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Friday, 30 August 2019

The Ultimate Tips Guide to Clipping Your Horse

It's getting to that time of the year again, well at least for me, where I'm trying to balance the final few sunny days in the field with keeping Louie's coat as fine as possible to avoid clipping too early into the autumn season. Why don't I like clipping earlier? One - because I like him to live out for as long as possible. Two - I like to give him a good couple of weeks off in October and don't like to clip before.

But it's August, how can you be thinking of clipping? Well, Louie has a lot of Irish Draught bloodline - all of his sire lines and all of the sires in his dame lines - so as soon as the temperatures falls or we get cooler winds, his coat begins to build. A lot of people who have irish sport horses, won't have so much Irish Draught running through their breeding, so won't experience the hair thickening and growing in the same way.

In this post, we'll look at the top tips to make winter horse clipping easy, straight forward and something that nobody dreads.

Selecting the type of horse clip that you need

There are many different types of clips to consider, but the history of why we clip horses in winter is to avoid the horse getting sweaty and leaving him wet & turning cold when exercising during the winter months. 

There are three main considerations when you choose the clip to give your horse:
  • Where you live
  • The horse's living conditions
  • The work load that the horse is in
You need to tailor the clipping that you do for all three of these factors. For example, if you live somewhere very cold but your horse is in good work, you may choose a trace clip to only clip off the hair where you horse is likely to sweat. It also leave a good, warm layer of hair to provide natural warmth for your horse and leave you with less requirement for heavy horse rugging.

However, if you live in areas of the country where it is typically warmer in the winter months, your horse is likely to be hotter and sweat more when worked during the season. Therefore, a full clip might be a better option for you and your horse to allow him to sweat freely, and avoid becoming overheated and wet by the end of his work.

What about the living conditions? It would be very surprising if a horse that is living out 24/7 throughout the winter was given a full clip, even with extensive rugging. Most horse owners would opt to only clip off the sweaty areas of the horse and leave as much natural warmth coming for the hair remaining. However, if you're horse is stabled overnight, it is much more common to opt for a heavier clip, removing more hair that those living out.

And of course work load comes into it. A horse that is not going to sweat is pointless clipping, so those out of work or that do light hacking or schooling. If you're someone who enjoys long hacks at the weekend, with a few canters here and there, and you know your horse will sweat, why opt for a full clip, is a chase or trace clip will do?

Louie is stabled overnight in the winter months, he is worked 5-6 times per week and we living on the Northumbrian coast so while it can be super cold, we also see some variable mild days too. I therefore, usually opt for a full clip, leaving his legs and a patch along his back for the saddle.

So once you've decided on the clip that's right for your horse, what's next?

What do you need to be ready to clip your horse?

The number one rule of clipping your horse is make sure he is dry and that he is clean. So with that, make sure you have shampoo & coat shine at the ready to prepare your horse to be clipped. If you have a horse with feathers or longer hair that you're planning to clip off, it's also worth making sure that you have a good detangling product by your side too.

Next, it's time to make sure you've got the equipment all in order to allow you to physically clip your horse. Clippers are an obvious one! But are your's in good condition? Make sure you've got sharp blades and that the clippers are clean, including the motor inside. Many people don't realise that you should have your clippers serviced, so if yours haven't been, it's worth finding out if they could do with one. Remember, if you clip many times throughout the winter, your blades will need sharpening more than once in the season, and similarly, if you clip a horse with a thick coat, it will blunten them more than a fine coated horse. Blunt blades make for a terrible clip, so if in doubt, take them to your local merchant to have then sharpened up for you.

Horse clippers also need oil, and it's a good idea to oil your clippers when you put them away, but also before you start clipping. Just add the oil, turn the clippers on and let them run for 3-5 minutes. It's also handy to have a long bristled brush on hand to flick the hair off the clippers while you're clipping. I use an old flick brush and always flick away from the clippers, never into them.

Clipper coolant sprays are also useful to have for when your blades become a little too hot. Pause in your clip and just spray it onto your clippers to help cool them down, just don't forget to keep them well oiled when you start back up again.

The coat shine or coat conditioner that helped you get your horse clean and smooth prior to clipping is also useful for when you're finished clipping too. Clipping your horse leaves the hair blunt cut and can therefore take away some of the shine. When you've finished, take a coat conditioner all over using a sponge or lambwool mitt to bring back that shine to your horse.

Don't forget to keep a rug close by to your horse, especially if you're clipping on a cold day. You'll probably heat up while clipping, but he's likely to start to feel cold, so popping a rug or fleece over the area you aren't clipping or over the whole horse while you take a break, can help to keep him warm throughout. 

Think of safety first when clipping your horse

Before you even think about starting to clip, make sure everything around you is safe. Could your clipper cords get caught on anything or tangled up? Are the cables safely away from the horse's feet to avoid being stood on? Are your clipper in a good state of repair and aren't going to cause electrical issues?

The most dangerous way to clip your horse is by not having him used to the feeling and noise of the clippers, and making sure he stays calm througout the clip. If you haven't clipped your horse before, try stabling him near another calm horse while it's being clipped to see his reaction. If he really isn't sure, you should spend time getting him used to the clippers slowly, start start several weeks before you intend to actually clip & make sure it's a calm and relaxed environment. Reward him when he starts to relax and accepts the clippers too!

