The first time I saw a clipped horse, I wondered if dog groomers had done it as a dare. After all, why would you clip the body hair of a horse? Worse still, why would you clip their hair in such strange patterns?
I soon learned there are many reasons to clip your horse’s hair, even if you are not competing. With a little care, patience, and a load of research, I also mastered the art of clipping my own horses when the need arises, and you can too.
Why should I clip my horse? Horses grow thick coats during winter, and while shedding is natural to them, some horses overheat quickly, and they will be greatly relieved to have their heavy winter coats clipped off.
There is a range of different horse clipping patterns that serve unique functions. In winter, you may use a blanket clip to help your horse manage their heavier winter comforters, while summer may see you opt for a sporty Irish cut that cleans up the areas where they sweat on their stomach, legs, and flanks.
There are other medical reasons for clipping your horse.
A horse that is constantly suffering from mud fever may benefit from having their legs neatly trimmed to remove the hair and allow access for medicated shampoos and lotions to be applied.
There are also times when your horse has an allergic reaction to grass seeds that their belly may become sensitive to the touch, and a good clipping can help you treat this area better. Some horses also suffer from Cushing’s disease, and they may grow a thick coat in the sweltering summer heat. These horses really suffer unless you can clip them regularly.
Before we launch into the why and how of clipping your horse, let’s cover some basics:
The Truth About Horse Coats
Horses grow thicker or thinner coats for numerous reasons that include:
1. Horse Age Affects Coats
When a horse is young (age 0-2 years), it may have a thick and fluffy coat of body hair. This is to keep them warm and dry. The foal coat is usually not clipped as the young horse is still learning about its own thermoregulation. Simply brushing your horse daily should be sufficient to help them with their natural shedding process.
Older horses (usually age 12 and up) may grow a thicker coat to help protect them from losing bodyweight due to heat loss. With older horses, you may see a gradual thickening of their coat over time, or they may not shed their full winter coat, resulting in a thick coat that can lead to overheating in summer.
Solution: Clipping the older horse that has an overly thick coat can help them maintain more stable body heat.
2. Poor Health Reduces Thickness
Some horses may suddenly develop a thicker or scraggly coat as a result of a metabolic disorder such as Cushing’s disease. They may also suffer balding patches due to worm loads and poor skin health. An overgrown coat is usually something that middle-aged to older horses experience.
Solution: Clipping the coat to a similar size during the cooler (but not cold) seasons can help this horse regrow a thicker and more natural coat.
3. Breeds Have Various Coats and Length
Horses have a genetically preprogrammed coat they should grow. A horse that has a thicker coat due to their genetic makeup such as a Percheron breed or Clydesdale may not require clipping. If you were to clip their coats, it might not be beneficial to them as their body is designed to work with the thicker coat.
Horses with pink-colored skins due to their genetic makeup may also not be ideal candidates for clipping as this could lead to sunburn and the formation of melanomas. Appaloosa breeds and certain pink-skinned gray horses may also struggle with the sudden loss of hair that a clipping brings.
Solution: Consider whether the horse you want to clip is designed to be a thicker-coated horse or if they have pink skin that may be harmed if you remove their coat. Never clip a pink-skinned horse, even if the skin is only pink in certain sections.
4. Climate Clipping Schedule
Keeping the climate in mind, you need to consider whether clipping is a good idea. Clipping is best done during the start of summer, or you can do a clean-up clip before the fall weather turns colder.
If you need to clip your horse later into winter, you should keep their health and well-being in mind and provide them with an appropriate blanket and paddock boots to protect them and keep them warm.
Horse Clipping Example: Keldrin, the American Quarter Horse
For this clipping session, I worked on Keldrin. He is a 20-year old American Quarter Horse and has a really thick and dense coat of hair. Because of the density of his coat, I decided to use a number 7 blade with a gap tooth configuration on an Oster clipper. This works a bit better on his thick and almost curly body hair. Once the worst of the body hair is removed, I will be going over his body with a number 10 fine blade for a smooth finish.
Note that Keldrin has an old injury on his ribs, where a bull gored him. This has caused the hair to grow in different directions, and the old scar tissue is somewhat sensitive. In this area, I work slowly, following the folds of the old wound. This is another reason why I prefer to work with a number 7 blade first (on Amazon) as this shortens the hair with less of a risk that I could accidentally clip into a mole or old injury.
Given the density of the hair over his hindquarters, I ended up having to use a brush to lift the hair and allow the clippers to better cut the hair. It required two passes with the clippers to get a smooth finish, and even then, I still did another pass with the number 10 blade. This kind of hair growth requires patience when clipping.
