sparse manes and tails. However, here are some areas to consider that may help your horse grow a strong, thick mane and tail:
Feed a Nutrient-Rich Diet
Make sure that your horse is eating a high-quality, balanced diet. Hair growth is a minor life function compared to things like keeping muscles, tendons and ligaments strong and healthy, so your horse needs nutrients in his diet to take care of the essentials, plus enough to support hair health.
However, in making sure your horse is getting “enough” nutrients, you should be careful not to add too much of some of them. If you notice that your horse has a very brittle mane and tail that breaks off frequently, check his diet for excess selenium. Too much selenium can lead to chronic low-grade toxicity, with mane and tail hair breakage (as well as affecting hooves and bone) often being the first sign.
Calculate Weather Exposure
Mane and tail hair can also become brittle from sun damage. You may need to adjust the timing and/or length of your horse’s pasture outings to minimize sun exposure. This is especially true during periods of very hot, dry weather.
Check for Parasites
Parasites such as lice and pinworms can make your horse rub his mane or tail, causing hairs to break or pull out. Look for signs of parasites, clean under your horse’s tail dock and run fecals periodically to catch any parasite infestations early.
Consider Behavioral Habits
Pasture partners may chew on your horse’s mane or tail out of boredom. Some people feel that a lack of fiber in the diet, such as long-stem hay, may lead to tail chewing. No one knows for sure, but the behavior is most commonly seen in foals. You can provide your horse with companionship and toys, and try spraying a chew deterrent product on the areas of interest.
Consider a Detangler
Groom the mane and tail carefully to maintain the hair and keep it in top-notch condition. Many groomers recommend breaking-up tangles using your fingers and a tiny amount of detangler, or you can use a spray-on detangler and let it soak in before gently combing out. Oftentimes, combs are preferred to brushes and it helps to comb the hair from the bottom up, working in sections. If the mane and tail have burrs stuck in the hairs, you may need a spray to help loosen their hold before you try to remove them; otherwise, you’ll end up taking quite a bit of hair along with the burr.
On the other hand, beware of using grooming products too often. Many products can dry out the mane and tail hairs, making them brittle and prone to breakage. Make sure to check your shampoos, conditioners and detanglers for moisturizing claims and ingredients before purchasing.
Refrain from Over Braiding
Avoid braiding the hair tightly and leaving the braids in all the time. Those neat, tight braids can cut off circulation to the hair shafts, which will lead to breakage. Braid long manes and tails loosely to prevent pasture damage, and remove show braids after an event.
Lovely flowing manes and tails add to the beauty of many horses, so take the extra time and effort to keep your horse’s locks in excellent condition!