On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Does clipping your horse’s whiskers create problems?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Does clipping your horse’s whiskers create problems? Why do equestrians clip their horse’s whiskers? Read further to find out!
Myth: Clipping a horse’s whiskers can create problems for the horse
Myth or Fact: Fact
Horse whiskers are highly sensitive sensory organs that serve the important function of allowing horses a way to react to the objects that are in close contact with them. These sensory organs include the whiskers around the muzzle and around the eyes. They help detect movement and give vital information to the horse on where objects are in space, their temperature, and their texture.
So, does cutting or clipping them create problems?
According to Parelli Horsemanship, many horse owners clip their horse’s whiskers for aesthetic reasons. This removes the horse’s sensory abilities and a vital line of protection. While the United States does not have any laws prohibiting the clipping of whiskers, some organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), are moving in a direction that bans the clipping of a horse’s whiskers. In 2021, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) followed suit and also banned the clipping of whiskers around the muzzle and eyes. Germany, Switzerland, and France have banned the trimming of horse whiskers, which coincides with the Animal Welfare Act that states animals should not be subjected to unnecessary harm or suffering.
Parelli Horsemanship makes an important point that cutting a horse’s whiskers will create discomfort and disorientation. Horses may be unable to navigate their surroundings, detect potential dangers, or communicate with other horses.
In the April 2017 edition of SmartPak’s “Ask the Vet” video, Dr. Lydia Gray, DVM, addresses whether or not it is harmful to clip a horse’s whiskers. There, she states there is much more to whiskers than what meets the eye. Horse whiskers send a response from the follicle to a specific region in the brain that allows for sensory interpretation. A horse’s whiskers are used to localize objects, orient the snout, detect movement, identify textures and shapes, move in response to a stimulus, maintain equilibrium, swim, locate food, fight, and attach to the nipple for foals who are nursing. Whiskers help horses stay safe in their environment, especially at night when they can’t use their sight as well.
The Chronicle of the Horse published an article discussing the importance of a horse’s whiskers. They write that many countries are now starting to view the clipping of a horse’s whiskers as a welfare issue. This is because a horse’s whiskers are embedded much deeper into the skin than a beard. Each whisker is lodged into its own blood capsule with groups of nerves. The smallest of movements triggers these fevers and sends a message to the brain.
Whisker follicles are five to six times larger than a regular hair follicle. They are also the first hair to develop on the embryo. It’s specialized structure helps the horse maintain balance. While grazing, whiskers allow the horse to feel where the vegetation is on the ground while its eyes are looking forward for predators. Horses use their muzzles to investigate objects, food, and other horses. It is their whiskers that are sending the sensory responses to the brain.
The consensus is that trimming a horse’s whiskers does create problems for the horse. So much so that some countries have banned it to go along with their animal welfare acts. Clipping a horse’s whiskers stunts their sensory perception to the stimuli around them creating less awareness and decreased safety.
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