horse stopping with blocked tail scars

Are Reining Trainers Getting Away with Blocking Tails to Win?

The trainer or non-pro is riding to win, but that dang horse’s tail keeps wringing. It is not a penalty but it detracts from the overall quality of the run, and the score goes down. There is a fix for that; tail blocking or nerving the tail.  If you watch reining classes or are loping around in a warm-up pen, you will see a tail just hanging flat even in spins, slides, back-ups and fast circles.

Under the medications rule it is illegal, but have you ever seen someone being pulled out of a competition for a lifeless tail? Most likely not. Are the horses drug tested – rarely?


The tail of a horse indicates its discomfort, pain, frustration or annoyance. The vision of a horse wringing its tail when spinning, lead changing, or backing up could see you lose a ½ point or more in quality on a maneuver. Over a few maneuvers, those points can be slipping away quickly and out of the money. Is the risk of blocking worth it? For some, yes as they know they will not be pulled up by judges and stewards if they have the right friends and influence. You just have to look at the irregular application of fines and penalties.

Tail swishing is often linked to poor training methods, improper use of spurs, or the horse being “ring sour,” i.e. burned out on competition or being hammered day-in-day-out in their training program. If they have a horse that is a top contender, but the horse lets the world know its issues, then the line between ethical and unethical is confronted.

How do some reiners solve the problem; numb or nerve block the sensation of the nerve endings so the horse cannot move the tail.

Now the reining people will start shouting this down as that is how they manage all awareness of cruelty going on in their sport. Intimate, deny and bully. The more they shout, the more likely they have hit a nerve, so to speak.

A horse’s tail is part of its spine and plays an important role in its balance. While there are signals of problems with the horse, prior to blocking, the issues increase ten-fold when they lose the function that is part of their balance to perform.

Tailing blocking is quite controversial because many seem to believe nothing is wrong with the practice and it can be done without a trace (sometimes). Like all cruelty, its justifiable to anyone who is over-trusting, stupid or gullible enough to listen. After all, many think it is only temporary. Wrong.

Trainers can nerve tails without owners even knowing, just to keep the horse in the barn or to win an event. Some get away with it time after time. It is only the physical evidence that tells the owner something is seriously wrong if they visit the horse at the barn. If they care for their horse they will be seeking justice, but the NRHA does not impose fines on anyone outside of a show event. Most tail nerving problems occur back at the barn before a horse gets a show. The barn is where the NRHA hides behind their (un)governed code of ethics for all trainers that is not enforced. Why have a code of ethics if it’s not enforced on those that signed up for it???

What horses suffer from tail blocking

There are many cases where tail blocking is permanent, and more than people may realize. The tail is left damaged, hanging limply with the horse defecating all over itself cause it cannot move the tail to the side. The mare is peeing down herself. The horse cannot flick flies away. The horse becomes an invalid, requiring frequent daily attention to wipe the manure and urine away. Without manual cleaning, the horse can become flyblown. Mares can become infected in the uterus and become problem breeders or barren.

Another complication that may occur is a temporary inability to defecate and/or urinate due to paralysis of the muscles that control the rectum and bladder emptying. This requires veterinary care to assist the animal to defecate and urinate. In extreme cases, especially if the alcohol injected migrates from the tail to nearby muscles and skin, damage can be so severe that necrosis can set in. Another damaging outcome is the development of a form of body paralysis due to nerve damage in the hindquarters.

These can be problems for a few weeks or months, but many have permanent damage with owners sending them to the slaughterhouse.

How is the tail blocked or nerved?

The tail can be blocked by veterinarians, much like nerve-blocking to a leg. However, more often it is done using alcohol for the cheap, untraceable, behind the barn version that no one is to know about. The bad trainers and owners preferred method.

The major nerves of a horse’s tail are injected with alcohol to stop the horse’s ability to lift, or even move its tail. The results of injecting can be the introduction of an infection to the tail. Tail circulation is poor, and injuries are slow to heal, and infections can persist and spread into the leg, into the back, etc. Worst case, you have a dead horse on your hands.

While simple local anesthetics could be used, such medications can show up in drug tests.