Clipping Equipment and How to Maintain It
Clippers are often a hotly debated topic. Can you use any clippers to clip your horse? To some extent, you can. However, a horse’s hair is different from a dog’s, and you will require a stronger and more powerful clipper, given the size of a horse.
While an electrical sheep shearer may have a strong enough motor, it may not be the best option either. Sheep shearers have a different cutting process as they are designed to cut locks of wool, not fine body hair. The larger blades of a sheep shearer can also lead to accidentally cutting the horse.
To clip your horse, you will need the following:
- A good quality horse clipper (on Amazon)
- A sharp, horse quality blade (number 10 is a favorite, but I also like to use the number 7 blade) Find on Amazon
- A small brush to clean up the clipper while you work
- Cool lube spray to help lubricate the clipper blades and cool down the moving parts of the clipper Find on Amazon
- Blade oil on Amazon
- An extension cord
- An assistant to help hold the horse or move them when necessary
While Clipping Your Horse
When you are clipping, you should become conscious of the sound the motor of the clipper makes. If it starts to sound strained, you should stop. Brush off the excess hair, remove the blade, clean the blade fitment area on your clipper.
Lastly, spray it with cool lube. This will ensure your clipper has a long life. You will get the result of a smoother clip. And, you will give your horse a welcome break.
Steps to Clipping Your Horse
Where you start on your horse will depend on what style of horse clipping you will be cutting. Generally, I like to start on the flank, near the girth area. This is usually an area where a horse is quite happy to have you work on them. Wherever you start, always start by desensitizing them.
Step One: Preparing Your Horse’s Coat
Your horse’s natural coat is thick, and it collects dust and debris. These particles will damage your clipper blades, so you should prepare your horse before clipping them. This means you need to thoroughly wash and dry your horse before the clipping.
In some instances, you will need to wash your horse the day before so there is enough time for their hair to dry. You should then keep them out of wet mud, and if they have rolled, you should brush them thoroughly with a stiff bristle body brush. A metal curry comb can also help you loosen any dirt from the hair before you clip your horse.
Step Two: Desensitizing Your Horse to the Clipper
Your horse can justifiably be quite sensitive to the sound of the clippers. Even the vibration of the clippers can upset them, and if your horse is dancing all over, you will not be able to make your best clipping.
Start by letting your horse sniff the clippers while the motor is off. Praise them when they don’t overreact. Next, rub the machine over their shoulders, neck, and flanks while the machine is still off.
Great! Now switch the machine on, selecting the lowest setting. Hold it some distance from your horse, letting them eye it. Soothe them if they are nervous; praise them when they relax. Now move the clippers to touch their body using the body of the clipper, not the blade. If your horse has a nervous reaction, hold the clippers’ body against them until your horse stops moving. Immediately remove the clippers and praise.
Usually, horses love the sensation of the clippers, and they find the vibration soothing. Be sure to do a self-check and remain calm.
Step Three: Decide on the Clipping Pattern for Your Horse
There are a few clipping patterns to choose from. Each is designed for a reason, which often has less to do with the look than the function.
The Bib Pattern
Bib is the pattern that removes the least amount of hair. It is mostly for horses in medium work that won’t sweat too much.
The Strip Pattern
Going a bit further with the bib pattern, the strip removes the hair along the very bottom of the rib cage toward the belly. This clip is ideal for horses that are in muddy terrain, where mud often splashes up against their lower areas.
Note: mud is easier to brush off and clean off when your horse has a short coat.
The Irish Pattern
The Irish pattern is a popular pattern. My friend lovingly calls it the “bikini-cut.” It removes the hair along a line from the stifle point to the corner of the jaw bone. The basic pattern leaves the hair on the legs, removing only the belly, chest area, and front of the neck or throat area.
There are variations where it is possible to clip everything from the cut line downward, trimming the legs completely. You can then continue the cut line from the stifle to wrap around your horse’s hamstrings, following their natural muscle contours.
The Irish clipping pattern is very useful as it removes hair from the areas where mud often sticks. This can be a real life-saver when it comes to the rain season. Shorter hair also dries much quicker, which can help your horse dry off and be warmer in cool and wet weather.
In competition circles, this is a popular cut for eventing horses, where the removal of hair from the legs helps with the application of lubricants to help the horse not stick to fences. Horses that wear heavy protective boots during their sport work may also benefit from not having long leg hair that can interfere with the functioning of these boots.
If your horse works hard and sweats a lot, this is a great way to reduce their sweat load.
Note: If you clip your horse with an Irish pattern, you will need to keep them warm in winter by providing them with an appropriate winter rug. If you remove their leg hair, and the weather turns really cold with snow and ice, you may need to stable them or provide them with long paddock boots to help warm their legs.
