The Mane Thing About Growing Long Tails
Nothing looks more fabulous than a thick, long, flowing tail on a reining horse. To keep the tail looking great, the number one thing to remember is that the hairs can break off very easily. Brushes and combs break and pull out the hairs if we are too aggressive when grooming. I recommend limiting the frequency of your tail grooming sessions to once or twice weekly, using care and caution to protect the growth. I use a soft body brush and my fingers to separate the hairs, and reserve combing for after conditioning.
It is important to keep the tail bone clean and clear of scurf and fungus. There are several products on the market formulated to help encourage cleanliness and growth of the tail, have a look at your local tack store or shop online. To keep my horse's tail clean, I use a good quality horse shampoo, sometimes tea tree oil shampoo and my 'home remedy' of Listerine. I put the Listerine in a spray bottle, diluted 50/50 with water and spray it on the tail bone to kill bacteria, fungus and to stimulate circulation. I then add a good leave-in conditioner to the entire tail. I don't use shine enhancer's until I am preparing the tail before a show.
If a horse's tail is left in a loose long braid, the hairs will rub together and break off. Tails braided tightly in fabric tubes are more protected from rubbing and breakage. Never braid tightly over the tail bone (as in a french braid) or use anything over the tail bone that could cause lack of circulation (elastic tail wraps) for an extended period of time. The tail will literally fall off. A tail tightly braided and then put in a tail bag will also be well protected but I caution you to watch for breakage at the tip of the tail bone where the tail bag is fastened. I prefer to seal the top of the tail bag, or sock, with a wrap or two of duct tape to keep the bag opening snug, preventing it from getting filled with shavings and dirt. I don't allow the tape to touch the tail hairs themselves, just the bag.
Be sure to check the horse's surrounding environment for anything that could hook on to the tail. Handles on water buckets are notorious for snagging a section of braided tail and ripping it out. Use duct tape to wrap the hooks on bucket handles, remove any unused bucket hooks, and of course remove splintered boards and nails. After saying all of this, I have seen some fabulous tails on horses that have never seen a tail bag. What can be learnt from this, is that we can cause damage with improper brushing, braiding and bagging. A braid left in the tail for months will cause plenty of breakage and damage. If you don't have the time to care for the tail properly (weekly shampooing, conditioning and braiding) then leave it natural.