<p>Wash and rinse the tail thoroughly and then spray it with hair polish while it’s wet. Allow it to dry completely. Then brush or comb it out, just as you normally would, starting with the ends of the hairs and gradually working your way up the tail, removing all tangles.</p>
<p>Start by trimming the layer of hairs on the underside/side of the tail, closest to your horse’s body. I’m right-handed, so I always find it easier to start on the right side. Stand behind and slightly to the right of him and grasp his tail firmly with your left hand several inches below where you intend to clip the hourglass. (If you’re left-handed and starting on the left side, stand behind and slightly to the left of him, hold the tail with your right hand and the clippers with your left.)</p><p>Keeping his tailbone straight, pull the tail away from his body at about a 45-degree angle. Continue to hold the tail very steady while you initiate the first stroke with the clipper blades in your right hand. Begin at the bottom of your planned hourglass shape, applying the same amount of pressure that you would if you were body clipping, always moving your clipper hand very slowly and deliberately. Keep the blades flush against the side of the dock as you clip at an angle for about an inch, then turn the clippers so the inner edge of the blades follows a small curve. Then continue clipping up the tail, following one smooth clip line, parallel to the hairline (with the blades still flush against the skin along the side of the dock), creating a half-inch-wide strip of trimmed hair.</p>
<p> As you get close to the top of the dock, you may need to lift the tail slightly higher to make room for the clippers. Be careful not to poke your horse’s body with the edges of the clipper blades.</p><p>Depending on how thick his dock is, you may need to make a second stroke parallel to the first one to trim away an additional half-inch of hair from the side of the dock. Every tail is different, so take the time to step back and re-evaluate your progress after each stroke.</p>
<p>Now it’s time to create the hourglass shape by trimming the hairs closest to you (but still on the sides of the dock) that form the edges of the tail. Still holding the tail firmly in your left hand—being sure there’s no flex or bend in the tailbone—bring it a little closer to your horse’s body, so that it hangs more in its natural position. Flip the clippers over so that they face down in the direction of the tail hairs, with the blade once again flush against the skin on the side of the dock. Rest the fingers of your clipper hand against your horse’s body to keep it steady and then, starting at the top of the dock, run the clippers downward, shortening the ends of the edge hairs as you go. Again, take your time, moving the clippers very slowly and smoothly.</p>
<p>As your hand moves downward, let the contour of your horse’s hamstring muscle be your guide. When you get close to the point of the buttocks, allow the clippers to move ever so slightly inward, creating the narrow part of the hourglass shape. Then expand outward again to form the bottom of the hourglass.</p>
<p>Release the tail and step back to evaluate the shape. Again, depending on your horse’s tail, you may need to make a few small touch-ups to complete the desired shape.</p><p>Now it’s time to repeat the process on the other side (in this example, the left). To do this, step around to that side and reverse what your hands did previously: Grasp the tail with your dominant (right, in this case) hand and hold the clippers with your non-dominant (left, in this case) hand. This will feel strange at first, but it’s the only way to shape the tail properly.</p>
<p>Ta da! The final result will be a nice hourglass shape!</p>
You’ve decided to bite the bullet and give the top of your horse’s tail the hourglass shape that you’ve seen big-time event horses sporting. Warning: This job is not for the faint of heart! One slip of the clippers and you’re in porcupine-tail territory. It takes months for a poorly shaped tail to grow out, so you’re going to want to get it right the first time. Just to be safe, I don’t recommend doing this immediately before a show.
A few additional cautions before you get started: If your horse has never had his tail clipped before, don’t do it alone. Instead of putting him on cross-ties, ask a friend to hold him. That way she can control any unexpected movements and give you a heads-up if he’s starting to look irritated. If you don’t know how your horse will react to clippers, take some time running them over his hindquarters, with the clippers turned on and the body part of them—not the blades—touching him, to get him accustomed to the noise and vibration. If he’s at all nervous—especially if there’s any chance of him kicking—ask a professional for help.
Regardless of your horse’s experience with this process, be sure to do it in a calm, quiet environment, where he won’t be bothered by distractions, like loud noises or flies.
Finally, after years of being warned to never stand directly behind a horse, you’re going to do exactly that. So be sure your horse is trustworthy—and stay on your toes.
• If your horse has an especially full tail and doesn’t mind having his tail hairs pulled (beware: Some really do!), after you’ve finished clipping the hourglass shape, pull any longer hairs that aren’t lying smooth. Grasp just a few hairs at a time, wrap them around your comb and pull them out, just as you would pull mane hairs. Remember, less is more—so don’t overdo it.
Alternatively, remove the clipper blade from the clippers and run it face-down over these errant hairs. The sharp edges between the teeth of the blade will cut the hairs shorter, creating a smoother look.
• Use a tail wrap to train the hairs to lie smooth. Before each grooming session, lightly dampen the hairs of the dock and then apply the tail wrap. Leave it on just for the duration of your grooming session, then remove it. With repetition, you’ll see the hairs begin to lie flatter. (Note: Never dampen the actual tail wrap or leave it on for extended periods of time. This could cause the tail hairs to fall out.)
• Add a little hair product (I like Shapley’s Mane Mousse) to the tail hairs before you wrap the tail.
Emma Ford grew up in North Devon, England, riding in the Pony Club and in the hunt field with her father, who was a Master of Foxhounds. She jumped in Great Britain’s famous Horse of the Year Show in 1991 before graduating from the University of Wales and moving to the United States to groom professionally for four-star eventer Adrienne Iorio for seven years. In 2005, Ford accepted a new position managing Olympian Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Since then, she has groomed at multiple Olympics, World Equestrian Games and Pan American Games. She was named the U.S. Eventing Association’s Professional Groom of the Year in 2007 and was awarded the Professional Riders Organization Liz Cochran Memorial Groom’s Award in 2012. Ford and Cat Hill co-authored the book World-Class Grooming for Horses and teach in-depth grooming and horse-care clinics around the country. For more information, go to WorldClassGrooming.com.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Practical Horseman.