Among the many distinctive features of the Arabian horses, the most talked-about characteristic is their high tail set.
Although many other breeds share the same attribute, Arabians are the ones that are famous for their raised tails.
So, why do Arabian Horses hold their tail up high? The most significant reason why Arabian horses raise their tails is their body structure. Arabian horses have one or two lesser vertebrae than most horses and have compact bodies. Owing to their horizontal croup, these horses carry their tails up. Holding the tail high is easier and far more comfortable for the animal.
In this article, we’ll talk about the anatomy and the factors behind the Arabian horse’s raised tail, what to do if it doesn’t hold its tail high, and the ugly truth behind breed conformations and alterations.
Understanding the Anatomy of the Tail
The Arabians are noted for carrying a high tail, one that almost seems like a flag.
This raised tail is an important breed conformation standard as well.
But before discussing the major causes behind this trait, let’s develop an understanding of the structure of a horsetail.
The tail is a very important feature for a horse; it contributes beauty and grace.
It is also used by the animal to communicate their mood or their physical state.
A lot of people generally think of horsetails as being similar to human hair.
However, there is quite a significant difference in the structures of the two.
The hairs of a horse’s tail don’t grow out of the dock; rather they grow from the bones of the tail.
For most horses, the tail consists of 18 vertebrae.
The dock comprises of the muscles and skin whereas the skirt refers to the long hair.
The thick hairs that are about a foot long grow on the base of the tail.
A horse uses his tail for a variety of purposes such as:
- To keep away insects and flies
- To indicate the emotional or physical state
- To protect their bodies from harsh weather conditions
The height of the tail-carriage and the texture of hair are two characteristics that help determine the breed. For instance, a high-carried tail with silky hair is a trait attributed to the Arabians.
Factors that Contribute to High-Tail Carriages
So we have now developed a basic concept of the anatomy of a horsetail.
Let’s move on and look at the factors responsible for the raised tail-carriages in the Arabians.
To understand this unique physical characteristic, we’d have to analyze two different features common to the Arabs:
- Their physical structure
- Their temperament
1. The Physical Structure
There are two different aspects of the structure responsible for the raised tail carriage in Arabian Horses:
- The formation of the Croup
- The number of vertebrae in the tail
So how does the croup affect the tail-carriage?
Well, whether a horse will carry his tail up or not depends on the slope of the croup.
What is the croup, you ask? Well, according to Wiktionary, it’s “that part of a horse which corresponds to the human buttocks.”
The Arabians have an almost horizontal croup, which is flat and strong.
This formation makes it easier for the horse to carry its tail high, without it being uncomfortable.
There is a section of the spine in front of the tail which is known as Sacrum.
The length and angle of the sacrum also play an important role in influencing the position of the tail.
Although not always, but a high tail set is mostly associated with a horizontal croup.
Other breeds with a steep croup and pelvis mostly have a low tail set that flows down along the hind legs.
The draft horses such as the Boulonnais, Belgian draft horses, and the Gypsy Vanner are examples of breeds with low hanging tails.
The number of vertebrae in the tail and their effect on horsetails
Like I mentioned above, the tail of most horses consists of 18 vertebrae.
This isn’t the case with the Arabians.
Most of these horses have 16 or 17 vertebrae; one less than the other breeds.
The high tail set is often also attributed to this unique characteristic.
Here’s our detailed article on the skeletal difference of Arabian horses.
2. The Arabian Horse Temperament and Their High Tail Set
Since horses use their tails to communicate their moods, many raise their tail to show freshness and excitement.
The Arabians carry their tail high as a sign of pride and their fiery temperament.
Since the horses were used as warhorses, they have always been high-spirited and the high-set tail is a sign of that trait.
What does it mean if My Arabian horse Doesn’t Hold His Tail Up?
So if a high tail-set is a trait common to the breed, what does it signify if an Arabian doesn’t hold its tail up?
Is it an indication of a health issue? Should you be worried for your Arabian horse if it doesn’t hold its tail high?
Well, although the high tail set is a common characteristic in the breed, there may be exceptions to the rule.
Only you can determine whether it is a serious concern or not, knowing your horse’s temperament best.
For instance, some horses tend to hold their tail down when they are nervous or tensed.
It is not so much of a health concern, rather an issue with the horse’s mental well-being.
Nonetheless, you should still find out what factors are causing the horse to become nervous or anxious. And of course, work on eliminating these.
People on different forums have reported conflicting opinions and observations on the topic.
Some say that their horses don’t raise their tails up even though they haven’t incurred any injuries or have any health concerns.
But since it is not a common characteristic I would advise you to get your Arabian checked by a Veterinarian.
A low-set tail carriage can also be a sign of back pain.
Even if your horse isn’t hurting, the consistent weight-carrying on the back can trigger pain.
Other symptoms of pain include:
- Pinching of ears
- Toe dragging in the back hooves
- Resistance to saddling
Injuries that cause the muscles to get damaged or obstruct the flow of blood to the tail may also lead to a low-set tail.
In any case, if you suspect an issue, schedule a visit with the vet to be sure.
The Ugly Truth behind Breed Conformations and Tail Alterations
People that participate in horse shows often aim for “perfection.”
The judges rank the participating horses on the basis of aesthetic appearance.
The breed conformation standards also play a huge role in the scoring.
For instance, if an Arabian doesn’t have a high-set tail at a show, it would be a negative point for the horse.
Therefore, some horse show participants resort to cruel practices to ensure their horse appears aesthetically appealing and matches the judging standards.
The inhumane practices that were used (and still are even though there are laws to prevent them) include:
Tail docking is the practice of partially amputating the horse’s tail.
The procedure was performed on harness horses back in the day as a safety measure.
However, today it is done for horse driving shows only.
Gingering refers to a practice where a caustic substance such as ginger is applied to the horse’s rectum.
This is done to ensure the horse holds his tail up (owing to the extreme pain the animal would bear.)
Blocking is another one of these practices and is used to prevent horses from swishing their tails.
To prevent the horse from wringing, alcohol is temporarily injected in the horse’s tail to numb the sensation in the nerves.
This can potentially cause an infection and can be quite discomforting to the animal as well.
Saddlebreds are often made to have their tail altered by a surgical procedure.
To provide a high tail carriage, the horse’s retractor muscles are incised and a tail-set device is placed.
The modern version of the procedure uses a harness-like device to carry the tail and keep it arched.
Why are Arabian horses so special? This breed is definitely majestic and possesses unique characteristics which make it special.
Arabians are high-spirited and have exceptional stamina.
They are among the most intelligent of breeds and are noted for their loyalty and sincerity towards their masters.
The unique features associated with the purebred Arabians are:
- Sharp facial features
- A silky silhouette
- A high-tail carriage with movement that exudes elegance
Why do horses put their tails up? The tail plays a crucial role in enabling your horse to communicate its emotions with you.
Horses usually raise their tails to indicate excitement and cheerfulness.
When playing, often young horses would hold their tails up showing enthusiasm.
Some breeds have a high tail-carriage as part of their general anatomy. These include:
- Tennessee Walkers
Are Arabian horses good for beginners? Arabians are perceived to be aggressive which is why they may not be considered a sound choice for a novice rider.
However, this is not true for all Arabs. In fact, they are one of the most intelligent and friendly beginner breeds.
A well-trained Arabian may work well for a beginner rider. Here’s our detailed article on Arabian horses for beginners.
Arabian geldings over the age of 8 would work best for novice riders.
Featured image by Arab Fancy