FEI Moves to Ban Clipping/Shaving of Sensory Hairs

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FEI MOVES TO BAN CLIPPING/SHAVING OF SENSORY HAIRS

The topic of clipping and removing the sensory hairs or vibrissae around the muzzle (also often referred to as whiskers) or eyes has become a welfare concern in recent years. Horses use these hairs to assess their environment:  to judge close distances and detect things in their feed that are inedible such as small stones, twigs, etc. The hairs also have a well-developed nerve and blood supply and it is speculated that they help detect sound or air movement. Germany has banned shaving/clipping of sensory hairs since 1998 and this was followed more recently by France in 2019. There is very little research in this area, but an abstract of a small study was published by Emerson et al. (2016) which looked at the attitudes regarding clipping/trimming of equine vibrissae (sensory whiskers) in the UK and Germany.

  • Horse-keepers in the UK were more likely to trim vibrissae (28% of 412 respondents) than those in Germany (1%, 2 of 171)
  • In the UK, competition respondents were more likely to trim (44%) than leisure (17%)
  • The rate of trimming was highest in showing (67%) and lowest in dressage (25%)
  • The most common reason given for trimming was ‘it looked tidy’ (65%).

The FEI has proposed a change to Article No.1004 which cover “Prohibited Methods” and would prevent horses or ponies competing in FEI events if

the Horse’s sensory hairs have been clipped and/or shaven or in any other way removed unless individual sensory hairs have been removed by a veterinarian to prevent pain or discomfort for the Horse. Areas of hair that must be clipped, shaven or removed to allow veterinary treatment are exempt from this rule“

The section in full is …

PROPOSED RULES CHANGES TO BE VOTED AT THE FEI GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2020

Horses are not permitted to compete in FEI Events:

  1. a) with hyposensitive or hypersensitive areas of the body;
  2. b) with a tracheotomy/tracheostomy (i.e. an existing surgical opening through the skin into the trachea);
  1. c) following gene doping (i.e. the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements or the modulation of gene expression having the capacity to improve performance);
  1. d) following any form of genetic modification;
  2. e) following blood doping, or similar methods (e.g. ozone haemotherapy),
  3. f) with any object that punctures the skin with the exception of wound closure materials;
  1. g) wearing contact lenses unless permission has been granted from the FEI Veterinary Department;
  1. h) if the hair on their limbs has been clipped and/or shaven at any point during the Period of the Event. Permission must be granted from the VC/VD by the PTV for clipping and/or shaving required for veterinary purposes, prior to any investigation or treatment taking place. Horses’ limbs may be clipped up to 3 days before the Period of the Event using a blade that cuts the hairs no shorter than 2mm; and
  1. i) if the Horse’s sensory hairs have been clipped and/or shaven or in any other way removed unless individual sensory hairs have been removed by a veterinarian to prevent pain or discomfort for the Horse. Areas of hair that must be clipped, shaven or removed to allow veterinary treatment are exempt from this rule. As of 1 July 2021, Sanction 39 in Annex VI will be applicable.

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