There is no right answer when deciding to clip your horse’s whiskers.
Clipping horse whiskers is now more controversial. Well, just like manes and tails and shampoo and all other things, different strokes for different folks. But now we have some governing bodies weighing in on whisker clipping.
- I personally do not clip whiskers on my horses, as I don’t show them. When I did show years ago, I chose to clip my hunter’s whiskers to be more in line with the rest of the discipline, and the dressage pony got to stay long, a la European standards and the accepted turnout for dressage horses. If I was to step back in the show ring NOW, I would be too worried about my own possible heart attack to bother clipping any whiskers. If I was to do the hunters again, I would leave the whiskers alone. Because nowhere in the rule book does it say to clip whiskers. And also, I know better now.
Horses use whiskers to help them navigate the world.
Whiskers provide another way for horses to navigate their world, and help to give them an idea of their immediate surroundings. And help them find FOOD – their favorite thing.
- Whiskers and other facial hair around the eyes are known as vibrissae. Many animals have them!
- Horses have wonderful eyes that can see quite a bit in front of them and behind them. They have trouble seeing below their noses and also directly in front of their faces.
- Whiskers are a sensory organ that helps them find food, avoid bonking their chins, and generally go through their day like a horse.
- That being said, I know tons of horses that have their whiskers clipped and do just fine in pasture, stalls, and being a horse. I can only guess that some horses may not adapt so easily. One of you lovely readers did email me to let me know that her horse bonks up and rips his chin when he’s clipped.
- More and more countries are now outlawing the practice of trimming whiskers on horses. We are not there in the US, but for some disciplines, it’s now the tradition to leave the whiskers.
What’s going on in Germany with the mandatory whiskers?
- Many decades ago – in 1998 to be exact – Germany outlawed whisker shaving and clipping. Germany has their own German Animal Welfare Act, and in Paragraph six, the whisker trimming is addressed. The law prohibits the trimming of whiskers and eyebrows and lashes on a horse’s face. It also prohibits the clipping of the ear hair inside the ear. France and Switzerland have similar rules.
The FEI has some new rules!
- Starting in the summer of 2021, horses will be disqualified from FEI events if they present with trimmed sensory hairs, like whiskers. The FEI has stated that: “hairs in the horse’s ears are not considered to be sensory hairs and there is no perceived problem of sensory hairs around the eyes being trapped in blinkers of driving horses.” The USEF does support this, but has not passed their own rules about sensory hairs.
There’s also very little actual science about vibrissae.
- A Dutch study by Veterinarian Dr. Machteld van Dierendonck aimed to look at the effects on a horse when the vibrissae are manipulated. This small study was inconclusive, and “no definite conclusions on the effect of trimming of any horse’s vibrissae can be drawn from our data.”
- Later, a group of scientists at Nottingham Trent University, L. Emerson, K. Griffin and A. Stevenson, surveyed people to find out why they trim their horse’s whiskers. The most common answer? It looks tidy. Their conclusion was to educate horse owners about the importance of the vibrissae. Which I hope I’m doing here!
If you choose to leave your horse’s whiskers alone, you may still want to run a damp rag over his chin and nose to get rid of any crusties, slime, or green bits caught in his whiskers.
- Whiskers are generally self-cleaning when a horse drinks, but sometimes that yummy mashed up and soupy meal hangs around a bit. Spider webs also love to get tangled in whiskers if your horse explores the nooks and crannies of his stall or shed.
Five O’Clock shadow.
Say you decide to clip your horse’s whiskers. What’s the best way to do it?
- I like to use a smaller clipper, cordless for convenience, and a bit of patience. Some horses are easily tickled, and some don’t care. Most horses don’t mind the clippers around the face, and if you do a little bit at a time things should work out OK. If you have never done this, grab a friend to assist and perhaps have your friend hold the lead rope instead of cross ties, just in case.
- When you use clippers, be wary that once you get the underside of the jaw, the hair coat is a bit thicker. Watch out for accidentally carving into that hair. You may want to point the clippers down and away to avoid this.
A hunter with the traditional clipped muzzle.
- Some folks like to use a disposable razor. This is great for them, but you won’t catch me using one. I can barely use one on myself without bleeding. And a horse’s muzzle is totally lumpy and bumpy and the opposite of smooth. I would not suggest scissors, one wrong move or a tiny spook and you have accidentally stabbed your pony or yourself.
Are you more au natural or clip it all off?