The trainer or non-pro is riding to win, but that dang horse’s tail keeps wringing. It is not a penalty but it detracts from the overall quality of the run, and the score goes down. There is a fix for that; tail blocking or nerving the tail. If you watch reining classes or are loping around in a warm-up pen, you will see a tail just hanging flat even in spins, slides, back-ups and fast circles.
Under the medications rule it is illegal, but have you ever seen someone being pulled out of competition for a lifeless tail? Most likely not. Are the horses drug tested – rarely.
The tail of a horse indicates its discomfort, pain, frustration or annoyance. The vision of a horse wringing its tail when spinning, lead changing, backing up could see you lose a ½ point or more in quality on a maneuver. Over a few maneuvers, those points can be slipping away quickly and out of the money. Is the risk of blocking worth it? For some, yes as they know they will not be pulled up by judges and stewards if they have the right friends and influence. You just have to look at the irregular application of fines and penalties.
Tail swishing is often linked to poor training methods, improper use of spurs, or to the horse being “ring sour,” i.e. burned-out on competition or being hammered day-in-day-out in their training program. If they have a horse that is a top contender, but the horse lets the world know its issues, then the line of ethical and unethical is confronted.
How do some reiners solve the problem; numb or nerve block the sensation of the nerve endings so the horse cannot move the tail.
Now the reining people will start shouting this down as that is how they manage all awareness of cruelty going on in their sport. Intimate, deny and bully. The more they shout, the more likely you have hit a nerve, so to speak.
A horses tail is part of its spine and plays and important role in their balance. While there are signals of problems with the horse, prior blocking, the issues increase ten-fold when they lose the function that is part of their balance to perform.
Tailing blocking is quite controversial because many seem to believe nothing is wrong with the practice and it can be done without a trace (sometimes). Like all cruelty, its justifiable to anyone who is over-trusting, stupid or gullible enough to listen. After all, many think it is only temporary. Wrong.
Trainers can nerve tails without owners even knowing, just to keep the horse in the barn or to win an event. Some get away with it time after time. It is only the physical evidence that tells the owner something is seriously wrong, if they visit the horse at the barn. If they care for their horse they will be seeking for justice, but the NRHA does not impose fines on anyone outside of a show event. Most tail nerving problems occur back at the barn before a horse gets a show. The barn is where the NRHA hides behind their (un)governed code of ethics for all trainers that is not enforced. Why have a code of ethics if its not enforced on those that signed up for it???
What horses suffer from tail blocking
There are many cases where the tail blocking is permanent, and more than people may realize. The tail is left damaged, hanging limply with the horse defecating all over itself cause it cannot move the tail to the side. The mare is peeing down herself. The horse cannot flick flies away. The horse becomes an invalid, requiring frequent daily attention to wipe the manure and urine away. Without the manual cleaning, the horse can become flyblown. Mares can become infected in the uterus and become problem breeders or barren.
Another complication that may occur is a temporary inability to defecate and/or urinate due to paralysis of the muscles that control rectum and bladder emptying. This requires veterinary care to assist the animal to defecate and urinate. In extreme cases, especially if the alcohol injected migrates from the tail to nearby muscles and skin, damage can be so severe that necrosis can set in. Another damaging outcome is the development of a form of body paralysis due to nerve damage in the hindquarters.
These can be problems for a few weeks or months, but many have permanent damage with owners sending them to the slaughterhouse.
How is the tail blocked or nerved?
The tail can be blocked by veterinarians, much like a nerve blocking to a leg. However, more often it is done using alcohol for the cheap, untraceable, behind the barn version that no-one is to know about. The bad trainers and owners preferred method.
The major nerves of a horse’s tail are injected with alcohol to stop the horse’s ability to lift, or even move it’s tail. The results from injecting can be the introduction of an infection to the tail. Tail circulation is poor, and injuries are slow to heal, and infections can persist and spread into the leg, into the back, etc. Worst case, you have a dead horse on your hands.
Conversely, grain alcohol acts locally and degrades the myelin sheaths of the nerves so that the horse cannot move its tail. Injections are usually applied directly to the tail at a certain point at the base of the dock. If the wrong point is used the problems of infection escalate. Some inject slightly down from the base of the dock so that the horse may appear to carry its tail in a natural manner, but only for the first few inches, and the animal still cannot move the entire tail structure. This is often undetectable, though injections can sometimes leave white spots above the tail dock like the horse in the image or the sliding horse with obvious tail marks in the main image. These are often treated with hair die to cover the evidence at shows.
Needless to say, with an untraceable drug used; tail blocking can, and is, happening more than one cares to believe.
While promoters of the practice claim that most grain alcohol injections eventually wear off, if done carefully, a poorly done injection can cause abscesses or permanent nerve damage. Sometimes normal tail function never returns.
Read the story of Gator, where a trainer convinced an owner it was just the done thing to inject tails. Gator went from a world champion paint contender to a long-suffering, then ultimately a pasture horse.
Next time you see a reining horse flying down the pen with a flat tail – you are most likely looking at a blocked tail. Take note if the judges or stewards do anything about it on the day. Were drug tests being done? Most likely not according to the low number of horses tested. Does the person appear in the suspended list?