Only 30% of Australian show horse owners who took part in a recent survey supported the ban
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on trimming facial hair.
Although trimming of horses’ whiskers isn’t thought to be painful, many authorities have banned it on welfare grounds.
Whiskers, also known as sensory hairs or vibrissae, are hair-like structures present around a horse's eyes and muzzle. They play a role in conveying sensory information about the horse's environment and surroundings, aiding in tasks such as recognizing grass textures and enhancing spatial awareness. These whiskers are crucial because they balance out the blind spots in front of the horse's forehead and under its nose. This helps overcome the limitations these blind spots place on the horse's awareness of its environment.
The German Equestrian Federation (FN) took the lead in 1998 by implementing the first ban on trimming whiskers and ear hairs of competitive horses, making it officially prohibited.
Subsequently, in July 2020, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) followed suit and enforced a similar ban, except in cases where individual sensory hairs had been removed by a veterinarian to alleviate the horse's pain or discomfort.
In 2022, British Dressage introduced a rule change that unequivocally prohibited the practice of trimming facial hairs. They stated that trimming the sensory hairs around the horse's mouth, nose, eyes, and ears was not allowed as it could impair the horse's sensory capabilities.
New research, published in the CABI journal Human-Animal Interactions, has revealed that only 30% of show horse owners surveyed in Australia agreed with a ban on the trimming of facial hair prior to its implementation in July 2022
The study discovered that when people were questioned about whether facial hair trimming should be prohibited in all horse competitions, most disciplines were generally in favour (ranging from 60.5% to 84.6%), except for showing, where only 22.9% of those surveyed supported a ban. Interestingly, some participants in the research also held the view that horses didn't require muzzle or ear hairs for their daily lives.
The study emphasized that individuals who participated in horse show competitions thought that trimming muzzle and ear hair increased their chances of winning, and they considered this practice to be usual and widespread in their field. Nevertheless, equine organizations worldwide, including those in Australia, implemented a ban on this practice during competitions due to concerns about animal welfare.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Newcastle in Australia conducted a survey involving 422 horse owners in Australia. Among these respondents, 85% took part in competitions with their horses, with showing and dressage being the most popular categories. The majority of those surveyed were women (96%) residing in South Australia (56%). The participants represented a diverse age range, spanning from 18 to 24 years old up to 55 to 64 years old, and there were fewer respondents over the age of 65.
The primary goal of the study was to assess the prevalence of horse owners trimming their horses' facial hairs (ear and muzzle hair) in various equestrian disciplines in Australia. The researchers aimed to understand which facial hairs were commonly trimmed, whether horses were restrained during the process, and the attitudes associated with this practice.
Dr Kirrilly Thompson, a co-author on the paper, from the University of Newcastle, Australia, said, “The results of this study provide valuable insight into the widespread trimming of horse muzzle and ear hairs in some horse disciplines prior to the implementation of the ban in Australia in July 2022.
“The information gained may also be useful for the design and implementation of behaviour change interventions for other management and presentation practices used for horses and other animals.”
The researchers pointed out the scarcity of studies investigating the methods of facial hair trimming in horses and people's attitudes towards this practice. They emphasized that their study offers preliminary insights into the prevalence of this practice in Australian equestrian sports before the introduction of bans. Furthermore, their research sheds light on the rationales and perspectives within the equine industry concerning the trimming of horse facial hairs.
Dr Susan Hazel, lead author of the research, from the University of Adelaide, said, “Further studies are needed to determine if and how the practice and attitudes to facial hair trimming in horses have changed with the enforcement of the ban.
“Findings from the present study, however, may also be useful for understanding and addressing other non-regulated horse presentation practices that can compromise welfare, such as clipping hair from the ear canal and ‘pulling’ manes and tails.”
For more details, see:
What’s the fuzz: The frequency, practice and perceptions of equine facial hair trimming revealed in survey of horse owners in Australia,
Susan Hazel; Carly Holman; Kirrilly Thompson.
Human-Animal Interactions, (2023)