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What Is A Bobbed Tail Horse?

Most horse enthusiasts will have come across a bobbed tail horse at some point during their lives, and if so, you might be interested in learning more about this situation and why this became common practice.

Few horses have naturally bobbed tails (although there are some out there) and it can look quite strange to see a horse without a long, flowing tail on its rear end.

For a long time, bobbing was very popular for several reasons, and it even became a fashion statement in certain parts of the world, but it is quite a controversial practice and can cause various issues.

Bobbing a horse’s tail may be done for practical reasons, but more and more people are standing against this and it generally raises pretty strong opinions.

It may also cause health problems and the process is likely to be painful for a horse, which has led to many modern entities banning it.

Numerous studies have stood against the bobbing of horses’ tails at any age, and bobbing has fallen out of practice in many places.

Horses use their tails for many different things, such as sweeping away biting insects and communicating with each other. Removing a horse’s tail is considered inhumane by most people now, and “bobbed” horses are becoming few and far between, except occasionally for safety reasons.

What Is A Bobbed Tail Horse?

A bobbed tail horse is a horse that has had its tail removed permanently, and this is sometimes known as docking (something that is also done to dogs at times). In general, docking unfortunately usually involves either amputation or ligature; these processes result in the permanent removal of the tail, rather than it simply being cut off and allowed to regrow.

In the past, amputation was undertaken by simply cutting off the tail and cauterizing the wound, but if it is required in today’s world, it is done surgically with an anesthetic to make it less traumatic and painful for the horse. However, this method is still unpleasant and unless there are health reasons for the removal, it should not be done.

Ligature involved docking the horse’s tail by tying it off tightly until it died and fell away; this is a long and extremely painful process, as horses’ tails are complicated and include many different structures, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This was commonly done to foals as it was thought they feel less pain (although this has been disproved). Both of these processes can cause lingering pain even after the tail has been removed, and should be avoided unless amputation is necessary for the horse’s health.

Why Are Some Horse’s Tails Bobbed?

There are two major reasons for a horse’s tail to be bobbed or docked: it makes it safer to hitch the horse up to certain kinds of equipment, and for a while, people found it aesthetically pleasing and preferred it to the un-bobbed tail that a horse naturally has. At one time, this was done with riding horses, racehorses, carriage horses, and more – and the nobility considered it unfashionable to have a horse’s tail long and free.

Originally, docking the tail was done for practical purposes, and there were a whole variety of reasons, such as safety when hitched to certain kinds of equipment in which the tail could snag, ease of mating, and sanitation. It was thought that a docked tail was cleaner and kept the horse safe from parasites. Both the idea that it made mating safer and the thought that it is more sanitary have been disproved, and in situations where a horse’s tail does need to be kept out of the way, bandaging it temporarily is a preferable alternative to docking it permanently.

It was thought for a while that the mare’s tail got in the way of a stallion trying to mate with her, and this led breeders to bob mares’ tails. However, it is now believed that if there was a genuine issue with a mare’s tail when mating, this would have been corrected by evolution long ago. The same holds true for the argument about parasites and hygiene.

Is It Illegal To Bob A Horse’s Tail?

Whether it is legal or not will depend on where you are located in the world. In the United States, ten states have banned the bobbing of horses’ tails (barring medical necessity or an emergency) and bobbing them for cosmetic reasons or to use a horse to operate certain machinery is illegal. Many vets stand against the practice and would refuse to carry out such procedures.

Some states have not made bobbing illegal, and it does still occur in such places, although much more rarely and with more care given to the health of the horse. Overall, however, it is still a very outdated practice that many people consider active cruelty. There are a few defenders of the practice, but most of the claims that it does not hurt the horse or that it is better for their health have been disproved by scientific studies.

If you own a horse, you should always check carefully before undertaking any surgical procedure on its tail, such as bobbing or nicking or blocking (similar procedures designed to alter how the tail behaves). Most of Europe has banned bobbing, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners opposes any tail alteration that is not medically necessitated.


A bobbed tail horse used to be a common sight throughout the Western world, and many songs and poems still contain lines that refer to this practice, but on the whole, it has disappeared from common use, probably because it was proven to be detrimental to the horse overall. Animal rights groups and common decency among people saw a major move against docking, especially as science started to prove that it did not provide a benefit to the horse, and generally only served to please people’s sense of aesthetics and fashion. In situations where the tail does need to be kept out of the way, it is best to do this via bandaging, saving the horse from major stress and pain, and allowing it to behave naturally the rest of the time.