End Of An Appearance Era: Should Mane Pulling Be Banned?

Shortening the mane by pulling it out by the roots has long been custom in show rings across the United States. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) recently banned the custom of trimming whiskers on horses, citing equine welfare issues. Is mane pulling the next tradition on the chopping block?

Removing a horse’s whiskers doesn’t physically hurt the horse, but it does remove some of the horse’s sensory capabilities. Pulling a mane, however, doesn’t have a long-term impact, but can be painful, Dr. Suzanne Millman, a professor of animal welfare at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine told Chronicle of the Horse.

Though the mane may provide some relief from flies and warmth in winter for horses living outside, its ability to assist with either of these are minimal. Long manes are not in style for the majority of horses kept in hunter or jumper competition-ready condition.

Millman found that horses having their manes pulled had increased heart rates. Increased heart rates are associated with other pain indicators, like tightening the mouth, teeth grinding, head tossing, rearing, tail swishing, and moving around. Mane hair is connected to sensory neurons with specialized nerve endings, so a horse’s pain reactions to having their mane pulled makes sense.

Millman recommends that riders and horse owners consider ways of getting the same result on horse’s manes using methods that cause the least harm, like using scissors. If the mane must be pulled, it’s important for those pulling the mane to be aware of the signals that the horse is offering, telling if he’s getting upset. 

Millman recommends consistently pulling the mane rather than pulling it drastically once every few months. She also suggests starting at the withers (where horses mutually groom each other) and working up the mane toward the ears. 

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Using distractions like feeding treats or feed in a bucket can also distract a horse long enough to pull the mane over several days. Applying a pain-blocking product like Dormosedan gel can be considered to alleviate some of the pain from pulling manes. Waiting until a horse’s pores are more open, like after he’s been exercised, can aid in the ability to pull out bigger amounts of hair. 

Horses which don’t seem to be bothered by having their manes pulled may be experiencing “learned helplessness,” where they are resigned to enduring the mane pulling, having been told that they must stand still despite trying to tell their handlers that the mane-pulling hurts. 

Read more at Chronicle of the Horse

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