Smart clipping

Clipping 101: When to clip your horse and how to get it right

Why, when and how often: clipping your horse can feel like a minefield. Take a weight off this winter with these tips from Petplan Equine veterinary expert Gil Riley and Petplan Equine Ambassador Rachael Barker in our complete guide to clipping.

Once your horse’s thick winter coat has arrived, they are more likely to sweat when exercised and take a long time to dry off. Clipping not only reduces sweating, but also enables them to dry off much more quickly and avoid chills.

So, how do you go about it?

When should you clip your horse?

Every horse is different and will start growing their winter coat at different times and to different thicknesses.

‘My horses have different coats and I clip them all totally differently,’ says Rachael. ‘One is a coloured cob and needs clipping with a full clip, except for legs, all year round, whereas my thoroughbred hardly grows any coat and gets clipped once a year.’

Rachael starts clipping when her horses begin to show signs of becoming too hot during exercise.

‘That depends on the weather, so I never start or finish on a specific date, I just listen to my horses and notice when they are beginning to sweat,’ she says. ‘There’s a tradition that says you shouldn’t clip after the end of January because it “ruins the horse’s summer coat”, but I think that is an old wives’ tale and it should really depend on you and your individual horse. If they need clipping to keep them comfortable, then clip them. Clipping doesn’t damage the coat.’

Which style of clip should you choose?

Next is to decide which style of clip to give your horse. Ask yourself what you are doing workwise with the horse and whether it is living in or out.

‘Follow the rule that you should only take off what you need to,’ says Gil. ‘I wouldn’t recommend a full clip for a horse that is going to be living out all year round. Get to know what is best for your horse and clip accordingly.’

Tip: A chaser or bib clip is usually a good choice for youngsters or horses in light work. Only horses in full work need to have a blanket or full clip.

Remember that the more hair you clip off, the more rugs and feed your horse will need to keep them warm through the coldest months.

Preparing your horse to be clipped

Clipping a horse with a dirty, oily coat will make it difficult for the clipper blades to glide through the hair. If possible, Rachael advises bathing the horse a day or two before so that they are clean and dry. If you can’t bathe your horse, a good groom is essential to remove any loose mud and dirt, since grit can blunt blades. Make sure your horse is thoroughly dry, too, as the blades won’t run through a damp coat.

When it comes to the mane and tail, the last thing you want is to take chunks out. Bandage the tail and loosely plait the mane over one side or brush it over with a damp sponge.

How to prevent clipper rash

Some horses are sensitive to certain ingredients in clipper oil and will come out in an urticarial reaction (a raised rash) all over the body, which can be benign or very itchy.

Gil recommends doing a small-patch spot test a few days before you intend to clip your horse, to check that they aren’t going to react. You can do this by applying a coin-sized dab of clipper oil to their skin. Avoid areas that will come into contact with their tack, saddle or rugs.

‘If your horse does react to the clipper oil, you want to remove it from their skin with a gentle shampoo diluted down and then dry it off.’ Then try again with another brand of oil.

How to make clipping a good experience for your horse

Being clipped can take a little getting used to. Therefore, it’s important to prepare young horses or those who haven’t been clipped before, to make sure they have a nice experience.

Desensitise your horse to clippers

Don’t expect to turn the clippers on and put them straight onto your horse. Give your horse some time to get used to the vibration, sound and sensation before it’s clipping time.

  • Practise with an electric toothbrush or trimmer. You can start by holding it in one hand while you’re grooming so your horse gets used to the sound, then the vibration.
  • Place your hand on your horse’s neck or shoulder, then place the clippers on top of your hand. Now switch them on.
  • Start with quieter clippers that have a smaller motor. Lighter cordless clippers are often quieter and easier to handle, or you can use trimmers for the first time.
  • Stand your young or inexperienced horse next to a horse that is good to clip while you clip them.
  • When you start clipping, go with the direction of hair growth (the direction they are used to being brushed in) before you start clipping against the direction of the hair.

If your horse is particularly worried, speak to your vet who may prescribe a very small amount of oral sedative.

Find a professional

Rachael recommends using a professional clipping service if you or your horse are new to clipping. ‘You want to give your horse the best experience possible,’ she says.

‘It’s amazing how one bad experience can stay with them a lifetime. Talk to fellow owners and get recommendations, and ask the professional if you can have some clipping lessons. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy a set of clippers and have a go without having ever done it before.’

Tips for clipping a ticklish or sensitive horse:

Use long strokes and make sure the clippers are lying flat against their skin. Avoid going in at an angle because the clipper teeth will come into contact with the horse, which can irritate them.

Tips for clipping a nervous horse:

Start off with a small clip, like a bib clip, and use a quiet set of clippers if you can. There are lots of cordless clippers available that are quieter than stronger mains-powered ones. Always have someone with you to help you calm the horse if they are nervous.

Clipping safety tips

It is important to ensure that you and your horse stay safe during clipping.

  1. Tie your horse securely. ‘I always make sure the horse is tied up so they can’t spin round,’ says Rachael. This should be in a secure, quiet area where your horse is settled.
  2. Arrange cables carefully. ‘I tend to have my cable over my shoulder so it’s not hanging on the floor, and I like clippers with a string handle to put your wrist through in case you drop them. If using an extension cable, have it over the door with the door shut, so they can’t stand on it.’
  3. Get your clippers serviced regularly. How often will depend on how often they are used. Rachael usually does about eight clips each winter and gets her clippers serviced once every two years. ‘The blades need sharpening and the vents need clearing out as they suck up the hair.’
  4. Wear overalls! A set of overalls that are lightweight, breathable and protect you from head to toe are ideal, as is a sturdy pair of footwear. A hat is compulsory in case the horse kicks out.

Clipping aftercare

After clipping, Rachael gives her horses a hot-cloth with a tiny bit of Hibiscrub to loosen any final grease and hair.

To ‘hot-cloth’ your horse, dip a rag or towel in a bucket of very warm (but not scalding!) water, and wring it out. You can wipe the cloth over your horse’s coat to lift excess dirt, working over particularly greasy or dirty areas. Make sure the water temperature is comfortable on your skin and won’t burn your horse.

It’s also important to ensure they are protected from the elements. A horse’s hair acts as their protection, and removing it through clipping means you are essentially exposing them to the wind, rain and possible infections.

‘Rain scald is a bacterial skin infection that horses can get when they are not rugged or cared for appropriately,’ says Gil. ‘If there is sufficient rain, it seeps through the hair and creates a wet layer underneath the hair, which acts as the perfect environment for infection to take hold in the skin. Clipped horses are even more susceptible, so ensure they are adequately rugged for wet weather.’

Horses that are clipped can also feel the cold more and will possibly need more fibre (hay/haylage) in their diet to help keep them warm. They are also more exposed to fly irritation and reactions to the environment.

‘The most important thing is to know your horse and how hot or cold they are, and what rugs they’ll need when they’re clipped,’ adds Gil.

Not sure which clip to give your horse this winter or how to go about it? Read on to find out all you need to know about clipping your horse this winter.