When looking at your horse’s whiskers, you may at times be tempted to give the whiskers a trim. Perhaps you think some of the whiskers are growing in an unattractive manner or maybe you are concerned that the whiskers have grown in such a way that they are problematic for your horse. Generally speaking, however, trimming your horse’s whiskers is something that you should not do.
While trimming a horse’s whiskers does not appear to cause any pain for the horse, it is generally quite clear that it does not make the horse happy to have this done. This is understandable, given the sensitivity of whiskers as well as the multiple ways that horses use them as a tool for day-to-day living.
Even if a horse seems to tolerate the trimming fairly well, removing the whiskers will deprive your horse of an important sensory tool. This may lead to confusion and stress for your horse while also increasing the likelihood of injury. It is for this reason that some countries, such as Germany, have made it illegal to trim the whiskers of horses.
Fortunately, if you have been in the habit of trimming your horse’s whiskers, those whiskers will eventually grow back. So, if you have been in the habit of trimming the whiskers as a part of your grooming habit, now is a good time to stop!
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As a sensory organ for your horse, whiskers help your beloved equine friend with experiencing, exploring and reacting to the world around it. By sending unique signals to the brain, your horse uses its whiskers for all of the following:
- Protecting delicate tissues, such as stimulating your horse to blink in order to protect its eyes or to move its face in order to protect its lips and nose.
- Evaluating objects in order to determine texture, shape, temperature, movement and distance.
- Finding and evaluating food, whether grazing or eating out of a feeder, bucket or hay net.
- Interacting with other horses or with humans or other animals.
In newborn foals, it is also believed that the whiskers help the foal with finding its mother’s teats so it can feed. This is likely the reason why foals are born with longer whiskers than adult horses. Interestingly, the whiskers are also the first hair to form during embryonic development. In addition, while whiskers do shed, they do not follow seasonal patterns like other hairs. Rather, they have a growth cycle during which they emerge, mature and then shed naturally as they are replaced by new whiskers. The long hairs that grow underneath the horse’s jaw are different from true whiskers, however, and are simply long hairs.
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Have you ever paid much attention to your horse’s whiskers? While whiskers may seem to be just more hair on your horse’s body, the truth is that your horse’s whiskers are far different and more specialized than other hairs. In fact, these whiskers are a sensory organ in much the same way as whiskers are on a dog or a cat.
Longer and stiffer than typical hairs, your horse’s whiskers are contained within whisker follicles that are also deeper and larger than other hair follicles. Along with these follicles comes a richer blood supply as well as a connection to more nerves than is found with regular hairs. As a result, your horse’s whiskers are very sensitive to touch. In addition, each whisker sends a unique signal to the brain, which is then processed to stimulate the appropriate response. This response may be either voluntary or involuntary.
Formally known as vibrissae, whiskers are also commonly referred to as “tactile hair” or “tactile vibrissae”. They can be found around the eyes as well as on your horse’s muzzle. In these locations, the whiskers help to protect delicate tissue while also helping to compensate for the blind spots your horse has under its nose. So, as you can see, whiskers are a very important part of your horse’s anatomy!
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