Now for the clippers themselves... As with many barns, there's the odd leak here and there in the roof. Make sure that leak is directly above your electrical socket or extension wheel. Water and electricity just don't mix! 

Your clippers might not be very old, but ALWAYS check the cords and cables for any breaks or tears. The last thing you want if for that part to come into contact with you or your horse, or worse, dry mater and spark. If you see signs of damage, put off clipping until you can safely resolve it.

Always clip in a well lit and well ventilated area, but protected from any wind. If you haven't clipped before, make sure you wear suitable clothing (such as a boiler suit) as that hair gets literally EVERYWHERE! I opt for waterproof jacket and trousers where the hair just shakes off, but a nose and mouth mask might also be useful too.

Remember your horse might become restless during his clip. Allow him a haynet to keep him entertained, and for those more sensitive areas, ask a friend to help out to avoid a kick or getting squashed when attempting to clip around them. A friend can also be useful to help you pull loose skin tight to get a smooth clip without cutting your horse. If you accidentally cut your horse, they may not forgive you for a while and clipping that spot might become difficult in the future.

If your horse is sensitive, fidgety or cautious, wear a hat and gloves, just in case. Sure, you probably won't need them but what's the harm in wearing them!? The first time I ever clipped Louie I was sure you wear a hat but as you can see, without any kind of sedation or calming solution, he stands like a lamb!

Finally, do not let your blades get hot - it's not comfortable for your horse and it damages your clippers. As a general rule, you should take a short break every 10 minutes to allow your blades to cool and re-oil again before starting back up.

Top tips for getting that perfect clip on your horse

So you've made sure you've got everything you could need for your clipping session, and you've check out how to make sure you're in a safe environment while you take time to clip your horse, but how can you get that perfectly clipped look on your horse?

1. Make sure your horse is absolutely squeaky clean and dry

A dirty or wet horse will make it very difficult for you to smoothly run your clipper blades through the coat and create a smooth clip. If your horse is dirt, brush as much of it off as possible, and if needed, bath the horse using shampoo. This is likely to be needed if you plan to clip the legs especially.

Clippers work best when gliding through an oily horse, however, by bathing, you lose some of these natural oils. I know, catch 22 - do I have them dirty or bath out the oil? Always choose the latter and simpy follow up with up wit ha coat conditioner once the horse is dry. The conditioner will mimic the effect of natural oils and help your clippers to glide through the hair.

If you do bath, make sure your horse is complete dry before you start to clip.

2. Don't forget your clippers need oil too

It's not only oil on the horse that helps get the best clip - your clippers need oil for themselves too. You should always give your clippers a good oil before you start and allow them to run for a good few minutes before starting to let the oil run through. When you pause to let your blades cool, blade coolant does NOT replace oil, so once they are cool, you'll need to oil them up again, & be generous with the oil you put on them. If you think you've put too much on the blade, just leave them running for longer to allow it to run through before putting them on your horse's skin.

3. Plan your horse's clip & how you'll do it

You've picked out which clip you want to give based on a few factored, but plan how you're doing to clip it in. If you've selected a clip with lines on it, draw them on using chalk for a dark horse and red crayon for a lighter horse. This will help you keep the lines straight and where they should be. 

As you clip, don't do one side and then the other, as if you need to stop for whatever reason (horse becomes irritable, clippers break, power outage...) you'll have a horse with a very difficult body to regulate temperature. Start at the bottom and do to half way up, then go to the other side. Once both sides are similarly even, do the top half on each side. 

4. Take regular breaks

Clipping is hard work, so take regular break and rest while your blades cool. The best thing I've ever done with clipping to give myself a break is teach Andrew (my husband) how to clip. It means we can take it in turns and share the workload as we go. 

5. Keep your blade cool and your horse itch free

Keep an old flick brush handy so you can continually brush over the clipped areas of your horse to help get rid of any itches he may have left from clipping the hair off. If it itches us when it's on our skin, it will do the same to them! You can also use the flick brush to flick hair off your clippers while in action and when they are cooling. The clearer you keep your clippers, the cooler they and don't clip through big chunks of thick hair you already clipped off, brush that straight off your horse.

6. Get that super shine finish

Always clip against the grain of your horse's hair and if you see unwanted lines starting to appear, go over your tracks, but overlay the width of the stroke edges. Sometimes a diagonal stroke can help get rid of those tough lines left at the end. REMEMBER, clips tidy up in a few days, so if it doesn't look totally neat and tidy, don't get too obsessed about it as a few days later the hair growth will have started and you won't be able to notice!

Don't forget when you're finished, go all over your horse with a coat conditioner and lambswool mitt (or non-absorbent cloth) to help bring back that beautiful shine!

Summary of my top tips for clipping your horse this winter

  • Select a clip that's appropriate for your horse - don't just do what everyone else is doing!
  • Be prepared and make sure you've got all you need BEFORE you start clipping
  • Always keep it safe 
  • Only ever clip a clean and dry horse
  • Clip against the gain of your horse's hair
  • Finish up your horse's clip with a once over of a coat conditioner


  1. I always struggle to decide between a blanket clip or a full clip, I usually start off with a blanket then on my next clip do a full if needed x

    1. I'm a little like that, but when most of my week day riding throughout the winter is in th eevening, I can't have Louie get too hot & sweat for when he needs rugging back up. The last two years I've just gone straight in for a full clip, but leaving the legs :)


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