Scientists found that a professional’s light, steady, straight pull at a slightly downward angle relieved pain at several sites along the equine spine.
Pulling a horse’s tail to relieve back pain might seem like a surprising approach to some owners, or even unfounded. But researchers have just confirmed this technique—in the hands of experienced professionals—works.
Commonly called a “tail pull” or a “tail stretch,” caudal traction—as it’s known among scientists—can provide immediate relief to discomfort in the area, Hyytiäinen said. How it does this is, however, not fully understood.
A light, steady, straight pull at a slightly downward angle appears to make horses feel less pain in several critical sites along the sides of the spine, said physiotherapist Heli K. Hyytiäinen, PhD, of the Department of Clinical Equine and Small Animal Medicine in Finland.
We do know 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,” Hyytiäinen said ”Or the mechanism may be via mobilization of the nerves (neural mobilization), which is known to provide pain relief in humans. 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.” Equine caudal traction seems to affect soft tissue more, and possibly nerves as well, she said.
“The soft tissue structures of the horses’ backs are very complex, and the tail is an important part of all those structures, so the effect may be based on very different mechanisms than, for example, in humans,” said Hyytiäinen, adding that separating horses’ joints probably wouldn’t be preferable. They need to stay firm and compact because of their horizontal position and the need to support a rider’s weight, and to allow them to endure the forces subjected to their spines during locomotion, she explained."
Exciting and Surprising, but Not to be Tried at Home!
Such significant changes came as a surprise, Hyytiäinen said. However, this doesn’t mean owners should start pulling their horses’ tails to relieve any back pain. She cautioned that the technique should be reserved for professionals.
“I am not suggesting that people should pull their horse’s tails ever—and especially if the horse’s back is painful,” she said. “On the contrary … 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. There is more to it than just pulling the tail of a horse.”
Article written by Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA
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