Find an equine vet near you

More vet advice for horse owners

If a horse holds its tail to one side, moves it excessively or clamps it down, does it necessarily mean that something is amiss?

When should I investigate?

Holding the tail to one side, either to the left or to the right, can be a habit.

However, there is a possibility that it may also be a sign of pain or an indicator of an asymmetry of muscle tone, either in the muscles controlling the movement of the tail or in the back.

The time to consider further investigation is when a horse who previously held its tail straight, starts to carry it consistently to one side.

Finding the cause

A crooked tail may be just the tip of the iceberg. There is a chance that any asymmetry could be a manifestation of a completely unrelated problem such as subtle lameness or back pain.

The underlying cause may be as simple as focal muscle pain, which a qualified physiotherapist, chiropractor or sports massage therapist should be able to identify and treat.

However, if the problem recurs then there is probably an unidentified issue that has resulted in secondary muscle tension and soreness, such as a saddle no longer fitting.

If a rapid clinical improvement is not seen then a veterinary investigation is certainly warranted, sooner rather than later.

Evaluating horse and rider

While a vet needs to try to identify a lame limb or limbs, he must also look for more subtle alterations in gait: a change in balance, a loss of fluidity of movement or an intermittently slightly irregular rhythm.

It’s also important to evaluate the rider, because inevitably some problems are created by the jockey.

Sometimes it is necessary to treat the horse with high levels of pain-alleviating drugs, such as phenylbutazone (bute), over several weeks to determine whether there is a genuine pain-related issue.

If the horse responds to painkillers, then it is time to investigate where and why it hurts by using a logical process of elimination.

For the full article, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (9 April, ’09)

Looking for an equine vet near you?

Read more articles on vet advice for horse owners