Clipping a horse’s coat is often messy, time-consuming, and stressful for horses and humans alike. But with the right approach and careful planning, clipping your horse doesn’t have to be a dreaded chore.

Clipping offers numerous benefits, particularly for horses expected to work or show during the winter. [1] Horse owners often clip in the fall as their horses’ heavy winter coats start coming in. Clipping is often favored by equestrians to help accentuate the horse’s form and movement in competition. [1][3]

This practice also helps horses maintain a stable body temperature, supports skin and coat health, and simplifies grooming. Improved coat hygiene over the winter may also reduce the risk of certain skin conditions, such as mud fever and rain rot. [4]

Although there are professional services that offer horse clipping, many handlers and owners elect to clip their horses on their own at home. Read on to learn more about the benefits of clipping and how to start clipping your own horse this winter.

Do I Need to Clip my Horse?

Deciding whether to clip your horse involves several considerations, including your horse’s level of activity, living conditions, climate, health and age.

Clipping your horse’s hair coat prevents excessive sweating during exercise by allowing body heat to escape. This reduces the risk of chilling when sweat cools against a long, damp coat. [2] A wet winter coat takes longer to dry than a summer coat.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just climate or temperature that influences seasonal hair growth patterns in horses. Daylight plays a significant role as well. [10] Horses naturally grow more hair as the hours of daylight decrease with the approach of winter. [10]

Some horse breeds naturally have thick coats and may require clipping year-round. Similarly, horses with metabolic issues and shedding difficulties may also benefit from regular clipping to prevent overheating.

Benefits of Clipping Your Horses

Clipping your horse offers several benefits, particularly in terms of health, comfort, and performance. Here are some key advantages:

Prevents Overheating

When your horse engages in rigorous exercise or training during winter and sweats excessively, it may struggle to regulate its body temperature. [2]

A horse with a winter coat is at risk of overheating if wet from sweating. Furthermore, an unclipped horse that sweats excessively requires more time for its body to dry off completely.

Research comparing clipped and unclipped horses during exercise reveals important findings. One study observed that unclipped horses became overheated after training while clipped ones did not. [11]

Another study focusing on Standardbred trotters showed that clipped horses experienced less strain in regulating body temperature and could exercise more efficiently compared to their unclipped counterparts. [12]

Monitor your horse’s vital signs before and after exercise to accurately track its recovery. [13][14] Over time, this can provide insight into whether your horse’s hair length is appropriate for its level of activity.

Promotes Skin Health

Consider clipping your horse if it has a history of skin infections such as equine pastern dermatitis (EPD), rain rot, matted hair, sores, or other skin issues. [15][4]

Long hair on horses can exacerbate these conditions as it traps moisture, dirt, sweat, dander, mud, and even pests like lice and mites, creating an environment where bacteria thrive. This can lead to skin irritations and inflammation. [16]

Additionally, longer hair can result in tack pulling and snagging, particularly in areas like the bridle and girth, causing discomfort and skin issues.

Clipping makes it easier to maintain skin health by allowing for better visibility, cleaning, and application of topical medications. Trimming these areas can help prevent such issues and promote overall comfort and well-being.

Improves Aesthetics

By removing excess hair, clipping can give your horse a more appealing appearance that is sleek and tidy. Horses that show in the winter are often clipped. [1]

Recreational riders also enjoy clipping their horses creatively, sometimes trimming detailed patterns into their coat to make them stand out.

Managing Abnormal Coat Growth

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, Equine Cushing’s Disease) is prevalent in certain breeds of horses aged 15 years and older. [17] The condition is characterized by abnormalities in pituitary gland function, which lead to hormonal and metabolic disturbances. [17]

The most common sign of PPID in horses is long, curly hair that does not shed properly (hirsutism). [17] Other symptoms include muscle loss, impaired immune function, and changes in behavior.

Clipping can enhance the comfort of horses affected by PPID regardless of environmental temperature or time of year.

Supports Anhidrotic Horses

Horses with anhidrosis, a condition characterized by the inability to sweat, require extra support to stay cool when exercising or during warm periods.

Clipping, along with other management practices such as increasing salt intake, can help to maintain comfort for these horses. [6][7]

Maintains Basic Grooming

Clipping offers an efficient solution for maintaining horse hygiene and streamlining your grooming routine. With a shorter coat, cleaning is easier as there’s less accumulation of dust and dirt compared to longer, fluffier hair.

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When to Avoid Clipping Your Horse

While clipping horses is often beneficial for both horse and rider, there are certain cases in which this grooming practice should be avoided.

If your horse spends the winter living outdoors, their thick winter coat serves an essential purpose to provide insulation and protect them from the elements. These horses should not be clipped unless blanketing practices are also in place.

Older horses are typically less active and more susceptible to the cold than younger horses. Check with your veterinarian before clipping your senior horse as they may struggle with regulating their body temperature, especially in extreme cold weather. [22]

If your horse is relatively inactive during the winter months and won’t be working up a sweat regularly, there’s little need to clip their coat. Your horse’s natural coat provides ample protection and warmth, making clipping unnecessary.

How Often Should I Clip my Horse?

