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Horse Clipping Tips

November 30, 2020

Rachel Annan, Equine Technologist, CAFRE

When to Clip

The shorter day length associated with autumn triggers a change in the horses coat leading to increased growth and a longer, thicker coat. This change is the first sign that clipping may be required and may have already taken place in September or October. Most horses require two or three clips over the winter months with March generally being the cut off point for the last clip.  This will depend on the horse’s breed, exercise and management routine, making the decision of when to undertake the first and last clip individual to each horse.

Reasons for Clipping

There are a number of reasons why horses are clipped for winter. Clipping removes part of the thick, winter coat to prevent excessive sweating when horses are exercised.  Excess sweating can cause stress and weight loss and can result in horses developing a chill due to the prolonged time a thick coat can take to dry.  Clipping reduces the amount of sweat produced and therefore allows horses to work more comfortably whilst reducing the time it takes for horses to dry off after exercise.  Clipped horses are generally also easier to groom and keep clean due to the reduced amount of hair that mud is able to stick to. 

Types of Clip

The type of clip used can be varied to suit individual animals and their owners. The line of the blanket, trace or chaser clip may be cut higher or lower to suit the horse’s appearance or lifestyle. The horse’s head can be clipped out completely, partially clipped or left unclipped.

  • Hunter or full clips are when all the horse’s coat is removed leaving a saddle patch and often legs unclipped. This type of clip is for competition or hunt horses in hard and strenuous work as it ensures the horse dries off easier after exercise.
  • The blanket clip is advised for horses in medium work. The area where an exercise sheet would be is left unclipped with hair left on the legs. This clip is ideal for horses who have daily turnout wearing suitable rugs.
  • The chaser and trace clip are ideal for keeping the top muscles of the neck warm and a favourite of owners of horses who keep their animals turned out during the day. The line of the clip can be high or low to suit the individual’s horse’s lifestyle.
  • The Irish clip and bib clip remove the hair from the areas where the horse sweats the most, so around the neck and elbows, and is ideal for younger animals and those doing very little work. This clip allows the horse to live outside 24/7 if adequately rugged and with shelter in the field.
Preparing to Clip

Before beginning to clip you must prepare several things:

  • Ensure the clippers have been serviced and blades have been sharpened for the new season – two sets of clipper blades may be needed per clip.
  • Ensure all equipment required for the clipping process is accessible and near to hand. You will need:
    – safe flat non-slip area for clipping
    – close electricity point and an extension lead attached to a circuit breaker
    – circuit breaker to protect against an overload or short circuit
    – clipper oil and brushes for cleaning the clipper blades
    – tail bandage, plaiting bands and chalk for drawing clipping lines
    – filled haynet to keep horse occupied if clipping alone
  • It is important that the clipping area is light and airy and any additional equipment required be nearby – a stool may be useful to reach ears or the face if the horse is large, and a yard brush should be at hand to remove clipped hair from the area.
  • The horse must be clean and it is advised to wash it the day before if weather permits. This eliminates all the dirt and grime which obstructs the clippers causing soreness to the horse’s skin. Never clip a damp or sweaty horse as the hair will block the clipper blades and pull the horse’s coat.
  • Rugs should be clean and fit comfortably, ready to be used if required to keep the horses quarters warm when clipping other areas of the body.
Safety Points

It is best to be organised and have all equipment ready and close at hand. The person clipping must be confident and aware of safety issues. If a number of horses require clipping, it is best to be organised and clip an older, quiet horse first, beside or in close proximity to a younger animal. This will allow the young animal to become familiar with the sound of the clippers. The person clipping and any handlers must have appropriate safety equipment; riding hat with hair tied back, overalls and rubber soled boots, and no jewellery of any description worn. It is important that the handler has equine awareness and stands the same side as the person clipping and listens for instructions.

The Clipping Process
  1. Ensure all safety precautions are in place
  2. Check the clippers for correct tension and oil as required
  3. Plait the tail from the bottom of dock and fold up and secured with a tail bandage, and band the mane to ensure long hair is not caught in the clippers
  4. Tie horse in safe clipping area and turn on clippers for a minute or two to allow the horse to become accustomed to the noise of the clippers then proceed to the shoulder and do the same rubbing the shoulder with the machine on and off. Once the horse is settled gently turn on the clippers and start to clip on the near shoulder using long, overlapping stokes that go against the direction of the hair growth
  5. Regular stops are essential to brush the hair off the blades and ensure adequate oiling of the blades to prevent the clippers from becoming hot and burning the horse’s skin.
  6. Try always to go against the hair and take care clipping between the legs – the handler can help by holding the foreleg up to allow the clippers to work effectively and even out the folds of the horse’s skin
  7. Smaller clippers can be used in delicate or difficult to reach areas such as the inner ear and around the head
  8. A handy tool to have is a head lamp if clipping under the stomach and under the legs , especially if clipping in the evening time

Once clipping is finished give the horse a quick brush and wipe over with a damp warm sponge to get rid of the underlying dirt and loose hairs. This helps to reduce itchiness under rugs. The tail bandage and mane bands should be removed and the horse should be rugged up and returned to the stable.

The clipping area should be tidied and the clippers dismantled and thoroughly cleaned including oiling the blades. The clippers should be stored in a box in a dry environment as this helps to prolong the life span of the clippers. Finally the horse should be checked an hour after clipping to ensure it is warm enough and is eating and drinking as normal.