To Shave or Not to Shave

What’s wrong with this picture:

Bay horse without whiskers

How about this one…

cat without whiskers

Here’s a clue…

cat with whiskers

 

Whiskers…Yes, the horse above has no whiskers. Why? We shave our horses’ muzzles simply for aesthetics. It might not seem like a big deal – after all, most women prefer men without facial hair, Brazilian waxes are ever more popular – no matter what the pain. Hair, human ‘whiskers’, well, they have to be neat, or even better, non-existent. Our horses…shouldn’t they should be just as clean? Or should they? The debate rages on – while countries like Germany and Sweden have banned the practice, arguments and debates play out regularly at barns – where some owners calmly deny the evidence “I don’t care about any science, it just looks better” … and others rush emotionally to protect their animals: “If you touch my horses whiskers I’ll break your hand”. The arguments continue.

Would we do this to our cats? No, because we recognize that the whiskers on a cat are there for a reason.

Those hairy protrusions on our equine’s muzzle and under the eye are also there for a reason. They’re not facial hair, they are vibrissae – specialized sensors with a dedicated supply of nerves and blood providing important information to the horse. The vibrissae are believed to help newborn foals find their mother’s teats. Certainly as the horse matures, these protrusions do everything from help the horse find edible shoots and grasses, (they really can’t see what’s under their nose) to sense something harmful coming too close. Sensitive to air movement, they can help sense the acceleration and movement of other horses around them. They’re thought to be important for mutual grooming, and may even be able to detect sound. We’ve known this for years.

We all try to care the best we can for our horses. How can a sense of fashion and aesthetics override welfare? Does every country need to ban it before we all take notice?

What do you think? Why are we so reluctant to change practices that we now know are wrong for the horse? Should this practice be banned in your country if it isn’t already?

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