The ideal schedule for clipping your horse depends on your local climate. In the northern hemisphere, horses typically start growing their winter coat in the fall months.

The number of times a horse may need to be clipped throughout the year is influenced by multiple factors. Genetics, breed, and nutrition affect the rate at which your horse’s hair grows.

Some owners may need to clip their horses only a few times during winter, while others may require more frequent clipping. To maintain a shorter coat, some owners may elect to clip every three to five weeks over the winter.

Note that horses start shedding their winter coat as the daylight hours increase with spring approaching, signaling the start of the shedding season. [22] Clipping should be discontinued as daylight increases, prompting the growth of a lighter summer coat.

If you’re unsure about how frequently to clip your horse, it’s advisable to seek guidance from your veterinarian.

Common Types of Clips

Before starting to clip your horse, determine the purpose and type of clip needed. Several styles of clips for horses exist. Some of the most common ones include: [24]

  • Full Clip: Removes all coat hair. This type of clip is commonly used on horses competing in shows during the winter. It’s best suited for horses that won’t spend time outdoors during winter, with continued demands for regular work.
  • Hunter Clip: Removes all coat hair except for the hair on the legs and the top of the face. Leaving the hair on the legs and face helps provide warmth for horses living in cold and wet conditions. This pattern also offers protection from the saddle.
  • Trace Clip: Removes hair from the underside of the neck and belly. Variations include high or low clips, depending on how far up the flank the hair is removed. The trace clip is suitable for horses kept outside during the day but brought inside during cold nights.
  • Blanket Clip: Removes more hair than the trace clip, including the neck and flanks. This clip leaves a blanket-shaped area over the back and hindquarters to provide warmth. The leg hair is left unclipped for additional protection.
  • Irish Clip: Removes hair from areas prone to profuse sweating such as the front of the neck and armpits.
  • Bib Clip: Removes minimal hair from the front of the neck and chest. This clip is ideal for horses that live outdoors or only have light work demands.

Preparing Your Horse for Clipping

Proper preparation is important before attempting to clip your own horse at home. By mastering clipping techniques and ensuring your horse remains calm and relaxed throughout the process, you can make clipping a comfortable part of your grooming routine.

Here are some considerations to prepare your horse and yourself for clipping at home:

Prioritize Cleanliness

Clipping a dirty, oily coat can clog up the blades on your clipper. Ideally, bathe your horse a day or two before clipping to ensure their coat is clean and dry. If bathing isn’t possible, thorough grooming before clipping is essential to remove loose mud and dirt, which can blunt blades.

Ensure Mane and Tail Care

To avoid accidentally cutting off chunks of mane or tail hair, bandage the tail and loosely braid the mane or brush it over with a damp sponge.

Prevent Clipper Rash

Some horses may have a sensitivity to clipper oil that can result in a raised rash when applied to their skin. Conduct a small-patch spot test a few days before clipping by applying a coin-sized dab of clipper oil to their skin. If a reaction occurs, remove the oil with diluted shampoo and try a different brand of product.

Desensitize Your Horse

Introduce your horse to the clippers gradually to acclimate them to the vibration, sound, and sensation. Start with quieter clippers or electric toothbrushes, gradually increasing exposure over time. Consider offering treats or positive reinforcement training to make your horse more receptive and relaxed during the process.

Seek Professional Assistance

If you or your horse are new to clipping or if your horse is particularly sensitive or nervous, consider using a professional clipping service. They can provide guidance and ensure a positive experience for your horse.

Clip Carefully

Use long, flat strokes with the clippers lying flat against the skin to avoid irritation. Avoid clipping at an angle to prevent contact between the clipper teeth and the horse’s skin.

Minimize Stress

Start with a small clip and use quiet clippers if possible to reduce your horse’s stress level. Consider using cordless clippers for reduced noise. Always have someone present to help calm your horse if needed.

How to Clip Your Horse

Begin clipping in an area where your horse is less sensitive, such as the shoulder, to get them used to the sensation. If performing a trace clip or full body clip, start clipping paths or areas from the lowest point on the horse’s body to maintain even pressure and achieve a smoother finish.

Use a grid-like pattern to clip more easily. Clipping against the coat’s growth direction allows for a closer cut and helps eliminate uneven lines of hair.

You may need to gently stretch your horse’s skin or smooth out wrinkles to ensure an even cut. Areas like the elbows, chest, and throatlatch are prone to accidental nicks, so be cautious around wrinkles in these regions.

Clipping around the mane and tail can be tricky but manageable with simple techniques. For the tail, clip a triangular shape at the base, leaving a neat tail head.

When clipping around the mane, avoid running clippers horizontally beneath the neck crest. Instead, hold the clippers perpendicular to the neck and clip downwards to prevent lines and stray hairs.

Clipper lines, or uneven hair, are common and can result from dull blades, inconsistent pressure, or starting with an unclean coat. To prevent lines, slightly overlap clipping paths and maintain consistent pressure. If lines appear, re-clip over them in an X pattern to even out the hair.

