In the UK, trimming a horses whiskers is standard practice. For showing you make sure to clip the whiskers around the muzzle, eyes and clip the hair inside the ears. For other disciplines you can expect the ear hair to be trimmed and the whiskers trimmed if not clipped off entirely.
However, with countries such as Germany and France banning the trimming of whiskers and ear hair on welfare grounds, why is it still the norm in the UK?
What are whiskers?
I’m sure many of us heard the tails as children about how cats have whiskers the size of their head to let them know if they can fit through a gap or not. Well horses whiskers are just as sensitive.
While they don’t tell the horse what gaps they can fit through, they do alert the horse to their surroundings. The whiskers around the muzzle help the horse find food and can even tell the horse what is safe to eat and what isn’t. The whiskers around the eyes help protect the horses eye by telling them how close an object is and can even stimulate a blink.
Fun Fact: Some scientists believe that whiskers can detect special frequencies such as electricity. Which could be why our horses can always tell if the electric fence is on just by putting their nose close to it.
Is it painful to remove whiskers?
While removing the whiskers themselves shouldn’t be painful to the horse, many horses do not like it due to the sensation it causes before they are removed. After all, the hairs do not have feeling or a pain response. But if they are sensitive enough to pick up these tiny queues from their environment, having clippers vibrate along them could be uncomfortable!
While the process of removing the whiskers may not do your horse any harm, you do have to consider the increased risk of potential injury. After all, scientists all agree that whiskers help alert the horse to their surroundings which can help stop them hitting their head or getting poked in the eye by a branch.
Should we be removing horses whiskers?
Personally, I don’t think we should be removing horses whiskers. I don’t think they are ugly or untidy so they don’t need to be removed. I also think that removing whiskers increases the likelihood of a horse injuring themselves. The eyes are incredibly sensitive structures and I wouldn’t want to risk any damage to them!
The fact that other countries are starting to ban the trimming of whiskers makes me think that there is a good reason to not trim the whiskers. I believe that it will only be a matter of time before more countries ban this practice and eventually the UK will have to change this too.