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Whisker removal banned in international competition from next year

The FEI has outlawed trimming the whiskers of competition horses from 2021.

The new rule was passed during the federation’s general assembly yesterday (23 November) as part of the veterinary regulations covering sport horses competing internationally under FEI rules in all disciplines.

From July next year, horses who have had their sensory hairs removed, unless for veterinary reasons, will be disqualified from FEI events.

The wording, which was voted through unanimously, states that horses are not permitted to compete 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.”

It adds: “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.”

The sanction referred to is disqualification of the horse from the event.

The reasoning from the FEI veterinary committee for the change is that they believe a horse’s sensory hairs must not be trimmed or removed as it “reduces the horse’s sensory ability”.

“The change will align with legislation in a number of national federations where trimming or removal of sensory hairs is forbidden and in some cases carries a heavy sanction,” it adds.

France, Germany and Switzerland are among the nations where whisker and or ear hair removal is banned to some degree, in some cases it is written into animal welfare law and in others the removal of specified vibrissae is not permitted for horses competing under sporting federation rules.

The German federation welcomed the news and, in its feedback submitted over the summer, called for the FEI to take an even stronger line.

“Clipping or shaving of sensory hairs is forbidden in Germany as well, therefore this addition is very welcome,” states the comment from the German federation.

“This rule should — like in Germany — also apply to the hair inside the horse’s ears, which is part of an organ as well and have a protective function. Clipping the hair that is protruding [from] the ear conch is permitted.”

However, the US federation voiced concerns.

“While there has been an addition to the [FEI] glossary regarding sensory hairs, there is still a great deal of subjectivity which could lead to irregular enforcement at different competitions,” it states.

“Since clipping the sensory hairs results in disqualification, is it to be understood that any trimming or shortening of these hairs would cause disqualification? Clipped “at all” or clipped down to skin level?

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“It should be considered that when sensory hairs around the eye are left at full natural length, they can become tangled or trapped in the blinkers (blinders) of the driving bridle and potentially cause discomfort. Is there any consideration for whether this has been done at the event vs away from the event?

“We recommend removing these changes and addressing when the complete review of the FEI veterinary rules will be conducted.

“This would allow for more input to be gathered from veterinarians and professional horsemen. It is too subjective at this point and could provide difficulty in enforcement.”

The FEI veterinary committee responded to add that the 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 proposal stood and was unanimously approved by the general assembly.

What do you think of this ban? Email hhletters@futurenet.com for your chance to be featured on our letters page. The letter of the week wins a bottle of Champagne Taittinger.

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