The Good, the Bad, and the Hairy…
That time of the year is upon us! Just as we bundle up from the elements with many layers of Cuddle Dudds, winter breeches, and multiple vests, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves; so does your horse. With shortened daylight hours and dropping temperatures, your horse’s protective winter coat keeps him protected from the elements.
However, that fluffy seasonal exterior can become a hassle for those that work their horses regularly, show, or find that it takes 2 hours and multiple coolers to get their otherwise sweaty and mud-ridden horse groom-worthy after a lesson, ride, or post-turnout. That’s why many equestrians decide to clip their horse, to help their horse cool off easier without risking a chill, as well as clean mud, check for scrapes and scratches, and have a show-ready appearance year-round.
Thermoregulation & Body Clipping
The skin is the largest organ for both horses and humans. With horses, their entire body systems adapt as a direct result of heat production (thermogenesis) or the loss of heat (thermolysis). With thermogenesis, horses remove excess body heat by evaporation via the respiratory system and sweating. Conversely, exposure to cold will produce a decrease in respiratory rate, to decrease heat loss. Horses are naturally the most comfortable and do not experience thermoregulated stress when their thermal zones are in the 60 to 72 degree range. In fact, scientific studies have shown that clipped horses experienced less strain on the thermoregulatory system due to an enhanced heat loss. Some clipped horses showed a more efficient power output than those that were unclipped!
If your horse suffers from medical issues, such as Cushing’s, they could have a more difficult time regulating body temperature and an appropriate clip can help keep them comfortable. Rain rot or scratches can also be a sign that is it time to clip.
Types of Body Clips
Depending on your horse’s activity level, the climate you live in, showing schedule, and the sheer amount of hair your horse has; there are multiple varieties of clips to choose from.
Trace Clip: The most common type of body clip, this one is fairly minimal – it only removes the coat in the most sweat-prone areas, including the underside of the neck and chest. This is great for horses that are in a lesson program or ridden lightly and take a long time to cool down or groom and spend a decent amount of time in the elements.
Blanket Clip: Following along the muscles in the topline (read our other blog post to learn more about it!), this clip leaves a padding of hair on the back, keeping the muscles warm and legs protected but making sweat removal and cooling down much more efficient! Otherwise known as the “Quarter Sheet Clip,” this method is great for horses in moderate work, while still getting moderate outdoor turnout time.
Hunter Clip: This clip takes down all the hair except for the legs and a minimal, pad or saddle-shaped tracing along the back. Honorably named after field hunters, this clip keeps the legs protected during jumping, turnout, and fox-hunting. The removal of most of the body hair including the face and ears keeps the horse’s thermoregulation at its optimum point, even on long gallops across the terrain. For any horses with this clip, it’s ideal they are properly blanketed for adequate coverage from the cold.
Full Body Clip: This “au naturale” clip is perfect if your horse is heading down to WEC or regularly showing this winter season, live in Florida or other milder climates, has a heavy workload, and spends most of his times indoors. This option leaves a show-ready shine and makes grooming a breeze; but leaves no protection from the elements. Make sure your horse is well-blanketed including a neck cover, fleece layer, and heavyweight especially if you’re in temperate zones (like I am in Ohio).
Helpful Hint: When doing a trace clip, hunter clip, or any clip that has an outline or lines involved, I find it helpful to use chalk or a blade to trace clean lines of where I want to go. Give yourself a little extra room on the outline so you can clean up edges as needed. Remember, you can always take hair away than put it back!
What Blade Should I Use…
And what do all these numbers even mean?
There are many makes, models, and lengths of clipper blades, and knowing what type to use on what part of the body can be confusing. Depending on the length of hair you want after clipping, that number will correspond to the blade you use.
RULE OF THUMB: The higher the number on the blade, the shorter your hair will be.
