Starting next summer, horses competing in Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) events may not have whiskers on their muzzle, eyes and outer ears trimmed.
The new rule passed at the federation's general assembly late last month.
The FEI is the governing body for international equine sports in eight disciplines: dressage, combined driving, endurance, eventing, para-equestrian (dressage and driving for rider and drivers with disabilities), reining, show jumping and vaulting. The rule applies to horses in all disciplines and the penalty is disqualification from the event.
In stating the rationale for the rule change, the FEI veterinary committee wrote in a July 2020 memo that it," believes that the 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 federation] where trimming or removal of sensory hairs is forbidden and in some cases carries a heavy sanction." Germany, Switzerland and France had previously passed rules against whisker and ear hair removal as part of animal welfare laws or equestrian federation rules.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) raised concerns over possible enforcement in a submitted comment prior to the vote: "...there is still a great deal of subjectivity which could lead to irregular enforcement at different competitions. 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? 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?"
The USEF asked that a review by the veterinary committee be completed and public input collected before passage of the rule. The proposal, however, stood and was passed by a unanimous vote of the general assembly.