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Little Jane 03-18-2013 11:49 PM

A twitching tail when performing
I've recently had a bit of a discussion with a friend about tail-twitching. Specifically, what does it mean when a horse twitches his tail while performing or executing a movement? I've seen this mostly in dressage-type work: piaffes, collected canters, pirouettes, etc. I thought it meant the horse had either been trained with somewhat aversive methods or that the horse wasn't completely mentally OK with the work, but my friend didn't think so. So ... what does tail-twitching mean?

Here is the video she showed me that initially sparked the conversation. Even my non-horsey sister commented that it looked like the horse was uncomfortable.

Also, was that a clicker he was using in the video? If so, can someone please explain exactly what the trainer was marking with the clicker? It sounded like a clicker, but it seems to be very different from the way dog and cat trainers use it, which is my only experience with a clicker.

Thank you!


Back2Horseback 03-19-2013 01:49 AM

Thank you for this post, Little Jane! I was planning on asking the same question a few weeks back and forgot...I've been quite curious for some time to understand what the consensus is regarding this issue or perhaps various basic theories if there is no "one perfect answer"...

I've heard, as well, that it is an indicator of one of three things:
°Dissatisfaction with what the horse is being asked to do, either due to said horse being mentally ill-prepared for the task, or physically disliking the task,
°Excessive flies/environmental irritants to which horse is hyper-responsive.

Which, if any, or all, are correct, or what other theories do you guys have?

Thanks, OP! Sorry I didn't have any answers, only more questions!

Deschutes 03-19-2013 01:59 AM

There was a thread regarding dressage and tail twitching about a year ago. I don't remember all of it, but another reason is kind of how the horse keeps in "time". Like a metronome or a foot tapping when playing music.

The clicking I think was trying to stimulate a beat in which the horse can do the piaffe with. Whenever I think of dressage, I think of it as dancing on horseback, almost.

Another reason could be for balance, also.

I'm not entirely 100% on these answers, but someone else can explain more easily/correctly than I.
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Deschutes 03-19-2013 02:10 AM

Here, watch this. Sorry, I can't embed.
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upnover 03-19-2013 12:51 PM

While tail swishing can mean annoyance/discomfort/etc it can also happen when a horse is putting out a lot of effort like performing a difficult movement. Even when they are perfectly happy and comfortable doing it. If you watch some tests you can almost see them swish their tails to the beat of what they're doing. Even some grand prix horses flick their tails when they're really putting a lot of effort into the jump.

Copperhead 03-19-2013 12:57 PM

Agree with everyone else with aggravation and annoyance. It can also mean that whatever you're asking is mentally and physically hard for the horse so it's a small form a protest. Not always negative as some maneuvers are very physically hard for horses, but if you back off every time a horse twitches a tail then not one horse would be trained.

It can also signify concentration on a harder maneuver. Lol I keep editing to add... But generally tail twitching is frowned upon in dressage for reasons being the horse should be fluid without a sign of protest, and tail cranking can be that sign.
Never heard of a horse twitching its tail to keep time.
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DancingArabian 03-19-2013 01:02 PM

Remember that the tail is an extension of the spine. I'm pretty sure that the muscles that make it move are connected to the spine as well. A hard working back can mean an expressive (swishy) tail. It doesn't always mean unhappy horse.

Now on some horses, like my freak, how high the tail is is equivalent to how naughty and fresh he's feeling. He's an Arab so there's always some level of a love of life in him but when his tail is vertical I know I'm in for it.
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Little Jane 03-19-2013 01:05 PM

Thank you everyone for the responses! I'm glad to know that it doesn't always mean negative things.

Interesting to be using the clicker to keep beat . . . Does anyone have any more insights on his use of the clicker? Is that a common thing to do? When I've seen clickers used before, the click has been used to mark a specific behavior.

Thank you again!

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DancingArabian 03-19-2013 01:08 PM

I know some people who train with a metronome. Same function as a clicker except you're not doing the timekeeping.
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Little Jane 03-19-2013 01:08 PM


Originally Posted by DancingArabian (Post 1955650)
Now on some horses, like my freak, how high the tail is is equivalent to how naughty and fresh he's feeling. He's an Arab so there's always some level of a love of life in him but when his tail is vertical I know I'm in for it.
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My mare is part Arab, and she does this too :D
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