Tailing is a very useful tool on technical rides where there are a lot of climbs. It’s basically a form of “driving” and is a combination of two basic things you should teach your horse.
Ground manners – Your horse will need to stand quietly in line at Vet Checks and for the Vet to examine him
Handling - Your horse will need to become accustomed to being poked and prodded and handled all over…EVERY part of his body.
The handling with regard to tailing requires that you get him used to having his butt handled. One of the Vet Parameters is “anal tone”. You may also need to use a crupper some day. It’s always good to associate something you want him to do with something pleasurable. All horses like to be “scratched”….mine will even point out a place for me! He can’t reach his tail, which is why you see them backed up to a post or barn scratching. If you scratch gently around the side of his tail and dock, he will raise his tail in pleasure. When he does, continue to scratch all around, underneath, and around his anus. Palpate his anus gently and stick your finger inside. (Use a rubber glove if this bothers you) You need to work on this because he will sometimes get a thermometer in there at rides. Put a little “Show Sheen” or “Cowboy Magic” on his tail and brush it out. While you are doing that, lean back and gently tug on his tail, increasing the pull until you can rock him backward without any response. If you have a crupper, put it under his tail while you are scratching and tug forward gently. Take it out and put it back on until he ignores it. Do all this gradually, always going back to scratching and brushing. Practice every day until this becomes part of his routine. Eventually he will relax and look forward to having you scratch, brush, and play with his tail.
While you’re there, it’s also worthwhile to part the hair on his tail with a small comb and look for ticks and “crusties” that would indicate that you need to shampoo his tail with something like “Selsun Blue”.
By the way, for those of you who rode Old Dominion. We got 8 ticks out of Magic’s tail and one off his neck right under his mane. You might want to check……
The ground manners part assumes your horse will lead properly….that is, walk AND trot along beside you with his head even with your shoulder, stopping when you stop, and backing up when you do. Once you have done this, you are now ready to teach tailing.
Don’t TEACH tailing on hills. Teach it on a level wide road, like a dirt road or FS road. Do it at a time when there are no flies so he won’t need his tail! The objective is to teach your horse that you want him to “go first”. Since you have taught him to walk along with his head even with your shoulder, stopping when you stop and backing up when you back up, he must now learn a “variation” on this. You will need “tailing” reins. There are basically two types. A long loop rein (I like the 6 foot yacht rope) or a shorter rein with a “tailing string” in the middle that you can slide out to the end to lengthen the rein.
I teach a “go forward” cue, which I also use to teach a horse to load on a trailer. Without going into to great detail here, basically I teach him that if I face his left side with the lead line in my left hand and raise my arm and point at his hip, (initially this is a tap high on the hip with a dressage whip) he will “go forward”….onto a trailer, a scale, over a log, etc. For tailing, with the off rein disconnected and in my left hand, I ask him to “go forward”, but instead of standing still, I move off with him about even with the saddle as he goes by. If he stops, I “kiss” rapidly and ask him to “go forward” again or tap him lightly just behind the stirrup where your heel would normally be. He will quickly understand that you want him to continue to walk. Practice this until he will walk off as soon as you raise your arm and “kiss”. Now gradually slide backward a little at a time paying out the rein with your left hand and your right hand on the saddle or the horse until you can walk along with your hand on his butt. If you do this too quickly, the horse will tend to turn to the left and circle back to you. If he does, walk forward, push his neck away from you and then drop back again until he “gets it”. At this point, you will need to flip the rein up over the saddle to support it and prevent any rein pressure on the left side. Note that the action of flipping the rein up over the saddle is the same motion as raising your arm for the “go forward” cue. Soon he will “anticipate” and walk off as soon as you dismount and flip the rein up over the saddle with your right hand. Continue to slide back until you can walk along with his tail in your right hand….no pull at this point. Scratch and play with his tail just like you did when you taught him to have his tail handled. When he is comfortable with this, slide back behind him with the rein over his butt, hold his tail and gently and lean back. You are now TAILING! I like to grip the tail with both hands with the rein still in my palm….just bundle it with the tail. It’s easier to keep your balance with both hands on rocky trail.
Move on to some gentle hills and then steeper ones. After a while, you and your horse will get “on the same page”. When you come to a hill, he will “expect” the tailing and continue to walk as you roll out of the saddle, disconnect the rein, toss it over the saddle and grab his tail as he comes by. Late in a ride, my guys will stop and ask me to get off on hills when they get tired!
As an advanced exercise, I teach tailing at a trot. The cue is a light slap on the butt with my hand and a “kiss”.
Try it….it takes a little work, but its fun to do and fun to teach.
Jim, Sun of Dimanche+, and Mahada Magic