The FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) recently took the step of banning the trimming of horse whiskers in competiton. This move has put the issue of whisker trimming for cosmetic reasons in the spotlight – with some for, others against – even among those of us who are unlikely to ever compete at FEI level.
In Germany it’s been illegal to trim horse whiskers since 1998, and in France the ban came in on a national level last year.
So, what’s the big deal about whiskers anyway? Don’t those soft equine muzzles look neater, cleaner and sweeter clean shaven? Is this just another over the top rule in the general trend towards having horses live au naturel?
Actually, those bristles are rather magical!
What Are Horse Whiskers?
Well, we know they are long, stiff bristly hairs around the muzzle, but they’re not like any other hairs on your horse’s body. They are far more specialised, designed to be used as sensory organs.
They’re called vibrissae and act like antennae, thanks to the fact that whisker follicles are deeper and larger than other hair follicles, with a rich supply of blood and many nerve connections.
These super-sensitive hairs are stimulated by the gentlest of touches, sending a signal to the brain, which is interpreted and turned into an appropriate response.
The Function of Horse Whiskers
One of the main reasons horses have these tactile, sensory aids is because their eyes are positioned in such a way that they can’t see anything directly in front of them. Horse whiskers are there to help them fill in that sight gap, assisting in their spatial awareness.
Your horse’s whiskers help him gather information about his surroundings and aid in general depth perception.
Whiskers help horses find and identify their food, and become aware of obstacles near their face. The whiskers near the eyes are especially important because they prevent eye injury by eliciting the blink response if they feel a physical threat.
Despite this, there are many equestrians who believe that whiskery faces detract from the aesthetics of a well turned-out horse, particularly for showing and competition.
Do Horses Suffer Without Whiskers?
Surprisingly, there has been little research done on the effect of whisker removal on equines.
I’ve trolled through dozens of online forums discussing the subject, and it seems the majority of horse owners have noticed no ill-effects. Most report that their horses don’t apparently suffer any pain during the act of shaving off whiskers. There’s some anecdotal evidence about horses without whiskers bumping into objects and appearing disoriented, but it’s always a “friend of a friend” sort of story!
Here in the UK whether you trim your horse whiskers or not remains a matter of personal choice.
If you decide not to shave off those useful bristles, you can still make sure your equine friend looks his or her absolute best when out and about at shows or competitions by making use of our great range of showing products for perfect grooming!
Here at Totally Tack we’d love to know your views on the horse whiskers issue! Why not drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comments on our Facebook Page.