Don't Get Stuck On Me! Burrs And Horses: Manes And Tails

The Humane Society of Utah frequently receives complaints about horses which have accumulated large numbers or masses of burrs in their manes and tails. In some instances, the tails are so entangled that the horse is almost unable to move the tail, much less use it to swat flies. They can also cause irritation and sores in adjacent tissues.

Burdock and cocklebur are plants that prefers moist fertile soils or riparian areas, as well as areas with recent soil disturbance. Their prickly seed heads were specifically designed by Mother Nature as a tool for dispersal of the plant’s seeds by attaching themselves to anything that passes by. As a side note, burdock was the inspiration for the invention of Velcro by George de Mestral in the early 1940's.

In addition to being a general nuisance to humans, the burrs (seed heads) stick to animals (horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, etc.) manes, tails, fetlocks, and longer hair coats causing irritation and limiting effective use of the tail. The ripe burrs from burdock have microscopic sharp "slivers" that can float in the air if the burr is shattered. These slivers can get caught under an animal’s eyelid, causing irritation and infection, or even loss of sight.

There are many strategies for the removal of these entangled burrs. These range from picking the burrs out one at a time with one’s fingers, lubricating the affected area and then picking or gently combing the burrs out, or roaching (closely shaving) the mane.

The following methods have been cited by various sources. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before using any chemical on your animal(s). Pull one or more hairs at a time out of the burr — Don’t try to pull the burr out of the hair! Remember that some product perfumes can attract flies and bees.

  • Baby oil
  • Water and hair conditioner
  • "Healthy Hair"
  • Hair polish or detangling products: "Cowboy Magic Detangler and Shine", "EQyss Survivor Super Detangler/Shine", "Showsheen", "Vetrolin", "eZall Shine & Detangler", and "Mane N' Tail Detangler".
  • WD-40
  • Armor All
  • Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil
  • Pam cooking spray

Work slowly with your fingers or a specially-designed burr-removal grooming tool, one section at a time, until you have removed the burrs from all the affected areas. Some people recommend wearing rubber gardening gloves to protect your hands from irritation from the burrs during removal.

Check your horses for burrs on a regular basis and remove burrs before they become a serious problem. Avoid pasturing horses in burr-infested enclosures.

The Humane Society of Utah
4242 South 300 West
Murray, Utah 84107
(801) 261-2919

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