Mechanoreceptors - Why you shouldn't be trimming off your horses whiskers!!


The reason why you shouldn’t be trimming off your horses whiskers…

The topic of Mechanoreceptors is a complex one therefore, I am going to try and not blow your mind…

In short, mechanoreceptors are sensory neurons that relay information about the environment (internally within and externally out of the body) back to the central nervous system (the brain/spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (neurons that branch from the brain/spinal cord and transmit information to and from the limbs and organs).

Have I lost you yet?

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is sub-divided into the somatic nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system.

Somatic Nervous System – Controls the VOLUNTARY use of muscles to move the body

Autonomic Nervous System – Unconscious bodily processes – such as heart rate, digestion, respiration and "reflex" reactions etc

Whiskers are a crucial component to your horses’ nervous system (as are the hairs around their eyes, in their ears and covering their entire body!) They are covered in nerve endings containing mechanoreceptors.

Whiskers aid the horse’s ability to make visual sense of their environment. Horses cannot see at the end of their nose, they need their fine tactile hairs at the end of their muzzle to “feel” this information, which is then relayed back to the CNS and PNS, and the appropriate action is made in accordance to the whereabouts of objects in their environment.

For example, you have put a new water bucket in the field; the horse will investigate using their tactile hairs at the end of their muzzle – and will more than likely use the somatic nervous path way, to move their head up and into the bucket without knocking it.

Or if they are anything like my horse, purposely knock the water bucket over… place it in their mouths, wiggle it around; and then proceed to wear it as a hat because it’s fun.

Hey! Each horse to their own!

By trimming off the whiskers, you are in fact cutting off a vital sensory organ – now I strongly advise you do not chop your own fingers off…so likewise, please let your horse keep their beard?

That is probably the worst biology lesson ever given, but I trust you get the take home message.

Here is a link to a magazine article that Horse and Rider published in 2016 – which is a good read to get a basic understanding of the different types of receptors; and why they are important for your horse!

*Photo taken from and their poll on “Whisker Decisions” no copyright infringement intended*

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