Bad Hair Day?

A horse-showing expert explains how to get the perfect show-day tail.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

“If you’re using a tail extension, you want a seamless look where everything blends together,” says Barb Delf, owner and operator of Custom Tails. An avid AQHA exhibitor, she has been producing horse tail extensions since 1999 from her shop in Blue Grass, Iowa.

She says a good tail extension should improve your horse’s overall picture in the same ways as clean tack, a creased hat or shined boots.

“As your horse is going down the rail, you don’t want people going, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at that tail.’ You want, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at that horse.’ ”

Barb points out that the path to a great-looking tail extension is in simple details. As examples, the Journal asked her to comment on the tails with extensions pictured here, which were taken at the same AQHA show. All three have problems with very easy fixes.

Poor Color

“For all three tails, less than perfect color match is the first thing that jumps out as far as what needs to be addressed,” Barb says.

The gray tail has “too much salt to the pepper.” Even though the rider might have wanted to highlight the gray, the color change between natural hair and the extension is too drastic.

Conversely, the palomino extension is a shade too dark and the sorrel a couple of shades too dark for the horses’ natural tail colors.

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“My idea of a good tail extension is that it looks like the horse grew himself a really nice tail,” Barb says. “When you have obvious changes in color, it doesn’t look like that. It’s a big deterrent to the overall picture.”

Need Cleaning

However, Barb points out that you can get away with a less-than-ideal color match if you really blend the extension hair with the horse’s natural hair. That only happens when both are very clean.

“On the palomino in particular, they could have gotten a better blend if they had taken the time to wash the tail extension so it’s silky and free-flowing,” Barb says. “A clean tail extension combined with clean tail hair – that’s going to blend together the best.

“If you’ve used your tail extension two to four times and haven’t taken the time to wash it out, when you braid it in, you’re going to get a clump of tail extension and a clump of tail hair. When you watch those tails go down the rail, you’ll see that separation and not a seamless blend of hair.” The separation is even clearer with a poor color match.

To Barb’s eye, all three tail extensions look like they need cleaning. Ideally, your horse’s tail and the extension should be washed after every show day. Hang the extension to dry overnight, then use detangler in the morning before you braid it back in.

“Tail extensions hang five inches from the ground. Every time that horse takes a step, he’s kicking up dirt,” Barb says. “There is also arena dust, sweat and hair-care product getting on that tail extension and tail, being worked in and layered. You’ve got a dirty tail by the end of the day.”

As an exhibitor herself, Barb knows cleaning is not always possible. “I’m guilty, too,” she says. “Say all I did one day was showmanship and halter. Well, I might fudge and not wash my tail extension that night.

“But if I’ve been in rail classes, I’m going to take the time to wash my horse’s tail and the tail extension, knowing that in the morning I’ll start out with a clean tail and extension that will braid in easier, brush out better and look fabulous.”

Are They Too Short?

At first judgment, the gray and the sorrel tail extensions hang too short. For the ideal length, especially in rail classes, Barb recommends a tail extension that hangs to the fetlock from where it is braided at least one inch up the horse’s tailbone.

However, if you have to use a tail extension that’s too short for your horse, it’s better to braid it properly – snug against the tailbone and have it hang too short – than it is to braid it in below the tailbone to get the extension to reach the fetlock. Extensions not braided to the tailbone don’t move with the tail and have a noticeably artificial, pendulous swing to them.

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“On the gray, I give them extra credit for taking the lesser of two evils, if that’s why that tail is too short,” Barb says.

The gray and sorrel’s exhibitors also get plus scores on Barb’s card if they braided the extensions higher up the tailbone to get them out of the way for a specific class.

“For example, if the horse is in showmanship, and there’s a lot of backing in the pattern and the horse sits really deep, it’s a good idea to braid the extension up a little higher to get the tail out of the way,” she explains. “That way, you don’t run the risk of the horse stepping on it when he’s backing. The same is true if it’s a trail class with a lot of raised obstacles that the tail could brush.”

Again, ideally, you want a tail extension that is long enough to hang at the fetlock when properly braided to the tailbone, and that can be braided up higher if you need to shorten it.


“It’s the little things that make the difference,” Barb says, and points to the stragglers in the sorrel tail.

“With this tail, it appears that the longer hairs are on the outside of the tail, which suggests that the horse’s own tail hair is longer than the tail extension. I would trim those stragglers. There’s not enough of the horse’s natural hair there to give the illusion of a longer tail; it looks sloppy.”

If you like a wavy look in your horse’s tail, Barb recommends putting the wave in both the extension and your horse’s natural hair. Or make sure both the tail and the extension hair are straight.

“On the sorrel horse, it appears that they braided the horse’s own tail hair, but not the extension,” Barb says, leaving the horse’s tail hair wavy and the extension hair straight. It keeps the hair from blending.

To get a wave in the tail extension, you simply braid it wet and let it dry just as you do your horse’s tail. Depending on the extension’s thickness, you might have one to three braids.

“It is the little, simple things that make the difference,” Barb says. “I can’t stress enough that a clean tail, a clean tail extension, matched properly with a good color match and braided in properly makes for a world champion look. Why not take that to every horse show?”