Docking Horses’ Tails

An 1889 article from Our Dumb Animals, the organ of Massachussett’s animal protective society, rails against docking of horses’ tails. Docking, which involved severing horses’ tails down to the coccyx—and often also other operations to permanently redirect the direction of the amputated tail—was horribly painful, permanent, and (in terms of potential for infection) dangerous. Such “inflicting [of] needless pain” is a disgrace to any person who lays claim to the possession of humane feelings” (“Mutilating”).

The docking question became an arena for debating issues of race and class: 

“It is not only in bad taste, it is essentially barbarous. It belongs properly with the customs of tribes that flatten their heads, bore holes through their lips or noses, for the purpose of wearing a billet of wood suspended from such localities by a cord…” (“Mutilating”).

The Eurocentric racism is palpable: to docked tail is a primitive barbarian’s idea of beauty. Unlike these “tribes,” who “disfigure the features made by nature” (“Mutilating”), the Englishman is represented as a true lover of unblemished nature.


Paradoxically, docking and like practices (like “nipping” and “pricking”) were also linked to the upper class and their frivolous ideas of adornment—described as “refinement[s] of atrocity” (“Mutilating”), for example.  


Left: “The flies do not bother me.”
Right: “They are eating me up.”



“Mutilating Horses.” Our Dumb Animals 22.6 (Nov. 1889).

Images from:

Magner, Dennis. Facts for Horse Owners. Battle Creek, MI: Magner Pub. Co., 1902.

One thought on “Docking Horses’ Tails

  1. Pingback: C is for Cocktail: What’s in a Name? The Origin of the Word “Cocktail” | A Smile And A Gun

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