My horse is currently out grazing in his field, sporting whiskers on his muzzle that are more than an inch long. Soft, copper-colored fuzz pools from the insides of his chestnut ears. It’s September, and he’s already growing out a warm winter coat.
The fall horse show season is just around the corner. That means it’s time for me to clip my horse’s coat and face to get ready for the hunter ring. I’ve been a hunter rider all my life, and there are few things that make me happier than a sharply turned out horse.
That said, it’s time for the hunters to take a hard look at themselves. I shouldn’t have to clip my horse’s whiskers to be in competition for a top ribbon.
Earlier this year, the French Equestrian Federation announced a ban on trimming whiskers on horses competing at sanctioned events. France is the third European country to do so, following Germany and Switzerland. Competitors can be fined or disqualified for trimming whiskers around the nose, eyes and inside the ears under these new welfare laws.
We trim whiskers purely for cosmetic purposes, ignoring the fact that they exist for a reason. Whiskers on the face are a sensory guide for horses, as they are for dogs, cats, sea mammals and many other creatures that have them.
What’s interesting to me is it’s fairly taboo to trim the guard whiskers around the eyes, as most of us recognize they serve a purpose. But we don’t draw the line on the nose.
“We trim whiskers purely for cosmetic purposes, ignoring the fact that they exist for a reason. “
Clearly, our horses aren’t in pain when we trim away the whiskers on their muzzle or inside their ears. But why? Why do we need to do this when it serves no real purpose?
It’s time for the hunters to take a page out of other disciplines’ playbooks – it’s normal to see long whiskers in the dressage arena, and even on eventers galloping around cross-country.
The countries that banned the practice don’t have to worry about the hunters – it’s almost exclusively a North American sport. But I don’t think I’ll walk around WEF or Devon next year and a see a horse or pony sporting anything but a clean shaven face.