The thick coat your horse grows in winter is naturally designed to protect him from the elements. However, in an environment of rugs and exercise regimes, it can sometimes be easier and more practical to clip all or part of it off.
Clipping helps your horse keep cool when he’s working – excessive sweating can lead to discomfort, loss of condition and an increased risk of him catching a chill, as his winter coat will take a long time to dry out. However, keep in mind that a clipped horse will need thicker rugs to replace his lost coat and natural grease will have been removed from the clipped areas, so he’ll have less protection from the winter weather.
Top clipping tips
1 Make sure your clipper blades are sharp and clean before you start – dull, dirty blades will cut less cleanly and are more likely to overheat or catch his skin. It’s a good idea to have a spare pair of blades handy, too – the last thing you want is a half-clipped horse.
2 If it’s warm enough, bath your horse thoroughly before clipping him to remove dirt and excess grease from his coat. If the weather is too cold for a full bath, spot cleaning particularly grimy areas, hot clothing or a thorough groom will remove the worst of the dirt. Roughly plait his mane and tail or put on a tail bandage to keep them out of the way while you work.
3 Choose to clip on a bright day or in a well-lit area so you can see what you’re doing. Start early in the day so that you aren’t rushing and have enough time at the end to take your horse outside and look at him in daylight to check if you’ve missed any bits. If you’re clipping in his stable, rake back all the bedding so it’s easier to tidy up the clipped hair when you’re finished. Rubber mats on the floor will also help to insulate you in the event of an electrical fault.
4 Wear overalls or scruffy clothes – clipped hair is very difficult to remove from fabric, particularly fleece. Take off rings and other jewellery to save them from getting covered in clipper oil, and sturdy, rubber-soled boots will protect and insulate your feet.
5 Fit a circuit breaker between the plug of the clippers and the socket – this will cut off the electrical supply if the cable is damaged, and protect you and your horse from potentially dangerous shocks. If you’re using an extension lead, roll it out fully so that it doesn’t overheat and check all cables for any damage or wear.
6 If you haven’t clipped your horse before, take some time to let him become accustomed to the clippers before you start. An electric toothbrush can simulate the feel of the clippers without the danger of removing chunks of hair, or you can download apps for your phone, originally designed for practical jokes, that mimic the sound and vibration of hair clippers.
7 If your horse is a fidget or can get tense, turn him out for a few hours or exercise him first to get rid of any excess energy. Just remember that he’ll need to be clean and dry before you start clipping. Give him a haynet to distract him while you’re working.
8 Use a stick of damp chalk to mark out the edges of your clip. A taut piece of string along his body or over his withers will give you a straight line to draw along, or put your saddle on your horse and draw around the edge for a hunter clip. Remember to remove the saddlecloth, as this will make the area too big.
9 The clipper blades will get hot as you work, particularly if the blades are blunt, your horse has a dirty coat or you don’t regularly oil the blades as you go. If you can’t comfortably touch the turned-off blades with the back of your hand, they’re too hot and should be left to cool down, otherwise you’re at risk of burning your horse.
10 Standing on a step will help you achieve a correct clip along your horse’s topline, particularly if he’s tall.
11 To get an even clip in the folds of your horse’s elbow without nicking his skin, ask an assistant to hold his foreleg forwards. They should hold him securely under the knee in case he tries to move – this can also stop him kicking out when you’re clipping sensitive areas. If your horse reacts badly to the clippers, you and your assistant should consider wearing riding hats.
12 If you’re taking off a lot of hair, cover your horse with an old cotton sheet to keep him warm. Cover his quarters while you do his shoulders and neck, then swap over. Avoid using a new rug or a fleece, as it will get covered in clipped hair.
13 Consider switching to small trimmers to clip his face and legs. These are quieter and less intrusive than standard clippers, so many horses are happier having them around their face. Take care in these areas because there are projecting bones to clip around, making it easier to nick his skin.
14 Hot clothing your horse when you’re done will remove loose hair clippings from his coat, which could cause irritation. Bathing him with an antiseptic shampoo will also achieve this if the weather is warm enough and the shampoo will disinfect any nicks or cuts from the blades, too.
15 When you’re finished, remove the blades, and clean and oil them. Brush any hair from the clippers and oil all moving parts before storing both the clippers and the blades in a safe, dry place. This means they are ready to use next time you come to clip.
16 You can clip as many times as you need throughout the winter, but think carefully about clipping after New Year and avoid it after the beginning of February if you’re worried about damaging your horse’s summer coat.