The new rule banning the shaving of the sensory hairs on the muzzle, eyes and outer ears was passed during the FEI’s General Assembly on November 23rd. This new veterinary regulation that was unanimously passed involves sport horses competing under FEI rules in all disciplines and the penalty for non-compliance is disqualification of the horse from the event. Shaving of sensory hairs for veterinary reasons are exempt; the unanimously-passed wording 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.”

The FEI Veterinary Committee maintains that removing a horse’s sensory hairs “reduces the horse’s sensory ability” adding “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.”

Previously, Germany, Switzerland and France had banned whisker and ear hair removal at various levels of seriousness as part of their animal welfare laws or sporting federation rules.

It was also encourage by the German Federation that the new rule apply to the hair inside the horse’s ears, which offers protection, but The FEI veterinary committee responded that the hairs in the horse’s ears “are not considered to be sensory hairs.”

Not everyone was convinced with the proposal; the US Federation suggested that additional input should be gathered from veterinarians and horsemen, and that enforcement could be difficult. They commented, “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. 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 was also suggested that sensory hairs around the eye left at full natural length can become tangled or trapped in the blinders of the driving bridle and potentially cause discomfort,” to which the FEI Veterinary Committee disagreed and the wording stood.