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Have you ever wondered why some horses have distinct patterns trimmed into their coat? If you’re new to horses, you might not know why owners often choose to clip their horses.
But first of all, what is horse clipping?
Horse clipping involves removing the outer layers of a horse’s coat to keep it short. This can serve a variety of purposes, depending on the type of clip. Some clips only remove small sections of the horse’s coat to keep it tidy, whereas a full body clip shortens the entire coat.
Clipping offers various benefits to both the rider and the horse. Competition horses are often clipped to prevent excessive sweating and discomfort. However, not all horses require clipping, and many are better off with their coats intact.
Why Do We Clip Horses?
Clipping horses is most common in the winter when they have extra layers of coat to keep them warm.
hile a horse’s winter coat is essential for survival in the wild, it can cause a variety of issues for working horses.
There are many reasons why we clip horses. By removing sections of the coat, clipping reduces sweating during exercise and keeps horses from getting a chill. This is particularly useful for competition horses that work hard all year round.
During the winter months, sweating does not only put the horse at risk of colds and chills, but also other health issues like colic.
Horses with long coats may also feel uncomfortable when sweat gets trapped between the layers of the coat.
While clipping can make life easier for some horses, it needs to be managed carefully. Since clipped horses have parts of their coat missing, they will require blanketing and potentially stabling during the coldest days.
The Benefits of Clipping Horses
As mentioned above, clipping can play a major role in the horse’s comfort. Certain types of clips remove hair from underneath the tack, which means less rubbing and irritation for the horse.
What’s more, clipping allows more body heat to escape through the horse’s skin, keeping them cool and dry during exercise sessions. A horse clipped in the right areas will be much more comfortable during work than a horse battling a winter coat!
Lower Risk of Mud Fever
In some climates, the arrival of fall and winter means a higher risk of mud fever for horses. Mud fever is an irritating skin condition that causes soreness, hair loss, and scabs on the horse’s lower legs. It usually forms on the areas above the hoof and can become infected and painful if left untreated.
As the name suggests, mud fever occurs in horses that spend long periods of time in muddy fields. Clipping the horse’s feathers and lower legs prevents mud from clinging to the hair, which lowers the risk of mud fever. It can also help horses already suffering from the condition recover quicker.
Easy To Clean
Clipping is a great way of keeping horses clean and reducing grooming time. A shorter coat will retain much less dust and dirt than a long fluffy one, making it easier to clean.
Many owners consider clipping neater than allowing the horse’s coat to reach its full length. Especially in the winter, most English riders will compete on clipped horses.
However, clipping doesn’t only have to be for the show ring. Hobby riders enjoy clipping their horses too, and will sometimes trim intricate patterns into their coat to make them stand out.
Also, read our article on the famous horse barber who creates stunning horse clipping art! An example of her work is below:
Glossy Summer Coat
Last but not least, some owners believe clipping their horse’s coat throughout winter will encourage the growth of a lush and glossy summer coat. After all, who wouldn’t want their horse to shine like a gold coin on the field?!
What Clip Should I Give My Horse?
The type of clip you should give your horse depends on many factors. Consider how hard your horse is working, whether he prefers turnout or stabling, and how much you want to rug him. Also, take into account the local climate and how well your horse copes with the cold.
Choosing the right clip for your horse is important for ensuring his well-being in your care. While others can give you useful advice, ultimately, you know your horse best and should make the decision.
Besides the obvious factors, you also need to think about your horse’s experience and temperament. If he is too nervous or can’t stand still long enough for a full body clip, the process will be a struggle for you both. Starting with a smaller clip would be a much better idea in this case.
When Should I Clip My Horse?
The time of the year when you should start clipping your horse depends on your local climate and where you live. In the northern hemisphere, horses will start growing a winter coat from September or October. You’ll also need to clip your horse every 3-5 weeks to keep the coat short.
How often you’ll need to trim back your horse’s coat depends on the growth rate of your horse’s hair. This is determined by genetics, breed, and nutrition. Some owners can get away with clipping their horses two or three times over winter, while for others clipping is a much more regular activity.
Also, keep in mind that horses start growing their summer coat around the end of February. This is when the molting season begins.
As the days get longer, the increased sunlight will encourage the growth of a thinner coat, which is when you should stop clipping your horse.
As always, consult your vet if you’re unsure about how much to clip your horse.
Common Types of Horse Clips
The most common types of horse clips are the strip, Irish, trace, blanket, hunter, and full body clips. The type of clip your horse needs depends on whether they are doing occasional, light, moderate, hard, or very hard work.
As a rule of thumb, the lighter your horse’s work routine is, the less hair will need to be removed. Horses that train intensively will sweat more often and more profusely, which calls for a large-scale clip.
The bib clip is a basic type of horse clip that only removes hair from the horse’s lower neck and chest. This clip is ideal for horses living out and in light work.
Bib clips are practical in that only a minimum amount of hair needs trimming. The clip doesn’t require a full-scale clippers and a trimmer will do just fine.
This type of clip is quick and easy to do and is perfect for nervous or young horses. The bib clip is suitable for leisure horses doing occasional work, such as light hacking or schooling a few days a week.
Since most of the horse’s winter coat is still intact, a light blanket will be enough to keep them warm.
The strip clip removes hair from areas where horses sweat most, such as the lower neck, chest, girth, and front of the belly. The strip clip is ideal for horses in light work as they will stay cooler during exercise.
Most horses will manage fine with a lightweight turnout and stable rug throughout winter.
The apron clip removes hair from the horse’s lower neck, chest, between the legs, and girth area. There’s also the option of removing hair from the top of the front legs. The apron clip is popular with horse owners who ride occasionally.
