The back pain of horses can be relieved by more than 80% if professionals pull on their tail in a controlled way. This is confirmed by a recent study conducted by Finnish researchers.
The stretching should be done lightly, evenly, at a straight, slightly downward angle, and only by a professional. That’s according to physiotherapist Heli K. Hyytiäinen, PhD, of the Department of Clinical Equine and Small Animal Medicine in the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in Finland.
The technique, called “tail pull” or “tail stretch,” results in relieving the horses’ pain in several parts of the spine with immediate effect. However, the causes of this are still unclear.
Tail stretching seems to affect soft tissue
As a reason for tail stretching to work, Hyytiäinen explains that the “deep core back muscles extend all the way into the tail head, so this may be a way of allowing these muscles to stretch.” Alternatively, however, the mechanism could relieve pain by mobilizing the nerves, as it does in humans.
Furthermore, she adds, “We do not think the technique works by pulling joints apart, which can happen during similar therapy in humans in which physiotherapists stretch out the vertebral column.” Instead, tail stretching is more likely to affect the soft tissue and possibly the nerves.
Separating the horses’ joints would be counterproductive, since they lie in a horizontal position and the back must be able to support a rider’s weight, Hyytiäinen said. That requires the joints to remain firm and compact because they must endure the forces that bear down on the spine during locomotion.
Measuring back pain using pressure meter
Within the study, the pain responses of 10 horses were measured using a pressure meter. The horses had varying degrees of back pain and mild lameness. In the first run, researchers noted how much pressure the horses endured at six points along the spine before showing signs of pain. Such behavioral responses could include muscle twitching, eyes widening or ear-pinning.
In the second run, the researchers pulled on each horse’s tail three times, at a 30-degree angle with the force of 4.5kg. They did this for 20 seconds with 10-second pauses in between. Afterwards, the pressure meter was applied to the six points again to check if the horses behaved differently.
The horses’ back pain was relieved by more than 80%.
The measurements showed success. According to Hyytiäinen, after tail stretching, the horses showed pain relief at all points tested. In particular, pain could be reduced by 83% in the chest area, in the part that supports a saddle. In the pelvis area there was an improvement of 52% and in the lumbar area by 50%.
Do not try this at home
Despite the success of the study, Heli K. Hyytiäinen says that owners should not pull their horses’ tails themselves to relieve their back pain. “This method should only be used by an educated professional, a physiotherapist, who has appropriate understanding of the entirety of the horse’s situation and skills to apply the technique safely and correctly,” the psychotherapist warned.