Why Do Horses Have Manes And Tails?

Horses manes and tails are very beautiful, but what purpose do they serve? Why do some horses have thin manes and tails and others have thick, luxuriant ones? In this article, we explore these questions and more.

Manes Are Beautiful And Functional

horse manes

You may have noticed that some wild horses, zebras and donkeys have short manes, but most domestic horses or wild horses who come from domestic stock tend to have long manes.

One theory is that domesticated horses have been bred to have longer, more attractive manes and tails.

Another theory is that horse breeds that mostly live in hotter climates, such as the Appaloosa horse or some African breeds, tend to have thinner, shorter manes and tails because this is more practical for hot climates.

In addition to the aesthetics, a horses mane is useful for shooing away flies, and it’s good to hold onto when you’re riding bareback.

Additionally, when stallions fight, they bite each other on the neck. Some people speculate that a long, thick mane provides some protection against injury.

What About Horses’ Long, Luxuriant Tales?

When you compare a horse’s tail to the tail of a donkey or zebra, you’ll see that there are some big differences.

The bony part of a horse’s tail is fairly short, but some horses have thick tail hair that falls all the way to the ground.

Donkeys and zebras, on the other hand have longer, thin tails with shorter hair along the length of the tail and a decorative tuft at the end. Why this difference?

As with manes, the length, thickness and texture of an equine’s tail may have a lot to do with the climate. Zebras and donkeys tend to live in hotter, drier climates. For this reason, they mostly need tails for swatting flies.

Many wild horses naturally live in cold climates. During cold weather, a long, thick tail can help keep the nearly hairless skin beneath it warm and comfortable.

Long thick tails are especially good for swatting away flies in the area surrounding a horse. Many times horse friends will stand head to tail to swat flies off each other with their long, luxuriant tales.

Watch Your Horse’s Tail To Know What He Is Thinking!

A horse’s tail is also used as a means of communication. Watch for these tail positions to understand what your horse may be thinking and feeling:

  1. A tail lifted in the air or “flagged” can indicate enthusiasm.
  2. Tail flattened against the body may indicate that your horse is cold or afraid.
  3. Tail swishing is an expression of irritation. This may be because of flies, or it may be because of you or another horse.
  4. Tail wringing is an indication of an angry or uncomfortable horse. If your horse is wringing its tail while you’re riding, get off and check all of your tack to make sure that everything is fitted correctly.

Should You Cut Or Dock Your Horse’s Mane And Tail?

For the most part, it’s best to keep your horse’s mane and tail as close to their natural state as possible. There’s a reason why a horse has the mane and tail it has, so the best thing you can do is simply keep it clean and brushed.

You may want to trim a bridle track directly behind your horse’s ears to make it easier to bridle up, but otherwise trust nature to give your horse the mane and tail it should have.

How To Brush A Horse’s Mane And Tail

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should you brush a horse’s mane and tail?

If you handle or ride your horse daily, you can do a light overall grooming (including mane and tail) daily. Just run a fairly stiff bristled body brush over the mane and tail. For deep grooming with a comb, weekly is enough. Combing more often than that will break the hair.

2. How often should you wash a horse’s mane and tail?

Unless your horse is very dirty (e.g. mud caked) and/or you are preparing for a show, washing is not really necessary and can cause coat and skin dryness. Just brush to dislodge loose dust and dirt and remove tangles. Don’t wash any more often than once a month. Even that is a bit much.

3. Should you braid your horse’s mane and bag his tail to keep them clean?

For the most part, braiding and bagging are unnecessary and could be damaging. If you have groomed and prepared your horse for a show, you may want to cover the mane and tail (after drying) and keep your horse in a clean stall until it’s almost time to enter the ring. Otherwise, just provide a light daily brushing and weekly thorough grooming to keep your horse’s mane and tail clean and detangled.

4. Should you use special mane and tail shampoo and conditioner on your horse’s mane and tail?

When you occasionally wash your horse’s mane and tail, you can use these products if you want. Gentle products such as baby shampoo and conditioner are just as good, though.

5. Should you use leave-in conditioner or conditioning oil on your horse’s mane and tail?

Leave in products of all sorts run the risk of irritating your horse’s skin and may also damage the hair. All-in-all, you are best off without these products.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Horses & Foals

6022 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

Amazon Disclaimer

Horses & Foals is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.


Horses & Foals do not intend to provide veterinary advice. We try to help users better understand their horses; however, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.