When Jax (Arab/Belgian) got a ginormous matted tangle in the middle of his tail, I posted a picture on Facebook and asked if anyone knew of a natural product that could untangle the mess. People told me about ShowSheen (not a natural product) but most told me I may need to just cut it out as they’d never seen one that bad.
Since the mat took up most of the middle section of his tail, I certainly didn’t want to cut it off, or he’d have virtually no fly protection left. So I decided I would turn to the chemicals if I absolutely had to, but I would try a bunch of natural substances first. So I assembled these:
– Olive oil
– 2 different natural hair conditioners
– Hydrogenated canola oil
– Surgical gloves
– 2 different brushes
Here’s what worked the best:
1. Use olive oil only, but really douse it – you should have so much oil inside and around the matted hair that it is dripping onto the ground
2. Use your fingers only – wear surgical gloves if you like, they won’t snag the hair and you can feel everything you need to. You need to use your fingers to work the oil in and gradually loosen and then untangle the mess… bit by bit. I could feel my tension rising as I faced this gargantuan task. And as my stress rose, Jax started to shift away from me.
So I stopped and took a few deep breaths. I knew I had to get myself in hand or there was no way we would both get through this. Aha! I started singing. I sang Jax and I through the next hour of untangling his tail while he munched contentedly on some alfalfa. I had put him in the paddock on his own so we would not be disturbed by the others and he thoroughly enjoyed himself! If you don’t feel comfortable singing or humming, then maybe put on some mellow music to listen to, hum a little, sway a little, whatever keeps you soft and relaxed. And of course, give your horse something to eat – ‘grazing’ is the best way to calm the horse’s nervous system.
3. You can blot the tail with paper towel once it is untangled, but this is not necessary. I already knew olive oil was compatible with horse’s skin (as it is with human skin) since I had used it on my mare Zorra when she was raw from being in heat and squirting sticky fluid on her butt cheeks. The olive oil soaked into and then easily removed the sticky residue – the next day she was already visibly healing. So I left Jax’s tail sodden with olive oil as I wanted to see what would happen. Nothing! The next day his tail looked amazing.
4. What’s the root cause? When I considered why/how Jax had gotten his tail in such a crazy mess in the first place, I realized that he actually had been showing me for some time that his butt was really itchy. So I made sure to be attentive and used a stiff wood brush to itch all the areas he showed me.
The other thing I realized is that Jax really enjoyed having one-on-one time with me in the paddock. As one of the lower guys on the totem pole, he was often driven off by one of the others. But this was his chance to have me all to himself, with lots of alfalfa – how lovely! I received his message and began bringing him – and the others – in for one-on-one time in the paddock with me to be groomed, scratched and eat with no pressure from the herd.
It’s been over a year and Jax has not matted his tail since. When he starts rubbing it in front of us, or gets a little tangle, that’s our cue to pay more attention to him. He’s also returned the favor and removed all of the burrs from Cobra’s tail. Now that’s what I call ‘paying it forward’ 🙂
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
23 thoughts on “Natural Method to Untangle a Severely Matted Tail”
Update: We’ve had a few comments on the Facebook page and apparently both Jojoba and Coconut oil work well too 🙂 If Jax’s tangle wasn’t so bad, I would have tried coconut oil first (it is also anti-fungal), as I know it is well-tolerated too. I went with Olive oil as it is a thicker oil and I figured that might work better.
My neighbor’s horse (BIG BOY) has recently taken a liking to me, even if I don’t bring “treats”. I asked if I could groom him because ALL of his hair (tail and mane) was just devastating, and I am known as Snow White when it comes to all animals. It took me an hour to cut the bottom five inches of his tail because it is one giant dread. Broke my super strong scissors, cut up my knuckles from mentioned broken scissors, and even I had to take a minute or two to catch my breath.
So, with his ENTIRE tail being one solid dread, would olive oil work? Should I do it in smaller portions over days… etc.?
I think it’s definitely worth a try – go get a BIG bottle of olive oil from Costco or a Mediterranean grocer (they sell the big cans). Spend a lot of time just SOAKING the olive oil through the tail, seeping it INTO the dread/mat. You might even want to get a syringe and syringe it deep into various parts of the dread. Then the first day, I would just take the easiest section – or any section – and work on that. Don’t attempt to do too much the first day and remember to sing or hum! Work it, soak/add more olive oil, work it, soak more oil into it. Seriously, it will help you and the horse a LOT.
Then take a break, or come back the next day. The oil will keep working and loosening overnight. Then add more oil, saturate as much as possible, and work on the next small bit. And so on. I would be VERY surprised if it doesn’t work. Keep us posted!
Thank you so much for sharing that tangle with all of us…………..WOW!!!!!!!!! I’ve never seen wooden bristles before so I have to ask. How do wooden bristles hold up to regular use on manes and tails? Any pros/cons very much would appreciate you sharing with us.
