Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience2007; 1(8); 1167-1178; doi: 10.1017/S1751731107000420

Tail docking in horses: a review of the issues.

Abstract: Routinely performed painful procedures are of increasing interest and, in 2001 (Royal Order, May 17), Belgium prohibited docking in several vertebrates including horses. In 2004, opponents to this decision submitted a Bill (Doc51 0969/001) to Parliament, intending to obtain derogation for Belgian draught horses, which were traditionally docked. The Animal Welfare Council of Belgium, an official body advising the Minister of Public Health, was asked to evaluate this complex question, including biological, ethical and socio-economic aspects, on the basis of the available peer-reviewed studies. In this context, this study reviews legal aspects (overview of the European legislation), zootechnic aspects (uses of the Belgian draught horse) and biological aspects (pain potentially related to docking; horses' welfare linked to insect harassment and hygiene, communication and reproduction) of tail docking in draught horses. We conclude that (1) there is no benefit for horses in tail docking, including Belgian draught horses, (2) potential advantages of docking are essentially in favour of humans and these advantages could be scrupulously re-evaluated, taking into account practices of other countries. Therefore, there is no need to dock any horse other than for veterinary reasons.
Publication Date: 2007-09-01 PubMed ID: 22444861DOI: 10.1017/S1751731107000420Google Scholar: Lookup
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This research article discusses tail docking procedures in horses, focusing especially on Belgian draft horses, and argues against the practice of tail docking due to its lack of benefits for the horses and potential harm to their welfare. The study was conducted in the context of a legal and ethological evaluation, after a proposed bill seeking legal exemption for the tail docking of Belgian draft horses was presented in Belgium.

Legal Aspects

  • The study reviews European laws relating to the procedure of tail docking in horses. In 2001, a Royal Order in Belgium banned the practice of tail docking across several veterinary species including horses.
  • In 2004, a counter bill was put forth which sought exemption for Belgian draught horses from this ban, under the claim of tradition. This triggered an ethical and biological evaluation from the Animal Welfare Council of Belgium.

Zootechnic Aspects

  • The study also investigates the domestic uses of Belgian draught horses. One of the main arguments for docking their tails is tradition.
  • The researchers use an ethological approach, evaluating the behaviour, welfare, and natural living conditions of the horses, to understand whether tail docking offers any positives from the horse’s perspective.

Biological Aspects

  • The paper further brings to focus the possible connection between tail docking and induced pain in horses, its implications on their overall welfare when faced with insect harassment and hygiene issues, and also in their expression and communication during mating and social behaviours.
  • The research reveals that tail docking in horses, Belgian draught horses included, offers no actual benefits for the animals. The supposed advantages are primarily for human convenience and can be reconsidered considering the practices in other countries that do not practice such docking.


  • Given all evidences and evaluation, the research concludes that there is no practical or ethical need for routine tail docking in any breed of horses, other than for certain veterinary reasons.
  • The study posits that the interests, traditions, or convenience of humans should not supersede the welfare and natural behaviours of the horses.

Cite This Article

Lefebvre D, Lips D, Odberg FO, Giffroy JM. (2007). Tail docking in horses: a review of the issues. Animal, 1(8), 1167-1178.


ISSN: 1751-7311
NlmUniqueID: 101303270
Country: England
Language: English
Volume: 1
Issue: 8
Pages: 1167-1178

Researcher Affiliations

Lefebvre, D
  • 1Animal Welfare Counci-Ministry of Social Affair, Food Chain Security and Environment-DG4 (CITES and Animal Welfare), 40 Place Victor Horta, 1060 Bruxelles, Belgium.
Lips, D
    Odberg, F O
      Giffroy, J M


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