(Or why horse experts shouldn’t extrapolate conclusions from rat experiments.)
Saying a horse’s whiskers shouldn’t be trimmed because they are important sensory organs is like saying a man shouldn’t shave his face or a woman shouldn’t shave her legs because they are important sensory organs. They’re attached to hair follicles, yes, that are attached to nerve endings that give some sensory input, (the reason plucking is so painful!) but let’s not be ridiculous. If I waited for my hairy legs to get that close to a dangerous object, I’d definitely be too close!
There are two reasons, off the top of my head, to shave a horse’s whiskers…
Shaving a Horse’s Whiskers is Training…
The first is about training. Since I work so much on a horse’s learning path, I’m constantly looking for new input to shape the way a horse thinks. A clipper’s loud buzzing and vibration can be very unnerving for a skittish horse and using clippers as a trigger allows me to work on the horse’s reactions. While I’m there, I might as well tidy him up! I admit, once the trigger no longer works, (the horse is completely okay with clippers) I tend to get lazy and the horses get pretty hairy and unkempt.
Shaving a Horse’s Whiskers is Pretty…
Which leads me to the second reason. I have nothing against unshaved horses and they certainly perform exactly the same as their shaved counterparts but there is a certain dIsHeVeLed look to them. Like they are still in the practice arena and haven’t graduated to the big boy arena yet. There is a polished look to a well-groomed, shaved horse that an unshaved horse can’t pull off. Granted, that’s all about eyecandy and nothing to do with ability, but those looks are what can add a couple k to a pricetag. Or knock a few off because you didn’t bother tidying your horse up.
Unsubstantiated Declarations about Shaving a Horse’s Whiskers
Do you know what an unsubstantiated declaration is? An opinion. Everybody has an opinion. Opinions can be logical and methodical OR based on emotion. Opinions are a combination of first impressions wrapped in a “belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.” (dictionary.com) The only substantiated declaration in this essay, the only proven, scientific studies that are being used as examples why we shouldn’t shave whiskers, with reproducible findings, are ones on rat whiskers. I find bits and pieces of those rat studies highlighted and quoted by big shot horse experts on forums, website, and heck, even whole European countries (Germany and Netherlands, I’m looking at you! LOL) That’d be fine if we put little bridles and saddles on rats and performed little dressage tests with them. But we don’t. There is a small preliminary pilot study of the vibrissae (whiskers) of the horse and an assessment of the effect of manipulation through hot, cold, cutting, pulling and electricity. That study was the ONLY scientific-like experiments done on HORSE whiskers I could find. It’s not finished but you know what? Basically the findings in that study show you can shave a horse’s whiskers off, braid them into little flamboyant toupees and glue them to your horse’s butt and get the same reaction out of your horse. Horses just don’t use their whiskers in the same fashion that rats do. Any objective horse watcher/trainer/behaviorist not trying to push their own agenda will tell you the same thing.
Everything else presented here you can take with a grain of salt as the unsubstantiated declarations of a bossy mare (me! LOL).
(To be Continued . . . )
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QUESTIONS or COMMENTS about article? Maybe you don’t agree with my unsubstantiated declarations and have unearthed previously undiscovered proof of how whiskery hair growth on equine noses saves lives? Comment below!