Horse Skin Conditions: Battling Tail Rubbing

Posted by Gabby Gufler, Tue, Sep 1, 2015

We as horse owners go to great lengths to get our horse’s tails to grow long and thick! So when our horse consistently rubs their tail into a frayed and matted mess, we are determined to get to the bottom of the problem as quickly as possible. Listed below are a few of the most common causes of tail rubbing in horses to help you pinpoint the source and find a solution.

Sweet Itch

Seasonal tail rubbing is often the result of hypersensitivity to certain insects. This type of reaction is known as “sweet itch.” Sweet itch is a reaction to salivary antigens from the bites of Culicoides gnats (also called “no-see-’ems”). Small, itchy papules form on the skin. The horse’s mane and tail head are especially susceptible, and hair loss is often caused by rubbing the affected sites. Scabbing and ulceration can result from this self-mutilation. ( 

Preventing Sweet Itch in Horses:

  • Culicoides tend to feed at dusk and dawn, so stable horses during this time if possible
  • Gnats are not great fliers; placing fans in your horse’s stalls will help deter them
  • Culicoides need standing water to reproduce. It is best to stall your horse away from ponds and clean all water troughs and buckets regularly
  • Use effective horsefly sprays on a regular basis
  • Use fly sheets and fly masks on your horse to create a physical barrier between them and the pesky insects
  • Keep a topical treatment on hand that is formulated to treat and soothe sweet itch in horses. We recommend Corona® Fung-A-Way!


Another culprit of tail rubbing is internal parasites. The most well-known culprit is pinworms, a common intestinal parasite that can cause irritation around the anus. A horse with pinworms will often rub their rear end in every way imaginable, causing the dock of the tail to become raw.

The best way to tell if your horse has pinworms is to have them examined by your veterinarian. The most effective treatment is implementing a de-worming program with the help of your vet.

Did you know? Infected equines can deposit pinworm eggs into fence posts, feed or water troughs when they are rubbing their tail. Other horses can be infected by accidentally ingesting the larvae. Pinworm eggs can develop within three days and persist for around one month in the environment!

Dry Itchy Skin

Is your horse’s skin a bit dry and scaly? Wash your horse thoroughly with a hydrating shampoo such as Corona Concentrated Shampoo. It is also wise to apply soothing topicals such as Corona Fung-A-Way to especially dry areas.

Helpful Tip: When you wash your horse with a shampoo, make sure you rinse well! Shampoo residue can remain on the skin and cause more tail itching.


It is also possible that your horse’s tail rubbing is due to an allergy to an ingredient in their diet. Each horse is an individual and must be evaluated as such. Examples of food ingredients that have been reported to cause allergies include alfalfa, wheat, oats, concentrates, brans and tonics. (


Behavior problems often appear when the horse becomes bored from excessive stall confinement. Some have been noted to develop a habit of rubbing their tail. Try to ensure that your horse receives adequate daily turnout if the weather or their physical condition allows.

Dirty Sheath

If enough debris accumulates in a gelding or stallion’s sheath (although less common in stallions due to breeding), he may demonstrate discomfort by rubbing his tail. The solution is simple: Have your veterinarian sedate your horse and do a thorough sheath cleaning, paying attention to every nook and cranny.

As we can see, a variety of problems can cause itching and trail rubbing. After determining the cause of tail rubbing with your veterinarian, you should be able to rapidly resolve the issue and your horse’s tail can return to its full glory!

Gabby Gufler

Gabby Gufler graduated from Truman State University in 2013 with a BS in Animal Science & Nutrition and a minor in Equine Science. Gabby currently works on Manna Pro’s marketing team, and enjoys competing regularly with her six horses.