'As public awareness of animal welfare issues seems to have reached an all-time high, the equine industry ignores any issue related to equine welfare at its peril.'

That was a prediction in my January, 2019, column and it looks as if it will be appropriate to roll it once more as we soon enter the New Year. The pressure from the equine welfare lobby remains unabated, in fact it continues to gather pace as many of the old, established ideas and principles are blown out of the water.

Without appearing to be overly reactionary, I have to ask what proof is being put forward to support the changes being made and why is more not being done to push through those which are obviously necessary?

The latest of the issues that has been highlighted is that of removing the whiskers, a practice lost in the mists of time and one without any justification other than it looks neat and tidy in the eyes of some beholders.

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It is reasonable to assume that the long hairs around the muzzle and eyes have evolved with good reason and accounts for part of the sensory armoury built up naturally in the equine. Although there appears to be limited research done on equine whiskers and their function, surely it makes sense not to remove them.

The ban on the removal of whiskers is not new to the equestrian world with Germany the first to ban the practice as far back as 1998, followed by Switzerland in 2014 and France in 2020. The international governing authority of horse sports(FEI), considered the issue at length and consequently made a ruling to ban the trimming of equine whiskers in international competition anywhere in the world from July 1, 2021.

It is a practice that has been freely accepted across the competition disciplines in Britain, however time will tell whether or not the showing fraternity will embrace the principal as both the Great Yorkshire Show council and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society have already indicated support for the FEI ruling on this for 2022.

The Great Yorkshire Show stands out as an advocate and upholder of equine welfare in a way that no other showing organisation has dared. For several years, it has proved fearless in implementing its rules on inappropriate rider combinations especially in the ridden mountain and moorland classes.

This year it tackled the age-old issue of older riders working in ponies for children, by ensuring that ponies are only ridden within the show ground by those who are age appropriate for the class entered.

Both stances have created an uproar, needless to say especially on social media, however most people agree and, interestingly, class sizes have remained high.

Exhibitors will be only too aware that the Great Yorkshire Show council means business on the ban of whisker trimming and woe betide anyone who thinks they will get away with it. As an exhibitor of the Welsh breeds, I welcome the early statement by my breed society on the matter and hope that others quickly follow suit, although I am concerned about the deathly silence so far from the other main showing and breed societies.

Sadly, so many of them are afraid of a back-lash from members and reticent about bringing in rules which might upset them and consequently affect membership.

My other main concern surrounds the wording within the rule books, which will be dropping through letter boxes come the New Year.

Will there be advice and moreover support offered to the judges who have the responsibility of upholding society rules in the ring? Will judges have the right to send exhibits out of the ring or put them to the bottom of the line? Has the ruling defined exactly what the ban on whisker trimming entails and what happens if a few of the whiskers are left on or eye and muzzle whiskers are trimmed down to a shorter length?

Rest assured there will be those exhibitors who chance their arm and take on the judges when things don't go their way.

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Whisker trimming may be current, however my predictions for the future include many other welfare issues which are currently simmering on a back burner and in many ways of much greater concern.

Staying with the show ring, surely the issue of the weight ratio of rider and tack to equine hasn't gone away but one proving too sensitive for showing societies to address fairly – although they know it exists.

Sadly, it seems to me that self interest as well as the influence of the equine industry remain governing factors when decisions on welfare are concerned.

It can only be a matter of time before the many man-made products used to enhance (if not alter) the appearance of equines comes under closer scrutiny. As part of our 'bling' culture, these include the extensive use of make-up and the proliferation of chemical sprays and gels which achieve glossy coats; in the 'old days', this was achieved by good feeding, exercise and grooming.

Perhaps the environmentalists in a bid to achieve carbon neutrality within the industry will have a say on this before the welfare lobby kicks in.

For all those interested in competition, there is the issue of the long hours which horses and ponies have to stand on lorries during journeys to events or while waiting to compete.

Brexit and travel arrangements into Continental Europe have brought this to a head as, too, has the general problem of road travel in Britain. What about the use of stabling at events which can be cramped by home standards, which don't allow turn out, are subject to a lot of strange activity and provide the potential site of disease transfer?

Last, but not least, remains the issue of equine obesity, a problem which is not restricted to any one group of enthusiasts although the native pony-lovers among us may have more to answer than most.

It is such a difficult problem to manage when our ponies tend to live on next to nothing and traditional moorland settings are just not available to the average owner. Shorter winters and a milder climate in general fail to pull the excess weight off and let's face it, we're just too good to our equine friends as we equate good care to the provision of multiple layers of rugs a well as that 'wee' feed when the weather's bad or mud appears to have taken over from grass.

Besides, who wants to ride or groom a soggy horse or pony? What would the neighbours say if our equines were left standing with their back-ends to the wind on a dirty day when the rain or sleet is blowing? What would the welfare lobby say if there were no piles of hay in evidence during wintry weather?

How do we refocus our eyes to accept a less curvaceous form which we have unwittingly achieved through excess but ill-directed love and attention? To quote an old-fashioned Scottish term: “It's a job!”

Times are definitely changing in all aspects of our world and it's true when people say that old practices die hard. However, they must if we are to stay on the right side of the welfare lobby, whose issues, I have no doubt, are sincere and certainly worth considering before being criticised or dismissed out of hand.

Together, we have the welfare of our equines at the foremost of our thoughts and together we should aspire to achieve the very best for them.