The trace pattern is a variation of the Irish pattern, and it helps your horse manage sweating during medium to hard work. This can be a popular pattern with those who enjoy jumping or showing. It is also handy for preventing mud stains along your horse’s belly, neck, and chest. The main purpose is to reduce sweating and help cool your horse.
The Blanket Pattern
The blanket pattern is when you clip the hair from your horse’s face, neck, chest, belly, and thighs. The idea is to help your horse cool down quickly after work so you can rug them for the night. Those who work extensively in the late afternoon in winter will know how long it can take for a sweaty horse to dry.
Yet, the same horse will need a blanket several hours later. With a blanket clip, your horse will dry in much less time. This makes it possible to rug them for the night by the time you feed them.
The Hunter Pattern
As the name suggests, the hunter patter is for horses that do heavy work, as in hunter classes. These horses do a lot of sweaty work like running, jumping, sudden turns, cross-country, and even some racing.
Removing most of the body hair, except for the patch under the saddle helps these horses remain cool and dry off quicker. You can also apply boots or leg wraps as needed without struggling with thick hair.
The Full Body Clip
The full body clip is final clipping pattern is designed for horses in heavy work or where horses are kept in really warm climates. Horses have spread across most of the world, and some breeds aren’t designed for the warmer climates.
Clipping all of their body hair may be a good way to ensure they are cool during a particularly harsh summer.
Note: It is not advisable to do a short full-body clip for the first time in the dead of summer. Rather clip your horse at the end of winter/early spring to help them acclimatize better.
Once you have chosen your clip pattern according to the level of work your horse does and the climate of your area, you are ready to start clipping.
Step Four: Start Clipping
To stat clipping, start in a position that is comfortable for you. Concentrate on placing the clipper blade parallel to the horse’s skin, never digging in the teeth of the blade but rather brushing it in even strokes as you cut against the hair.
Note that your horse will have whirls and changes in direction of hair growth. So. you need to reposition the clippers to accommodate this. Always cut against the hair growth using long and flowing strokes.
Remember to empty the clipper often by brushing off the excess hair that collects under and on the teeth of the blade. I clean my clipper and blade at least every 5-10 minutes. Again, listen to the sound of the clipper. If you can hear the motor’s revolutions drop, it’s time to clean the blade and blade attachment.
While clipping, be sure to overlap your clipper paths to reduce lines and uneven patches on the horse’s body.
Step Five: Touch Up
Once you have finished clipping the areas you wanted to remove hair from according to your horse’s clip pattern, you can brush your horse with a firm body brush to remove loose hair. Once you have done this, you may notice that there are lines or sections with longer hair.
To remove these, simply run the clipper across it again, moving it in perpendicular lines across the growth. If it’s a longer patch, you can clip against the hair growth.
By leading your horse around a bit, you can easily see where there are uneven patches on their coat. Be prepared to even do some neatening up the following day. Areas that you can expect to do some touch-up clipping on include the line of the mane, around the tail, along the jaw, and under the armpits of the forelegs.
Step Six: Treat Skin Conditions
Once your horse has been clipped, you may need to examine them for skin conditions that require treatment. This may be dry skin, small flaws or bug bites, and moles or old scar tissue. Treat these with a soothing lotion to nourish the skin and promote healing.
If there are pink or chapped patches, you should apply an effective sunblock to protect the raw skin. Using a simple zinc ointment can be an effective way to help fend off the sun.
Reclipping During the Year
Depending on your horse’s breed and the kind of work they do, you may need to do a second clipping before the winter to help keep your horse’s coat neat and short. Chances are that your horse will be clipped several times in their lifetime, so you should ensure they have a good experience each time you clip them.
Start slow, and if your horse gets fidgety, be sure to give them a break. Let them graze for a few minutes while you let your clipper cool down or while you clean out the blades. Should they fidget while you clip, you can always hang a hay net filled with something nice for them to snack on while you work.
Above all, be patient. Clipping can take quite a bit of time. Depending on the density of your horse’s coat and the fullness of the clip pattern you have chosen, you can be busy clipping for anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Rushing, not cleaning your blade enough, and overheating your clipper can only lead to disaster. So, unless you want a half-clipped horse, you should be patient and set aside enough time to do what needs to be done.
Clipping your own horse can be loads of fun. It’s worth it to learn how to clip correctly as you may find that being able to clip a few of your friends’ horses can help pay the cost of a quality clipper and replacement blades.
When you get more adventurous, you can look at art clipping designs, and you can go to town with great designs that you can add for that special touch to your next roping competition or town parade.