What is the function of the horse's mane and tail? And how do you take care of the long hair in order for it to stay long, thick and healthy? We dive into some anatomy and share some grooming tips.
Beautiful manes: Are they a useful protector from bugs and nasty weather, or has evolution developed them by "chance"?
Nope, horses simply have manes because it looks beautiful. We are not saying this because we suffer from some sort of vanity syndrome, we are quoting Dr. Katherine Houpt, Emeritus Professor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University. She explains: "It wasn’t until people began to domesticate horses that their manes grew longer". Breeders specifically selected horses with long hair to breed from them.
Responsible is a gene defect called hypertrichosis. Horses with hypertrichosis neither shed tale nor manes, contrary to horses without this defect. Breeders were thrilled and decided to breed mainly from horses with long manes. The success is still visible today: Almost all domesticated horses have beautiful, long and non-shedding mane and tails.
This, in turn, provides us with an explanation why wild horses, donkeys, and zebras only have short manes: They weren't specifically selected, so the hypertrichosis wouldn't spread within them.
So, are manes completely useless? Of course not:
Manes protect from rainwater and insects (shaking of head).
Riders can hold on to something (not a joke, this could indeed have been a reason why breeders selected horses with longer manes).
Stallions: when they fight, they bite each other's necks. The mane acts like some sort of armor and protects this body part.
What about the horse's tail?
The tail of the horse and other equines consists of two parts, the dock and the skirt. The dock consists of the muscles and skin covering the coccygeal vertebrae. The term "skirt" refers to the hair. The dock has 15 to 21 vertebrae.
On a horse, long, thick tail hairs sprout at the base of the tail, growing along the top and sides of the dock. The dock with its hair:
Protects the genital area from wind, dirt and rainwater.
Helps to keep the bugs off.
Is a natural balance carrier.
Depending on its posture, the tail is also an indicator of possible muscle tension, spinal blockages or issues with the saddle.
For example, if a horse carries its tail to the side, it mostly indicates a one-sided muscle problem. If the horse rotates the tail or lashes out with it, it could be that it suffers from back problems.
The skirt of the tail is a good indicator of the horse's general health. If it's shiny and thick, the horse is usually fine and well nourished. If the tail of your horse is very thin or flaky, there might be some underlying issues like:
• slow metabolism
• skin fungus
Proper care of the mane and tail
Healthy hair is mainly based on good feed, so make sure your horse gets all the nutrients it needs.
Now, let's have a look at grooming:
Thanks to our developing experience with our Kikolily products, we have become master grooms. Well, sort of. Among other stuff, we are testing our MagicHair, our very own mane and tail detangler. It contains only natural and plant based ingredients, no silicones or other synthetic ingredients. We are so excited, because it detangles nearly instantly. It will be available within the next couple of months!
Grooming: What about the mane?
You can brush or comb the mane every day. The best method is to spray it with a natural detangler for easy combing. It is normal if some hair sticks to your brush, mostly it's hair that is already dead.
If your horse has very long hair, it's probably best to braid it, since long manes tend to become felted.
If the mane of your horse falls to two sides, it's probably quite thick and heavy. In that case, you shouldn't comb it to one side, but leave it as it is. If the weight drops to one side, your horse could develop muscle problems. One very good example are Icelandic horses.
How to groom a horse's tail
There is one practice that ensures that your horse will eventually get a skimpy tail: If you keep brushing it with a hair brush. So please, put it away. Throw it in the bin. Instead, use a wide toothed comb.
If you brush it with a normal brush, you pull out the hair faster than it can regrow. It is better to fan the tail out and pick through it with your fingers until all debris is removed and tangles are gone.
If you have to brush it with a hair brush, wrap the tail around your hand and brush. This will prevent you from pulling out too much hair.
Also, use a natural mane and tail spray before grooming.
If you want to wash the mane and tail, pick a good horse shampoo with the correct pH-value. We explain in our free e-book why this is so important. Go to our homepage and sign up!
Last but not least: Cut the tail of your horse regularly, best above the fetlocks. If the hair is too long, horses tend to tear quite a bit of hair out if they get up or walk backward.
Did you find our tips helpful? I appreciate your comments!