Peace always, Paulette
Hey Paulette, the bristles are no problem, what breaks down and comes apart is the rubber pad that holds the bristles – it comes unglued and pops out of the frame. But I don’t use the wood brushes for manes and tails, I primarily use them for itching/scratching and they are wonderful for that! You can get that brand (Bass) on Amazon, this is the one I get because it’s narrow enough to fit inside their ears, which they LOVE:
I have just bought a mare who has been out in the paddock for a few years. Her mane was dreadlocks and her tail severely matted. After hours in the paddock with me, she was yawning and calm. With the help of a spray product called “no nots” I untangled it. Her tail matting is so huge I am daunted by the very idea of tackling it. Your post has given me hope. Thanks so much for sharing 🌻
Yes – don’t despair! Numerous people told me to just cut Jax’s tail, said I’d never get it untangled. But the olive oil (REALLY saturate it) worked a charm and absorbed into the hair/skin with no irritation etc within a day or two. Doesn’t get much better than that! Let me know how it goes and how long it take you 😉
I have a Fresians and her tail was matted horribly too. I used my kitchen corn oil as it was all I had at the time. It works wonderfully as well.
I have one large wicked matted smelly mess on this horse.i will try the olive oil. I was thinking of trying to shampoo it first because of the smell. I just bought him and he has been uncared for about a year. If he hadn’t rode good and been so loving I would have passed. That and a 30 day money back guarantee he is a good trail horse. No guarantee on getting the mess out of the tail😊
Let us know how it goes! It will be interesting to see if the smell reduces too – as many soaps are made of olive oil.
Thank YOU for all the information. I have a huge task and feel a little better now. Was super upset at the thought of cutting his tail, now I wont !
No you won’t – just don’t get discouraged when the first 15-20 minutes feels like you’re getting nowhere and it’s never going to work! Just did another massive tangle ball on Big Mama and if I didn’t KNOW this worked, I may have given up. The great thing about using olive oil (I just get a big one from Costco) is the tail doesn’t re-tangle. Let us know how it goes!
I have a rescue horse that hasnt been touched aside from being hit his entire life hes about 6 or 7. His tail is extremely matted all the way down just a huge block of matted hair. Would coconut oil be able to take it out i dont have any olive oil.
I think coconut oil will work – it just may take longer. Either way, with every horse, I have gotten about 20 minutes in and been on the verge of giving up, when all of a sudden it all starts to loosen – I get the first bit of encouragement.
If your horse is still traumatized about being touched, I wouldn’t use “helping him” to traumatize him further. His tail can easily stay matted for another year while you build trust in the relationship. Or, you can do it in stages – that’s what I did with one of my wild mustangs who didn’t want to be touched. I first just received permission from her to apply the oil. Then she wouldn’t let me touch it for days. The she gave me permission to work on it a tiny bit. Then nothing for days. And it just went on like this, bit by bit. But the POINT is not to untangle her mane. The point is to gain trust. That is the big aspect. Obviously, this is not an emergency situation and horses in the wild live decades – quite happily – with matted manes or tails. That’s my perspective anyway 🙂
So we just got our first horse and it turns out he hasn’t been groomed or brushed once in the last year or so. His mane and tail feel like plastic to me and I was wondering if that was because he hasn’t been washed or is there something else going on. I also dont know if I should groom or brush him yet because I have only had him a week. Any tips?
Slow is always better where horses are concerned! If he hasn’t been groomed in a year, then another month or two won’t make any difference. Grooming is the first opportunity to practice REAL listening. Maybe he says NO don’t touch me for weeks/months. Maybe he says YES, but only for 10 minutes. This is where the horse learns whether his opinion/desire/wisdom really matters, or not. So it all depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your horse. What feels/is authentic to YOU. Your gut/body knows.
Thank you Jini for your words of wisdom. My girls tails are a matted MESS. Every time I would look at it a feeling of sadness and dread washes over me. I feel like a bad mom. I’m happy to hear that you did it bit by bit. I can see it will take some time. However, like you said it is more important is that they learn to trust me, always!
Sing or hum while you’re working on them – it helps immensely! For both of you 🙂
Great idea! Will doooo 🙂
Do you leave the olive oil in for a while before you start to untangle it? Like over night or for an hour or so?
Hi Tracy, No you saturate it and begin detangling immediately. Remember to hum or sing to yourself!
Thank you for all the great info. I too have felt like a terrible mom for letting their tails and manes get so matted but you have really given me hope! What type of brush do you use?
I mostly use my fingers and then at the very end a wide-tooth comb or Bass wooden brush. It will work! Even if you have to let the olive oil sink in for a day or two first – and get it really saturated.