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Pilates for Horses - Part 4: The Tail

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This is the fourth in a series of blogs sharing top tip videos and extracts from my book Pilates and Stretching for Horses. In this blog we are focusing on the benefits of tail exercises.

gillian higgins horses inside out pilates for horses cover photograph painted horse skeleton carrot stretch

Why use the Horses Tail in Pilates Exercises?

The horse's tail is an extension of the spine. So, using the tail in exercises not only affects the tail itself but also the spine all the way forward. This of course, includes the back.

Using the tail can :-

  • Stretch the muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues within and surrounding the spine

  • Have an influence the horse's balance and centre of mass, thereby stimulating recruitment of core postural muscles

  • Encourage relaxation within the spine

  • Help with realignment of the spine

  • Have an influence on spinal nerves.

Anatomy of the Tail

There are between 18 and 22 tail vertebrae. These are sometimes called caudal or coccygeal vertebrae. The tail vertebrae themselves start at the end of the sacrum. The first three vertebrae are actually within the hindquarters. The remainder continue to the end of the dock. The vertebra decrease in size until they are only small cubes of bone.

The spinal cord does not continue through the tail vertebrae. It ends at the cauda equina, in the horse's sacrum. However, some nerves do continue to the end of the dock.

Throughout the spine there are ligaments that connect each vertebrae to the next. This is rather like a chain. This system of ligaments, starting at the poll continues right to the end of the dock. There are also fascial and connective tissue links throughout the entire spine.

The muscles, which you can feel within the tail itself, originate further forward at the sacrum and last few lumbar vertebrae. However, as they are part of groups and chains of muscles, they cannot be considered in isolation. Thus, the muscles which move the tail are connected directly to, and can influence and be influenced by the back and spinal muscles in general and the longissimus dorsi and multifidus in particular.

Position of the Tail

The position of the tail can be an indicator of the health and movement further forward within the spine. For example, in a free or extended walk, where the horse is swinging freely through his back, this is reflected in a loose swinging tail. Conversely, if a horse changes the position of this tail, for example if he dramatically starts to hold it to one side or clamps it down, this can be an indicator of pain, discomfort or trauma wither within the tail itself or further forward in the spine.

Exercises Involving the Tail

In this video I share 4 different exercises involving the tail. To see more exercises view the Horses Inside Out online video Pilates for Horses.

To see more tutorial videos like this visit our Academy

gillian higgins horses inside out tail mobilisation stretches how to do

gillian higgins horses inside out how to do whole spine extension stretches pilates

I hope you have found the information and tips in this blog useful. Please try out the exercises on your own horse and let me know how you get on.

Gillian :-)

Learn more about Pilates for Horses

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Unknown member
Aug 09, 2022

What is an exercise that can help a sticky stifle due to loose ligaments? I've a 3 year old TB that has had sticky stifles since she was about 1.5 years old. Vet originally said it would fix itself as she grew. Then said I should send her to a trainer who could do exercise with her and build her quadriceps. She can go months without sticking then suddenly usually after stall confinement and always in the morning pne stifle sticks. Or if she gets stressed. Occasionally both stick. Mostly she can unstick them herself but sometimes she needs help. A farrier showed me how to push on the patella to unstick it. But once unstuck she is fine a…

Replying to

Thanks for your comment. There are a couple of recorded webinars that I'd recommend you watch. Both of them are available to purchase and view on the Horses Inside Out Academy.

Poles for Posture - and Collection and Engagement -

Hope these webinars help yo with our horse. Allison, Horses Inside Out

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