Horsetache! Why Do Some Horses Have Mustaches?

I was talking to a friend the other day about a new horse at the yard where she keeps her horse, my friend was in hysterics telling me about the new horse’s mustache. Yes, you did hear that correctly, apparently, the horse has a very fetching mustache!

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical and thought it was just some clever Photoshop work, but after asking on Facebook (and doing some research myself) I discovered that it’s true, some horses really do have mustaches. Read on to find out why.

Do horses grow mustaches? While they may not be common in all horses, some horses can, and do, grow mustaches. More common in breeds such as the Gypsy Vanner, Shire Horse, and Clydesdale, mustaches are often grown during the winter and shed in time for summer, although some horses keep their mustaches all year round.

Everybody has their own opinion on horsetaches and whether they are a good or bad thing, some people love them while others find them less charming. Whichever side of the fence you sit on though there’s no denying that horse mustaches are certainly distinctive with many people believing them to bring good luck to the horse’s owner. 

Many people believe horse mustaches bring the owner good luck
Thank you to Bri Nelson for this adorable photo

Before researching this article I have to admit I’d never heard of a horse mustache but I’m now well and truly converted and have to say I love them, if nothing else they’re guaranteed to brighten up your day.

Why do horses have mustaches?

More common in draft breeds and native British mountain and moorland breeds, it’s believed that a horse’s mustache is a direct result of the need to differentiate between various types of grass. It’s thought that these breeds developed this rather quirky characteristic to help them find the right food when the light was low (such as at dusk and dawn) as well as when snow is covering the ground. The fact that most horses shed their mustaches in the summer gives credence to this theory.

While we know why a horse might need to grow a mustache it doesn’t really explain how they grow them though. Of course, there will always be an exception to every rule, and while some horses will grow mustaches due to hormonal imbalances such as excess testosterone or as a result of malnutrition these causes are generally pretty rare. Instead, the vast majority of all horse mustaches (around 97% of them) are a direct result of the same gene that causes the horse to grow feathers (the long hair around their legs) and long, thick manes and tails. The gene is cumulative which means the more copies of the gene a horse has the hair they grow, and the more hair they grow the more obvious and defined their mustache is.

Some horses have moustaches to help them distinguish between different types of grazing
Thank you to Toni Tidwell for the photo of Belladonna Cash The Man In Red’s incredibly distinguished horsetache

Can all horses have mustaches?

The simple answer is yes, all horses, can have a mustache but this largely depends on the reason for the mustache in the first place. If it’s due to a hormonal imbalance or malnourishment then of course all horses can have mustaches but if it’s due to the presence of the ‘hairy’ gene then no, only horses that carry that gene will be able to have a mustache. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s generally draft horses and cobs that carry this gene.

What might really surprise you though is that, unlike us humans (okay so most of us anyway) both male and female horses can grow mustaches.

Both male and female horses can have mustaches
Thank you to Starr Strother for the photo of her mare, Step On By, and her colt Korben

Should you shave a horse’s mustache?

The opinion is divided as to whether or not you should remove a horse’s mustache, some people hate them while others love them. That said though if the horse has a heavy workload then the mustache, especially if it’s long, can cause them to sweat more. They can also prevent the sweat from running off of the horse properly too which I’m sure is irritating to the horse.

The honest answer really is to say that it doesn’t matter whether or not you shave a horse’s mustache, especially if the horse has plenty of good quality grazing and doesn’t need to tell the difference between various types. If the horse’s mustache is particularly long though it can sometimes get in the horse’s way so in those circumstances it would be better for the horse if you did.

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Do horse mustaches need any special care?

You don’t need to worry about giving a horse’s mustache any special care, they’re self-grooming and cleaning so don’t need any lotions or creams. They’re often shed during the summer too so you generally don’t need to worry about clipping or shaving them either.

Like a horse’s mane or tail though they will require a little bit of grooming but because they’re attached to the horse’s muzzle you should be very gentle when brushing them.

Horse mustahces don't need any special care or attention
Thank you to Steffanie Christensen for this photo of MHB The Marthanoir who’s owned by Wendy Annis

Are mustaches and whiskers the same thing?

Unlike humans who grow their whiskers into beards and mustaches, horses’ whiskers and mustaches are totally different things. The whiskers (which are known as vibrissae) are sensory hairs around the muzzle and eyes that help the horse to work out distances from its surroundings. They’re perfect for ‘seeing’ in their blind spots where horses just can’t visually see their surroundings

Whiskers are vitally important to the horse and should never be removed, cut, or trimmed unless your vet advises you to do so, and certainly never for cosmetic reasons. Even trimming them can cause the horse a great deal of stress and was banned from all international competition by the FEI in 2020. [source]

Mustaches, on the other hand, are completely different and are nothing more than excessive hair. Whether they’re left to grow naturally, are cultivated, or are removed, the horse will suffer no adverse effects whatsoever. Unless of course, you decide to remove them and the horse has an aversion to clippers!

Thank you to Caitia Hladky for letting me share the video

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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