I remember feeling slightly ill the first time I ran my hand under Diego’s tail. Something was clearly not right. It had a massive bend to it, about 5 inches below where it met his body. My immediate thought was that clearly something or someone had broken his tail and it healed crooked. It was winter time so I never saw him swat flies or lift it to do anything other than manure. When he did that, he could barely lift it high enough to pass the manure and it looked awkward, like it wasn’t in his control. His tail was very clamped down, tucked between his hind legs, but I figured this was due to muscle tension as I commonly find similar tension, although not to the same degree, in bodywork clients. Tail photos from March below.
My immediate thought was an accident of some kind, perhaps even related to the difficult physical shape he was in. After researching and talking with several trainer friends, I learned about tail blocking and nerving, something common in the Western world, although not unheard of in other disciplines. Basically it is the process is to inject ethanol into the base of the tail in order to kill the nerves that enable the tail to move. Proponents claim it is not permanent, meaning it only lasts six or so months and only prohibits the lifting of the tail above the horizontal plane (so they can still swish at flies and use their tail to communicate with other horses), but in reality many horses lose almost all control of their tail permanently. They retain the ability to lift the tail to manure properly because it is an action controlled through a subconcious reflex.
I wanted to know more about how this could affect not only the tail area of a horse, but the whole being. I asked a human chiropractor how imporant the coccyx area is in a human being. After he confirmed my belief that this area is indeed important, I shared that I was really curious about a horse’s tail and the way damage (nerve blocking or breaking the bones) might affect a horse. We had a great conversation about dura matter, muscle attachment and proprioception. It became clear that Diego’s tail could have been damaged in an accident or it could have become twisted and pulled to one side from the inside out, due to tension and misalignment in his spine.
When I finally had a vet out to do a pre-purchase in May, after I committed to taking him on as a rehab project, she said that at this point it was impossible to tell if it had been nerved, broken or was damaged from the inside out. Her guess was that it had been nerved. Time would tell. I was very anxious for fly season to start (never thought I would think that…) so that I could see how he swished it. It was a giant relief to see him able to swish and lift it better as the weeks have gone by. The crooked part is still noticeable but far less so and he uses it more and more all the time. His natural tail carriage is also less tucked and clamped down. Hooray for time, bodywork, groundwork, long and low rides and healing thoughts! Hopefully nerving is on the decine as the horse world moves away from such practices. I wanted to share the information so others can learn along with me. Below is a video of his tail a couple of days ago. Best range of motion yet!! The body’s ability to change and heal never ceases to amaze me.