Tail chewing is a vice that normally occurs in very young horses. A tail chewing foal will either chew his mother's tail or another horse's that is in the pasture with him. Tail chewing is a problem because it both mars the appearance of the other horse and can cause digestive problems for the tail chewer if the hair is actually ingested.
Why Foals Chew Tails
There is no single confirmed cause for tail chewing behavior. Different theories exist as to why foals begin exhibiting this behavior. Possible causes include nutritional deficiencies, teething, boredom and even just playing. Discuss your foal's diet with your veterinarian if your foal begins chewing on the tails of other horses. A mineral deficiency may be responsible for the vice and it will need to be corrected in order to stop the behavior.
Identifying the Tail Chewer
If you only have one foal and his dam is the one who is losing her tail, then the culprit is pretty obvious. If you have a group of foals, your tail chewer is likely to be the foal who does not have any damage to his own tail. If multiple foals could be the culprit you will need to spend time observing the horses until you are able to determine which foal is exhibiting the behavior. If you cannot determine which foal is the chewer, you may have to treat all the horses as if they are the guilty party in order to minimize damage.
Separating the Tail Chewer
The easiest way to stop the damage from a tail chewing foal is to separate the foal from all of the other horses until he outgrows the behavior. Provide your foal with plenty of turnout and toys to occupy his time. Separation is not the best option because of a young horse's need to socialize and the space constraints most people face, but if your foal is damaging the tails of competitive horses or causing your horse intestinal problems, then it may be your only choice. Also, if the foal is not yet weaned then separation is clearly not an option.
Deterring the Tail Chewer
You may have to try multiple solutions and some foals may continue to chew regardless of what you do. Possible deterrents include using foul-tasting non-toxic shampoos and conditioners on your horses' tails to give the tail hair a bad taste. Leaving some soap in the tail may help with this, though it won't improve the tail's texture any. Petroleum jelly, hot peppers and various other foul-tasting substances can also deter a chewer, but consult your veterinarian before trying any specific remedies on your horses.
Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.