Riders showing their horses at elite equine events have long tried to impress judges by doing anything they can to prevent their steed looking scruffy. From braiding their mane to plaiting their tail, prize-winning horses competing in equestrian must look their most presentable. But now the fashion for trimming the whiskers on horses to create a smooth and clear side profile for aesthetic reasons has been banned by the international governing body. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) this week ruled that any riders who practice trimming the muzzle of horses - other than for welfare reasons - will face instant disqualification from next year. It comes after rising discontent for the tradition by campaigners who branded it "cruel" for depriving the animals of an extra sense. Their whiskers, or ‘vibrissae’, grow on horses' noses and eyes and have nerve connections, which help them feel what’s in front of them in much the same way as cats and rats. “Horses are notoriously poor sighted in their immediate vicinity, their eyesight is designed to see in the distance and look for predators but it isn’t very good close up so they use the whiskers to feel for food and surfaces,” said Lucy Grieve, President of British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and an ambulatory vet at Rossdales, in Newmarket. Ms Grieve said that trimming whiskers left horses “unsettled” and “stressed” and that there had been reports of horses - following the removal - that appear “quite clumsy for a few days, and bump their head into a side door or knock their nose into the manger as they go to eat their food.” Ms Grieve said that people tend to trim whiskers for one of three reasons; to look tidy, because it was a perceived competition requirement or because it was what they were taught to do. She added: “There’s no excuse for putting aesthetics and vanity and cosmetic reasons ahead of the horse’s welfare. It’s been a fashion.” Welcoming the decision, Jan Rogers, Director of Research & Policy at the Horse Trust explained: “There are people who believe that it’s more pleasing to the eye to have a more clean horse - if you take them off you’ve got a smoother outline of the head. “For example, it’s important at a show to present yourself at your best - there are people who feel that taking off those whiskers and those hairs gives a smoother appearance.” Ms Rogers added that taking away the whiskers - particularly on the eyelids - could risk the animal hurting itself. “They have them on their upper and lower eyelids and they provide tactile feedback and that will elicit the blink response, so if you take the whiskers off they could potentially then not blink and the eye could become injured.” World Horse Welfare, whose President is the Princess Royal, said the move was “a great step forward” The charity’s CEO, Roly Owers said: “I think people who have done it in the past haven’t realised that there is a role for whiskers to play but actually I think we’re getting to a stage now where ignorance is no excuse. “This understanding has been around for a while and especially FEI top level sport needs to be taking the lead.” The FEI currently has 138 national members and the new rule, which was passed unanimously during the federation’s general assembly on Monday [SUBS 23 ], will apply to all its events including the World Equestrian Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. From July, horses who have had their sensory hairs removed, unless for veterinary reasons, will be disqualified from FEI events. The 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.” It adds: “Areas of hair that must be clipped, shaven or removed to allow veterinary treatment are exempt from this rule." The change follows France, Germany and Switzerland who have all already banned the practice to some degree.