The Complete Guide to Horse Clipping
Clipping your horse isn’t just a great way to keep him looking his best: it helps prevent overheating during exercise, especially in the fall and winter, when even stabled horses can grow a shaggy winter coat.
Clipping helps a horse to regulate their body temperature, meaning he can exercise safely and more comfortably. If you compete, it keeps him looking sharp for those Fall Classic shows and makes upkeep faster and easier year-round.
However, not every horse needs to be clipped (and not every horse likes being clipped, either!). Maintaining a horse’s clip, just like maintaining a haircut, takes time, and money.
So how do you know if you even need to clip your horse?
When to Clip a Horse
You might decide to clip your horse for a variety of reasons. If any of these situations apply to you, you may want to consider clipping your horse.
Keep a Horse Cool During Exercise
Helping to keep a horse cool during exercise is the most common reason for clipping a horse, especially in Northern climates where the mercury dips below zero, but horses still need to be ridden and exercised.
Common “keep cool” clips include bib, blanket, and trace clips (more on those below), or even a full body clip for competition horses.
Help with Cushing's Symptoms
1 in 5 horses over 15 suffer from Cushing's (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID), a metabolic disorder that can prevent a horse from shedding its winter coat, among many other side effects.
Horses with Cushing's may need an annual full-body clip every spring to remove the winter coat they’re unable to shed to help them stay more comfortable year round.
Keep a Glossy Coat
Clipping just before summer encourages the hair to grow back again even shinier and healthier, like how trimming split ends helps human hair grow long and healthy.
This is a great trick for helping show horses stay shiny and sharp-looking for summer shows.
If your horse is being ridden daily, brushing out a winter coat can add hours a week to your grooming routine, plus extra time to cool him down after exercise.
Clipping can help cut down on grooming time and also cut down on sweating by helping the horse better regulate his body temperature while working.
When NOT to Clip a Horse
If your horse spends all or most of his time outside, it’s best to leave this coat as natural as possible.
Most horses, especially those in colder climates, grow longer coats in the fall and winter. These natural coats do a great job but once a horse is clipped, he loses his protection against the elements.
A clipped horse usually needs to be blanketed depending on his body condition, dietary intake, coat length, temperature, and conditions. If it gets cold where you live, you’ll almost certainly need to blanket your horse when he’s outside.
If he spends most of his time stabled, he may not need a blanket unless it’s very cold or he gets sick, but ultimately it depends on the individual horse. If you’re not sure, a vet or trainer should be able to advise.
If the horse is sick, pregnant, or injured, clipping should be avoided as it can put additional stress on the horse's body and may even make the illness or injury worse.
Best Time of Year to Clip a Horse
The best time of year to clip a horse will depend on a few factors, such as the type of clip you choose and the climate you live in.
For example, if you live in a hot climate and choose a full-body clip, you'll likely need to clip them more often than if you live in a cold climate and choose a hunter clip.
For seasonal clipping, start once the cold weather coat starts to grow in (usually around October or November). Expect to re-clip every 3-5 weeks, depending on hair growth. After the holidays, hair growth slows, and re-clipping may not be needed.
Talk to your veterinarian or a professional horse groomer to get specific recommendations for when is the best time of year to clip your horse.
Types of Horse Clips
So your horse needs a haircut. How do you choose the most practical clip to best suit their needs?
Here’s a rundown of the most common types of clips, and when to choose them.
Remember that these are just guidelines - the perfect clip for your horse depends on his body condition, coat, and workload. A professional groomer can help find the perfect style if you’re not sure.
We’ll start with the most minimal clips and move up to a full-body clip.
Hair is removed from just under the throat latch, down the bottom of the neck and chest, going as far back as the girth area.
This low-maintenance clip helps horses in low to medium work cool out quickly but still leaves enough coat to keep him warm at turnout.
The trace clip is a very popular clipping style. With this type of clip, the horse's neck, chest, and belly are clipped, and most of the sides and back are left unclipped. The legs are also left unclipped.
This easy care clip is typically done in the fall or winter to help the horse stay warm during the colder months while still letting him cool down after exercise.
Similar to the trace clip, hair is removed from the neck, chest, and belly and partway up the horse’s sides - sort of like he’s wearing a small ‘blanket’ of long hair.
The blanket clip is great for horses who need a bit more cooling out than a trace clip allows.
With this type of clip, the horse's neck, sides, chest, back and belly are clipped. The only hair that’s left is on the legs and a patch under the saddle.
The hunter clip is a popular clip for horses in the show ring or heavy work as it cuts down on grooming time, keeps the horse looking clean and presentable while allowing some extra protection over the saddle area and the legs.
Full Body Clip
The full-body clip is the most extensive horse clipping style. With this type of clip, the entire horse is clipped. This includes the horse's legs, belly, neck, back, sides, and face.
If the rider wears spurs, it’s a good idea to leave a patch of hair where the rider’s heel will rest to give the horse a little extra protection against the metal spur.
This clipping style is a good choice for horse owners who live in hot climates. It can also be a good option for horse owners who want their horse to have a sleek show-ring appearance, or if helping a horse deal with the side effects of Cushings.
Most horses don’t enjoy having their face clipped, but in some competitions face and muzzle clipping is common to give a horse a really polished appearance.
