Tail Extensions 101
Five definite do’s with your horse’s tail extension.
September 30, 2014
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
When it comes to using a tail extension on your horse, one thing is certain: It shouldn’t stand out as an artificial tail. If it brings attention to itself and takes attention away from your riding performance, it’s a bad tail job. “You want to complement, not overpower the horse with your tail extension,” says Barb Delf, owner and operator of Custom Tails. Barb has hand-built hundreds of tail extensions over the years, and she has seen their use and abuse at hundreds of shows. Here are her top five tips on what to do when it comes to buying and using a tail extension.
Match the Color
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the free-flowing tail hair from the bottom of the horse's tailbone down is the color that you want to match. A lot of times they think more about matching the color that’s up high on the tailbone, and that’s often a lighter color.
When you are looking for a color match, you need to stand back about 10 feet and look at your horse’s free-flowing tail hair. That’s going to give you a good overall color impression of the color you need to match.
If you’re taking that horse’s tail hair in hand and looking at it from 6 inches or so, you’re going to be overwhelmed by color. You need the big picture.
Take a sorrel tail, for example. When you stand back, you get an idea that it’s medium sorrel or light sorrel or cinnamon.
But when you take that same tail hair and look at it from 6 inches away, you see all kinds of shades within that color, and it’s going to make your job way harder than it needs to be.
Get the Right Length
Tail extensions come in all different lengths, and you want one that fits your horse.
You can actually make do with an extension that is too long by braiding it up higher on the tailbone. I actually like to braid them in a little bit higher on the tailbone because having that tailbone behind the tail extension gives it more stability.
But you cannot get away with a tail extension that’s too short. If you try to go with a too-short extension thinking you can hang it in an inch or two below the tailbone, you’re going to get that unnatural, swinging pendulum effect with the extension.
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You might as well take the time to get the right color and measure for the correct length.
I tell people to start the tape measure from where they are going to braid the horse's tail extension in. Some people are comfortable braiding the tail extension in so it’s snugged up right against the bottom of the tailbone. Other people like to go up two or three inches along the tailbone.
If you’re buying for a young horse, especially, I suggest measuring up 2 or 3 inches on the tailbone because if they have a growth spurt, you can just drop the tail extension down to make up the difference for the amount they grew. You’ll still be on tailbone to braid in, and you won’t have to invest in a new tail extension because the horse outgrew the old one.
Then you drop the tape measure down to however long you want the tail to be. For event or pleasure horses, it should be no longer than the point of the fetlock. Halter horses will often go a little bit shorter.
Get the Right Thickness
You want the right fullness that will compliment your horse.
Right now there is a trend for the really big-tailed look. And there are a number of horses that can carry that off. But the fuller the tail, the more risk you run of having it catch between the hocks, especially if the horse is really deep-hocked at the lope. And that is detrimental to a pretty look as the horse goes down the rail.
If your horse has a really thin tail, then, yes, you might want to bump up to something more full to make up for the hair that’s no longer there. But you still want it to be appropriate for the horse’s conformation and the natural hair he would normally have.
For example, on yearling longe-liners, you know they’ve not lived long enough to grow enough tail hair to where you cut it off straight at the bottom. You want the tail to be appropriate to their age and the discipline. In that case, a half-pound tail with a tapered look is more natural.
Every discipline has differences. For the rail events or the all arounds, the 1-pound tail continues to be the most popular in fullness. Halter horses and the yearlings usually go with the half-pound and sometimes a three-quarter pound if it’s a big, stout yearling or a halter horse that just needs more tail.
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Very rarely do we put a 1-pound tail in a halter horse just because exhibitors in that event want the horse to look really, really natural and they don’t want people to think they have a tail extension in.
Tie It Well
The most important thing in having a good-looking tail extension is keeping it tied up snug against the tailbone. If you’re braiding up against the tailbone, that tail extension has no choice but to go wherever the tail goes. If it’s dangling by an inch or two away from the tailbone, that’s when you get that pendulum effect, where the tail goes one way and the tail extension goes the other way. And it’s not a nice, natural look.
You really want to braid it in, and I stress that a lot with people who haven’t worked with tail extensions a lot. It’s going to stay in better that way. If you’ve never done it before, the weight of the tail extension is going to make the braiding awkward at first. But the more you practice, the easier it’s going to be.
Keep It Clean
Another thing people don't realize is how important it is to show with a clean tail extension. That’s really how you get that beautiful, natural look.
I know that when you’re done showing, and it’s been a long day, the last thing you want to do is to schlep out to the wash rack with your tail extension and wash it, but it makes a world of difference. A clean, silky, untangled tail extension is just going to flow with the horse’s own tail and look really, really nice.
If it hasn’t been washed in a while or you’ve been trying to take shortcuts with a bit of grooming product and brushing – that’s when you get a clumped tail extension, and it doesn’t look natural.
You also increase the longevity of your tail extension if you keep it clean and properly stored in a tail bag.