No one likes a rebellious horse, particularly in the show ring, and excessive tail swishing or wringing is often penalized by judges as a sign of resistance. To avoid this penalty, or simply to ensure low tail carriage, trainers and exhibitors sometimes have a show horse’s tail area injected with a substance designed to temporarily paralyze the tail to some degree (“tail blocking” or “nerving”) so it lies flat and quiet during the show. Unfortunately, this procedure is not without risk of permanent damage.
Gator shows off before his injury.
Most of the time, these injections wear off after a few weeks or months and the horse is no worse for the wear (although some horses exhibit altered tail carriage permanently). But any injection carries a risk of infection, and tail nerving injections pose the additional risk of paralyzing more nerves than intended–one occasional complication is a temporary inability to defecate and/or urinate due to paralysis of the muscles that control rectum and bladder emptying.
Severe Case: Gator
Gator, a Paint gelding living near Winston Salem, N.C., was being prepared for the World Championship Paint Horse Show in 2007. His owner Julee Brown (mother of Gator’s rider, Tori) recalls that Gator and several other horses in their trainer’s barn had tails injected (not by their regular veterinarian) on a Friday night before an early season show in January 2007.
“We got a call that night about his left hind leg being all swollen, he could barely stand or walk, he had a high temperature, and his bowels weren’t moving,” she says.
On Saturday, Gator’s r