Red Ribbon on a Horse’s Tail


A red ribbon tied around a horse’s tail means that they’re “a kicker”


C is a current USC student who grew up in Bellevue, Washington and previously worked in a barn there training rescue horses. As indicated in the text, C explained that tying a red ribbon around a horse’s tail meant they were prone to kicking and that other horses and riders should give them extra space. After I asked if this practice was specific to their barn, they explained that the red tail ribbon is a widely-known sign in the horseriding world and has become an important safety practice, especially in competition settings. C then stated that they were introduced to the red tail ribbon early on by people in their barn and that people would assume a rider was a “newbie” if they didn’t know the sign. C also mentioned that jokes were often shared amongst riders about the red tail ribbon – for example, a rider may joke that they’re going to tie a red ribbon around their non-aggressive horse’s tail to get people to “back off.”


As C mentioned, this folk object seems to me to have primarily risen out of a need to quickly and effectively communicate important safety information. A horse’s kick can cause severe injury to a person, and while small groups of people can be verbally warned of a kicking horse, that information seems like it would become much more difficult in a large horse arena or during a fast-paced competition. The use of a visual signal or folk object to communicate danger creates a constant visual differentiator for the kick-prone horse and allows the message to be spread and received much more quickly. Additionally, like much of occupational folklore, knowing the use of the red tail ribbon becomes a marker of insider status and experience in the horse rider world. Joking about the red tail ribbon in turn conveys a sense of familiarity with the sign and further demonstrates the presence of insider knowledge.