Trimming horse whiskers now banned by international equestrian body

It used to be a standard of good grooming — trimming the muzzles of horses to remove their whiskers.

But now, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has banned the practise.

As of July 1, anyone who has trimmed horse whiskers will be disqualified from any FEI competition, including this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games — unless there’s some medical reason for a veterinarian to remove them for pain or discomfort.

Horse lovers and vets around the world are cheering the news.

“The whiskers are a sensory organ – known as a ‘vibrissae’ – and many mammals rely on them as an additional sense,” the Equine Veterinarians Australia posted on Facebook. “Horses use them for communication and to figure out where objects are particularly in the dark eg. a wire on a fence, feed, water etc.”

The new rule was passed during the federation’s general assembly in November, 2020.  

The vote was unanimous.

“If the horse’s sensory hairs have been clipped and/or shaven or in any other way removed unless individual sensory hairs have been removed by a veterinarian to prevent pain or discomfort for the Horse. Areas of hair that must be clipped, shaven or removed to allow veterinary treatment are exempt from this rule,” the FEI rule states.

Horses will be disqualified if they are found in contravention of the rule.

Some nations, including Switzerland, Germany and France, had already taken this step.

The World Bitless Association has long lobbied for the ban, beginning with the British Equestrian Federation back in 2019, and turned its attention to the FEI in 2020.

“When we consider the structure and function of vibrissae and the negative effects that trimming has on other mammals, it stands clear that trimming equines’ facial whiskers for cosmetic reasons is not an ethical process, the association explained.

Its efforts helped make the change.

“Thank you FEI welfare committee for making the rule change,” the group wrote. “Thanks to the countries that had ALREADY banned the clipping of vibrissae and to EVERYONE that shared our post, media articles on social media and helped to raise awareness.”

Main photo: Equine Veterinarians Australia

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