Conversely, grain alcohol acts locally and degrades the myelin sheaths of the nerves so that the horse cannot move its tail. Injections are usually applied directly to the tail at a certain point at the base of the dock. If the wrong point is used the problems of infection escalate. Some inject slightly down from the base of the dock so that the horse may appear to carry its tail in a natural manner, but only for the first few inches, and the animal still cannot move the entire tail structure. This is often undetectable, though injections can sometimes leave white spots above the tail dock like the horse in the image or the sliding horse with obvious tail marks in the main image. These are often treated with hair die to cover the evidence at shows.

Needless to say, with an untraceable drug used; tail blocking can, and is, happening more than one cares to believe.

While promoters of the practice claim that most grain alcohol injections eventually wear off, if done carefully, a poorly done injection can cause abscesses or permanent nerve damage. Sometimes normal tail function never returns.

Read the story of Gator, where a trainer convinced an owner it was just the done thing to inject tails. Gator went from a world champion paint contender to a long-suffering, then ultimately a pasture horse.

Next time you see a reining horse flying down the pen with a flat tail – you are most likely looking at a blocked tail. Take note if the judges or stewards do anything about it on the day. Were drug tests being done? Most likely not according to the low number of horses tested. Does the person appear in the suspended list?

Don’t forget to vote on our poll for change to improve the regulations to stop this happening.


© 2017 All Rights Reserved.

18 replies
  1. Justin Longmuir
    Justin Longmuir says:

    I’ve been saying this for years and been stoned down for raising it. Thanks for putting this out in the open.

  2. Cheryl Marshall
    Cheryl Marshall says:

    A friend of mine had a horse in training in TX and it was sent home unshown, after paying buckets of cash for training her. When she got there she had shit all over her and we went off at the transporter. We later had to apologize – the mare was wrecked from tail-blocking. She was PTS for humane reasons. Trainer got off “scott” free but the trainers always win in reining – in and out of the pen.

  3. Linda H
    Linda H says:

    I guess my question is why are the horse owners not sueing the horse trainers? We did for this very same topic and won. He,was charge with practicing vetinerary medicine with out a license, animal neglect, and cruelty. We took it to court and Yes we won.we started documenting everything and we built a case,against him. He did the tail block, it got infected, the tail fell off, and one vertebrae was amputated. He didnt ask nor did he have permission. Once we won the case and he was charged we took it to NRHA and AQHA. They did take action. I felt they should have done more.but we took a stand for what was right. Sad part he is still a trainer in the NRHA. This took place almost 20 years ago. When people entrust someone to train their animal that party should be held accountable for any type of neglect , misuse or abuse of your animal. It’s not cheap to have these horses in training. The least these trainers can do is treat your horse and you with respect and treat the horse humanely. But, it’s going to take the horse owners to stand up in doing so, if they know that a horse or if they suspect it being neglected, abused, mistreated or someone is administering something to their horse report it to the authorities. NRHA and all the other association’s are not going to do anything with out proof and that’s legal proof. It will not stop till horse owners start taking action.

    • Caroline S
      Caroline S says:

      People are intimidated to not taking action as they stand a high chance of being kicked out of the NRHA which is a problem if they have invested in horses and the sport. Trainer intimidation is a real issue and often the abused horses are just swept under the carpet. I know a couple of other NRHA professional trainers that are convicted horse abusers – but that does not seem to be a problem and they pass the ‘in good standing’ qualification in the view of the NRHA. its all about the money!!

  4. Donna
    Donna says:

    Done way to often / last barn I was boarding at had tail blocking day few months ago ?
    Some horse can from far to —

  5. Kaycee
    Kaycee says:

    I had no idea this was going on and it sickens me as much as seeing the beautiful tails of the budweiser Clydesdale docked for no good reason. Humans have been mutilating animals for greed and fashion for centuries and it’s allowed all over the world. It’s about time humans grew a heart and conscience when it comes to animals.

    • Asira
      Asira says:

      Carriage horses have docked tails for a purpose, not to get hung up in rigging and such. But blocking a tail is completely ridiculous, and not needed at all.

