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Tail carriage

From: Wendy

Hi Dr. Jahiel:

After not riding for 15 years, five months ago I purchased a four year old mare. She's not papered, but there seems to be a very obvious Arabian strain in her - high tail carriage and very lovely movement.

Background: The people from whom I bought her picked her up at an auction. She's extremely sensitive, but growing calmer and calmer every day - very willing to learn, but you've got to be a little "gentler" with her or she gets *very* upset (one rearing incident when I kicked her quite hard after a minor bought of crow hopping; hasn't happened again). ie a slight tap with the crop gets the message across as quickly as would more aggressive discipline with a less senstive horse. The bottom line is that we believe this mare was pretty roughly handled as a youngster.

The gist of my question: When first brought to the stable, she was very difficult to saddle (now she stands very quietly and doesn't get at all upset). She also carries her tail off to the side - mostly at a walk, during the warm-up period. My trainer (from whom I bought her) thought this might be indicative of a back problem. Apparently she checked out just fine. I had a complete pre-purchase exam done, and again, she checked out 100% (disappointing my vet, who likes to find at least one thing wrong with a horse :-)). My saddle seems to fit her just fine, and she even has this sideways tail carriage when walking loose on her own in the paddock or arena. So ... I hope we've ruled out any health or tack related problems.

Is this sideways tail carriage going to pose any problems if I choose to begin showing her? ie hack or under-saddle classes. I'm also developing an interest in dressage and, who knows, maybe in a year or two I might decide to enter a beginner level dressage class. Would a judge penalize my mare for this tendancy?

Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Wendy

Hi Wendy! First, let me congratulate you on finding such a sound horse! How nice to have a frustrated vet. ;-)

Many horses carry their tail more to one side than the other. Often it does have something to do with the state or condition of the horse's back -- the tail is, after all, the end of the spine! But if that's been ruled out, and if your mare carries herself well in both directions and is comfortable to ride, I wouldn't worry too much about it. One of my students rides a wonderful, talented, flexible Morgan who frequently carries his tail high and slightly to the right -- it hasn't impaired his ability, or his scores, in dressage or eventing.

If the problem is caused by a slight bone misalignment in the tail itself, or if it has to do with tight or unequally developed muscles, there are some things you can try! If you are a follower of Linda Tellington-Jones and her TTouch methods, do the tail work that she suggests. If you are interested in passive stretching techniques, get Nancy Spencer's "Basic Equine Stretching" video. Both of these can help you help your mare to relax and stretch her spine AND the muscles in her hindquarters and in her tail. She may have tighter muscling on one side than on the other, which would contribute to a slightly sideways tail carriage.

If you can't affect it but she continues to move well and train well, you may just have to live with this. She may have some tail damage from something that happened before you bought her -- sitting down hard in a suddenly-braking trailer can damage a horse's tail permanently, and so can some of the less attractive show-ring practices among the owners of certain gaited-horse breeds. Or something may have happened in the auction holding pens -- or when she was a foal. The TTouch work and stretching can't hurt, and might help -- good luck with her, she sounds like a lovely mare!


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