It’s generally not advisable to clip a horse’s muzzle - their long whiskers are important for sensory perception and helping a horse sense things close to his muzzle.
When clipping a horse's face, be sure to go slowly and be careful not to clip too close to the horse's eyes or mouth. Here's a quick guide to horse face clipping:
- Start by clipping the horse's ears. Be sure to go slowly and be careful not to clip too close to the horse's skin.
To prevent clipped hair from falling into the ear canal, fold the ear in half lengthwise and run clippers along the folded edge.
- If clipping the muzzle, start at the horse's nose and work your way down the muzzle, avoiding the lips.
-Finish up by clipping around the horse's eyes. Again, go slowly and be careful. Avoid clipping the eyelashes or long hairs around the eye - these are used for close-quarters sensory perception like the whiskers. For a nervous horse, cup your hand over his eye to protect it.
Just about any horse that wears a bridle will appreciate you clipping the bridle path. Just an inch or two of the mane is removed immediately behind the forelock to prevent the mane from getting tangled in the bridle.
If you don’t own clippers, a pair of safety scissors are perfect for cleaning up a bridle path.
How to Clip a Horse
If you’re new to horse clipping, the best thing you can do is ask an experienced groom to show you how. There’s a lot of technique and artistry involved in a great clip, but here are a few starting pointers:
Choose the Right Clippers
There are many different types of horse clippers on the market, so it's important to choose one that's right for your horse. If you're not sure which type to get, ask a professional at your local equestrian store.
If you have an electrical outlet handy, many groomers still use corded clippers for power, reliability, and not having to carry extra battery packs.
Cordless trimmers are increasingly popular and easy to maneuver, and if you don’t have an electrical outlet near your grooming area, you’ll really want to invest in a pair.
Plan Your Clip
If you’re not 100% confident free-handing a horse clip, use tailor’s chalk to outline the spot you’ll clip.
To prolong clipper blade life, start with a clean (preferably bathed and dried) horse that’s been thoroughly brushed.
Most horses are a little trepidatious of clippers, especially at first. Start by letting your horse sniff and “inspect” the clippers, then run them over the horse’s body with the power off. Hold the clippers in your hand and turn them on and let the horse get used to the sound before trying to remove any hair.
If your horse is new to clipping, it’s a good idea to pay a professional to do the first few clips (and maybe give you some pointers, too!), to ensure a calmer experience for your horse.
Go Against Hair Growth
Unlike brushing, you want to go against the direction of hair growth. This pushes the hair up and ensures a close, even trim.
Note that this makes navigating the hair whorl on a horse’s hip a little challenging - avoiding a full body clip or sticking to a low blanket clip will save you that hassle.
Clipping Safety Precautions
Be sure to take some safety precautions when clipping your horse.
First, make sure the horse is calm and relaxed before starting the clipping process. If the horse is stressed or anxious, they’re more likely to move around, which could lead to an accident. Ideally, have a second handler to help hold the horse for you.
Next, be sure to use sharp clipper blades. Dull horse clippers can cause the horse's skin to become irritated and will leave uneven edges.
Finally, be careful not to clip too close to the horse's skin. Clipping too close can cause the horse's skin to become irritated or even injured. If you're not sure how close is too close, err on the side of caution and clip a little bit further away from the skin.
Choosing Horse Clippers
When choosing horse clippers, there are a few things you'll need to keep in mind.
First, consider the horse's coat. If the horse has a thick coat, you'll need horse clippers that are powerful enough to cut through the coat. If the horse has a thin coat, or you’re doing small sensitive places like the face or bridle path, you won't need as powerful clippers.
For most clipping jobs, you’ll need clippers made especially for horses (look for “heavy duty” on the label). Dog and human clippers won’t do well with thick horse hair.
For faces, ears, and other sensitive areas, smaller clippers are quieter, easier to hold, and gentler on sensitive areas (although they probably won’t be powerful enough for body clipping).
How to Maintain Horse Clippers
To keep horse clippers in good condition, be sure to clean them after each use.
First, remove any hair that is stuck in the clippers. Next, wipe down the outside of the clippers with a clean cloth. Finally, oil the blades of the horse clippers to keep them from rusting.
Clippers should be sharpened every 3-5 clips, depending on how thick the coat is and how clean the horse is. Your local tack shop should know of a reputable blade sharpener (and if not, a barber shop will!).
When not in use, horse clippers should be stored in a dry, cool place, preferably in the case they came in. Horse clippers that are exposed to too much moisture or heat can become damaged.
If using corded clippers, check the cord regularly to ensure the insulation hasn’t become cracked or broken. If you notice any issues, wrap the area with several rounds of electrical tape to prevent shock.
To keep cordless horse clippers working properly, it's important to maintain the batteries. This can be done by regularly cleaning the battery contacts and storage area.
First, use a clean cloth to wipe down the battery contacts. Next, use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean the storage area. Finally, allow the horse clippers to dry completely before using them again.
There are tons of reasons why you might want to clip your horse, especially if you live in a cold winter climate but ride indoors. While clipping isn’t necessary for every horse, these tips will help you determine if, when, and how to clip your horse to ensure a cool, comfortable ride every time.