Horses' tails are good indicators of how they are feeling. The signals they give can be really helpful in reading and predicting their actions. I especially love it when they have them held high in the air!
When they hold their tails up high it shows that they are alert, active and feeling exuberant. The anatomical reason is that the faster a horse accelerates - the more their muscles help to lift and move them along. The tail is raised as part of this! However, horses will also raise their tails when they are not accelerating. The tail raising has evolved to also show that the horse feels like playing. They raise their tails as high as they will go - some breeds can even curl their tails over their backs - to signal to their friends that they want to run and play.
A tense or aggressive horse will stiffen their 'dock' and cause is to stick out behind. An irritated horse will swish their tail - as they do for flies. The tail swishing comes from their reaction to the irritation of flies but has been expanded to signal their irritation in other situations.
However, it can also mean they are anxious, frustrated or confused - and as such is marked down in dressage as it could be indicating that a horse is not relaxed!
A horse that is angry may also swish their tail with some power. The flick to the side can be so strong that the hairs whistle through the air. A flick this hard could cause you to bleed if you get caught! Some angry horses will swish their tails up and down and then is the time to watch out as the horse may well follow this with a kick!
Watch your horse and see how they use their tail to 'talk' to you!
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