Tips for Safe and Effective Clipping

Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind while clipping your horse:

  • Use Secure Tying: Ensure your horse is securely tied in a quiet, settled area to prevent them from moving unexpectedly.
  • Manage Cords: Arrange cords carefully to avoid tripping hazards. Keep the cable over your shoulder to prevent it from dangling on the floor. If using an extension cord, place it over a door with the door shut to prevent your horse from stepping on it.
  • Ensure a Secure Hold: Choose clippers with a string handle to secure them to your wrist in case of accidental drops.
  • Maintain your Clippers: Keep your clippers in good condition by servicing them regularly. The frequency of service required depends on usage. Ensure the blades are sharpened and the vents are cleared to prevent hair buildup.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Wear lightweight, breathable overalls that cover you from head to toe to protect against hair and debris. Sturdy footwear is essential. Additionally, wear a protective helmet in case your horse kicks out unexpectedly.
  • Select the Appropriate Clippers: Once you’ve evaluated your horse’s coat, ensure you have the suitable clipper for the task at hand. With a wide array of options available, ranging from compact trimmers to heavy-duty clippers, it’s essential to choose wisely. If you intend to remove substantial portions of your horse’s coat, opting for a full-scale clipper is advisable.
  • Choose an Appropriate Clip: If your horse is nervous or struggles to stand still for a full body clip, you may find it challenging to complete a full clip in one session. Start with a clip design that covers a smaller portion of the body to make the experience more manageable.

After Care Considerations

Once you have finished your horse’s clip, it’s a good idea to make sure their coat is well maintained between haircuts. Some options to consider include:

  • Hot-Cloth Treatment: Use a hot cloth with a small amount of an antimicrobial cleanser to remove any remaining grease and hair after clipping. Dip a rag or towel into warm water, wring it out, and gently wipe it over your horse’s coat to lift excess dirt.
  • Protection from Elements: Clipping removes your horse’s natural hair protection, leaving their skin vulnerable to wind, rain, and potential infections. Clipped skin is also more susceptible to fly irritation and environmental reactions. Make sure your clipped horse has sufficient shelter and consider blanketing them during winter turnout.
  • Adjust Diet: Clipped horses might need more forage or feed in cold weather to stay warm, as they expend more calories to maintain their body temperature.
  • Know Your Horse: Understand your horse’s temperature tolerance post-clipping. Monitor their comfort level and adjust blankets accordingly to keep them happy and warm.

Blanketing Your Horse After Clipping

Providing a winter blanket may be necessary to protect horses with clipped coats from wind and precipitation. [18]

Although the need for blankets is debated for horses with intact coats, clipped horses need to be blanketed in certain weather conditions once they no longer have natural coat to protect them from the elements. [8][9][23]

Research on horses’ blanketing preferences demonstrates that they are more likely to prefer wearing one as wind speed and precipitation increases. [19]

Summary

Horse clipping is a valuable grooming practice that offers numerous benefits for both horse and owner.

  • Mastering proper clipping techniques can enhance coat appearance and overall well-being.
  • By understanding the different types of clips and preparing adequately, horse owners can ensure a safe and effective grooming experience.
  • Common types of clips for horses include the full body, hunter, trace, blanket, Irish, and bib.
  • Appropriate blanketing practices are essential to maintain the horse’s comfort and protect them from environmental elements after clipping.

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References

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  2. Gough. M. R., Clipping Horses. Equine Veterinary Education. 1997. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-3292.1997.tb01297.x.
  3. Hartmann. E. et al., Management of Horses with Focus on Blanketing and Clipping Practices Reported by Members of the Swedish and Norwegian Equestrian Community. J Anim Sci. 2017. doi: 10.2527/jas.2016.1146.
  4. Gerber. V. et al., Equine Pastern Dermatitis: A Narrative Review on Clinical Presentation, Diagnosis, Risk Factors, Prevention, and Therapeutic Approaches. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2023. doi: 10.2460/javma.22.12.0569.
  5. Zimmel, D. McFarlane, D. Equine Cushings Disease: Equine Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction. AAEP.
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  7. Mallicote, M. Understanding Anhidrosis. AAEP.
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  9. Meisfjord Jørgensen. G. H. et al., Effects of Hair Coat Characteristics on Radiant Surface Temperature in Horses. Journal of Thermal Biology. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2019.102474.
  10. O’Brien. C. et al., The Effects of Extended Photoperiod and Warmth on Hair Growth in Ponies and Horses at Different Times of Year. PLoS One. 2020. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227115.
  11. Wallsten. H. et al., Temperature Regulation in Horses during Exercise and Recovery in a Cool Environment. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 2012. doi: 10.1186/1751-0147-54-42.
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  13. Kang. H. et al., Heat Stress in Horses: A Literature Review. Int J Biometeorol. 2023. doi: 10.1007/s00484-023-02467-7.
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  18. Swinker, A. When to Blanket a Horse. PennState Extension. 2023.
  19. Mejdell. C. et al., The Effect of Weather Conditions on the Preference in Horses for Wearing Blankets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2019. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2019.02.001.
  20. Hammer. C. and Gunkelman. M., Effect of Different Blanket Weights on Surface Temperature of Horses in Cold Climates. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.jevs.2019.102848.
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