  6. Nena J. Winand, DVM
    Nena J. Winand, DVM says:

    It is a pervasive problem in the reining industry and one of the reasons I left the sport. As a veterinarian I cannot be involved in that type of thing. It is considered unethical by both the AVMA and AAEP. It is an abomination. I actually had a trainer tell me that if I didn’t have a filly’s tail fixed, she’d do it without telling me and cahrge me for something else! Um, not so much. Fired! As an owner it is your responsibility to manage your horse responsibly. I agree with the poster above-if someone does something unacceptable to your horse that can be documented, document it and sue them. Why should owners be intimidate at suing trainers? They certainly aren’t intimidated by the thought of suing veterinarians.

  7. Ronda
    Ronda says:

    Take action and name names!!! That is the only way this will ever be stopped. If you bring a lawsuit against them make sure you add NRHA to the suit, not that they will ever be liable but the thought that they might have to pay something might get them to take action. This is wrong!!

  8. Robin
    Robin says:

    Totally agree that tails should be left alone. That being said, the “coon tail” shown in the photos is almost always a natural marking.

  9. Susie Melchert10
    Susie Melchert10 says:

    Until NRHA enforces the rule on tail blocking, it will continue. I believe that at the upper level of competition, more tails are blocked than not. Just pay attention the next time you watch any of the futurity runs. Tails do not “flop” unless they have been blocked.Sadly, the practice of blocking tails in NRHA is common practice.

  10. Nrhanonpro
    Nrhanonpro says:

    The horses ado not have white in their tails from anything other than that is their natural color. They are rabicinos and probably have roan flanks as well. Get your lies straight and quit lying to people about untrue things. I’ve owned several that color with unaltered tails.

    • Animal Welfare
      Animal Welfare says:

      You are clearly not involved in reining as firsthand knowledge and observation is they are blocked and its a very common practice in Texas. You can see when they are showing that the tails are blocked. There are many people commenting about their experiences of blocked tails and vets writing about it in reining horses. You can walk through the barns and see the mares with their tails tied with rope to their necks pulling the tail sideways so they don’t piss in them. We find people deflecting from the truth abhorrent as you enable horse abuse.

  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Twenty five years ago, the practice of tail blocking was common.
    For most high- level show horses, it was a must tojave a horsez in a show barn or compete. The impression everyone had was it was harmless to do. Nothing has changed,
    We now know its not harmless, however, pull up any high- level horse show vid. .. tails blocked, fake tail attached, tails batting back and forth between the hind legs as the horse moves.

    When the APHA, AQHA, NRHA, and any other breed association starts enforcing their impotent regulations in the show ring, this practice will change imediately.
    These breed associations are in large part to blame. I strongly suspect 90-99% of the horses in high stakes level showing: Hunter Under Saddle, Western Pleasure and Reining( just to name a few event disciples) have had their tails blocked!
    This practice completley disreguards the health and well being (long and short term) of the horse

    Disqualify the horses and riders in the show pen (proven to have altered tails)and throw the legal book at these trainers or (guilty party) as practicing veterinary medicine without a license is illegal and pumishable by law!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Money is on the Line- Should Horses be able to Show Their Discomfort? – Ashlen's Blog says:

    […] The Article: This article discusses a common debate in competition horses regarding tail blocking. A quick run down of a horse’s tail is provided in the article, noting that horses will swish their tails when annoyed or in pain as well as using it to maintain their balance. However, it is common practice for Reining horses to have their tails “blocked” to minimize any tail movement. Reining is a western discipline that involves performing a pattern on a horse showing how a horse can run, stop quickly, and spin like they would need to do when working cattle. Watch a video here . The tails are blocked because a swishing tail can be evidence of poor training or a horse that is in pain, and will ultimately result in the horse being scored lower. Tail blocking is not a safe practice, and there are documented cases of tails being permanently damaged and the horse is left peeing and pooping on itself and unable to swat flies and irritation can result in rubbing of the tail. Improper blocking by people that don’t know what they’re doing can also result in paralysis and abscesses. Under medication rules, tail blocking is illegal in reining horses, but at each competition horses are still competed with blocked tails and judges continue to place them highly, failing to have horses appropriately tested. […]

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