Many equestrians wouldn’t think twice about trimming the whiskers around their horse's eyes and nose thinking they look scruffy and spoil the appearance of an otherwise immaculately turned out pony. It's particularly common practice in the showing world where they are completely removed in order make the horse look as smart as possible. And I freely admit I’ve trimmed my horses’ whiskers in the past for the same reasons and because there’s nothing better than the feeling of a lovely, soft, whisker-free muzzle, right?!
Except I've come to realise that rather than just being scruffy bits of hair, whiskers serve a really important purpose. Because of the way horses’ eyes are positioned on their head, they have a blind spot directly in front of them and immediately below their noses; as a result, they rely a great deal on their whiskers to help them to ‘see’!
As equine vet Dr Joyce Harman points out, whiskers actually function as a kind of ‘third eye’ for our horses. For example, when doing everyday activities like grazing or being in their stables, horses rely a great deal on their whiskers to help guide their muzzles, telling them how far away things are. Whiskers around the eyes are also particularly important for helping to prevent the horse from bumping into objects like a twig sticking out a bush. As a result, by trimming our horses’ whiskers we actually impair them, removing their ability to judge distances for objects that fall into their blind spots!
Another equine vet, Dr Marty Becker, says, these whiskers are the product of years of evolution of horses adapting to their environment – by removing them, we humans interfere with our horses’ natural way of being and put them more at risk of bumping into things!
As a result, countries such as Germany and Switzerland have actually banned the trimming of whiskers. Whilst this may seem like a bizarre law to some, it becomes more understandable when we realise just how important these bits of hair really are. Germany has banned the trimming of whiskers since 1998 in accordance with their Animal Welfare Law, with adherence to this law being tightly monitored by authorities. These countries suggest that the trimming of whiskers is in fact a form of animal cruelty due to the negative impact it can place on the horse.
Currently, there is no such law in the UK, and it is a regular sight to see immaculately turned out horses at shows with not a whisker in sight. Do you think trimming whiskers should be banned? Is it animal cruelty, or is it just another method of grooming? This also made me think about other animals too – some dog groomers trim dogs’ whiskers too, but surely they serve the same purpose, so should we stop trimming animals’ whiskers full stop?!
I’d love to hear what you think. My horse Teddy doesn’t like his whiskers being trimmed, but maybe that’s just his way of telling me, “Mum, I need these!”