By removing hair from areas most prone to sweating, the apron clip keeps horses comfortable during work sessions. Horses with this clip will still be able to tolerate the cold fairly well, although blanketing is advisable.
The Irish clip runs from the horse’s throat to the middle of the belly. It clips away hair from the lower neck, chest, shoulders, and sternal region in a diagonal line. The Irish clip is ideal for horses in light regular work.
While this clip allows for heat to evaporate from a larger surface, it still keeps the horse warm in essential areas. Because the Irish clip takes away roughly a quarter of the horse’s coat, they will require light to medium blanketing with this clip.
Low Trace Clip
The low trace clip runs through the entire length of the horse’s body in a horizontal line. Areas trimmed are the lower neck, chest, top of the front legs, the entire belly, and the top of the hind legs. This clip is for horses in light work that get particularly sweaty in these areas.
With the low trace clip you will notice that your horse will stay cool and dry much longer during work sessions. However, as this clip removes larger portions of the horse’s coat, you might need to stable them in during the night.
Medium Trace Clip
The medium trace clip removes slightly more hair than the low trace clip. The areas trimmed remain the same, namely the lower neck, chest, shoulders, belly, and top of the hind legs. A medium trace clip is most suitable for horses performing light to moderate work.
The medium trace clip removes almost half od a horse’s coat allowing significant heat to be lost from the horse’s skin, keeping them comfortable during exercise.
However, you do need to compensate for the lost coat with blankets and stabling. Your horse will likely need to come in for the night when temperatures start to drop. Depending on how well your horse copes with the cold, you’ll need a light to medium blanket.
High Trace Clip
The high trace clip removes most of the lower section of a horse’s coat, including hair from the lower jaw, neck, chest, shoulders, belly, and thigh. The upper half of the horse’s coat remains intact. The High Trace Clip is ideal for horses in regular moderate work, with occasional high-intensity sessions.
Following the same patterns as the low and medium trace clips, the high trace clip climbs even further up the horse’s body.
High trace clips are common in competition horses that compete throughout the winter. With this clip, you need to monitor your horse’s temperature regularly.
You’ll also need to look into buying some medium to heavyweight rugs if you’re planning on turning your horse out during the day.
The chaser clip is identical to the high trace clip, with the exception that the horse’s head is also clipped. Areas left covered are the back of the neck, shoulders, back, and rump, as well as most of the legs. This clip is often seen on steeplechase horses, although it has spread to other disciplines.
By leaving the top half of the coat intact, the muscles essential to carrying the rider are able to stay warm and ready for exercise.
Horses with a chaser clip work hard throughout the week and are only turned out in nice weather. As significant heat loss occurs through the head, these horses require medium to heavy blanketing at all times.
The blanket clip removes most of the horse’s coat, apart from the hair on the legs and the top of the saddle and rump areas. The top half of the horse’s head is often kept intact for extra warmth. The blanket clip is ideal for horses in regular medium work and low-level competitions.
This clip allows hard-working horses to cool down fast, while still keeping them warm in key areas. The purpose of the clip is to remove hair from all areas that are prone to sweating. This leaves a blanket-shaped square on the horse’s back, hence the name.
Turnout for these horses is limited to nice weather and mild temperatures, always with appropriate blanketing.
The hunter clip removes hair from all of the horse’s body, except for legs and the saddle area. This was traditionally used with hunting horses that had to gallop for long periods throughout the day. The hunter clip is ideal for hard-working eventers, hunters, and show jumpers.
With the hunter clip, you’ll need to pay close attention to blanketing to prevent your horse from getting a chill. Turnout will also be weather-permitting and may not be possible every day.
Full Body Clip
The full body clip removes all of the horse’s winter coat, including from the head and legs. It is common with race and competition horses as they are able to dry quickly after intense exercise.
Before you choose to give your horse a full body clip, consider whether it is really necessary. Horses that have no protective coat are much more vulnerable to cold winter temperatures and require careful monitoring. Make sure you stock up on heavyweight turnout and stable rugs before committing!
Since a full body clip is time-consuming and involves sensitive areas, you’ll likely need a second person to help you if you’re inexperienced. However, if done right, this clip will give your horse a presentable and show-ready look.
Tips & Tools for Clipping Your Horse
1. Do Your Research
Learn about all the different types of clips out there and which one might be right for your horse. If in doubt, always consult experienced horse owners, instructors, or your veterinarian.
2. Choose the Right Clipper
Next, assess your horse’s coat and make sure you have the right clipper for the job. There are many types of clippers on the market, from small trimmers to heavy-duty clippers.
If you’re planning on removing large parts of your horse’s coat, a full-scale clipper is going to be your best bet.
To help you find the right one, read our guides on the best horse clippers and the best cordless horse clippers.
3. Get Your Horse Used to the Clipper
Get your horse used to the clipper. Clippers can be quite noisy, especially the larger ones. If this is your horse’s first time receiving a clip, they may become anxious from the buzzing and refuse to stand still.
4. Make Sure Your Horse is Clean
Groom your horse thoroughly before picking up the clipper. Make sure there are no dirt residues in your horse’s coat, as debris can blunt your blades and make the entire process more difficult.
5. Clip Under Supervision
Finally, we strongly recommend doing your first clip with an experienced supervisor. They can not only guide your hands and give you pointers, but also help your horse stay calm and still during the session.
Beware of the Cold
While clipping horses makes them more presentable in the winter, they will also become higher maintenance. Depending on how much of the horse’s natural coat is removed, you will need to get your hands on some light- to heavyweight blankets.
Moreover, you’ll also need to monitor temperatures and weather forecasts regularly. There might be days when your horse will require stabling throughout the day.
If your horse struggles with staying inside for longer periods of time, you’ll need to reconsider your clipping strategy.