#10 – Course Cut: This size blade leaves hair the longest. Many people use this size for body clipping, and many clippers provide a free #10 blade with the original purchase. It is a wise choice of blade to use on the horse’s legs, as it leaves a long enough length of hair to provide some protection. It’s also a great choice if you’re new to horse clipping techniques. Finishing mistakes are easier to correct with this blade as you have more length of hair left to work with.
Note: #10 blades are available in regular and wide sizes, with the wider size most appropriate for body clipping, since it removes more hair per swipe.
#15 – Medium Cut: This size blade cuts the hair a bit shorter than the #10 blade, making it a great option when clipping hair on a horse’s head or bride path.
#30 – Medium or Fine Cut: One of the more popular blade length options, this length is the standard for most showing disciplines. Presents a clean trimmed look by removing excess hair and whiskers from the horse’s face, ears, around the eyes and nose, and fetlock area.
#T- 84 – Medium Cut: This extra-wide, medium cut blade from Andis has become increasingly popular among amateur and professional clippers due to its large area coverage when clipping and the finish they give. Due to its extra-wide design, allowing for more hair to be removed per pass, it’s not uncommon for the entire body to be clipped using the T-84’s.
#40 – Fine or Surgical Cut: This blade cuts the hair extremely close to the skin. In fact, if you put a magnifying glass up to the skin, you can see tiny nicks. This blade is pretty much only used for medical purposes.
5-in-1 – Multipurpose Cut: A huge innovation to the Clipper World, these blades from Wahl can adjust from a #9, #10, #15, #30, and #40 length in as little as moving your thumb. They make clipping a breeze and the hassle of changing blades (or needing multiple clippers to get the job done)
Before You Start Clipping
Because clipping is a time-extensive process, especially if you’re new and less confident in your clipping abilities, it’s crucial to give both you and your horse plenty of time, patience, and a few extra cookies to prep for the perfect clip.
First… BATHE YOUR HORSE!
Not only does a dirty horse dull and eat away at your blades, plus put extensive wear and tear on your clippers themselves; it also makes clipping uncomfortable by pulling on your horse’s skin in addition to making lines very uneven and not clipping evenly. Blades are supposed to smooth through a horse’s coat like a hot knife through butter – pushing/forcing your clippers through is the sign of a dirty horse.
My favorite tools when prepping and clipping tools are the following:
- Hands On Grooming Gloves: If I could stand from the rooftops with a giant banner to tell everyone that they MUST have these grooming gloves, I totally would. These are fantastic for bathing by evenly distributing shampoo throughout the coat, especially if it’s a thicker winter layer. In lieu of a curry, the little nubs throughout the palm and fingertips really get in there to lift dirt and crud.
- A gentle, non-oil-stripping shampoo for a good bath beforehand to bring out that squeaky clean shine. My go to is a combination of Dawn dish soap and the EquiFuse Concentrate Paste Shampoo. A little goes a long way with this deep cleaning and gentle mixture, plus the EquiFuse is infused with natural Citrus essential oils that makes this shampoo smell oh-so-heavenly!
- Once dried, apply some form of grooming spray that will add a light layer of oil back to the coat, allowing for a quicker, cleaner clip that keeps the coloring and sheen in the hair.
- For clipping tools themselves, my all-time favorites are the Wahl KM10 clippers with a 10W Competition Blade for body clipping. For touch-ups and show prep (face, bridle paths, ears, legs, muzzle), the Wahl Creativa or Wahl Bravura clippers are in my arsenal. Both the Wahl Bravura and Creativa clippers run on Lithium batteries – these long-running cordless clippers stay cool for multiple clips and the adjustable blades make my life so much easier.
- When finished clipping and post-grooming, use a damp hot cloth to remove any grease from the blades and loose hair, then spray a light mist of the Shapelys No.2 Oil to remoisturize the coat while softening the hair and adding shine.
Top Tips to Clips
Before clipping begins, turn the clippers on away from your horse to get him used to the noise and vibration. If working with a sensitive or spooky horse, I’ll hold the clipper itself to his shoulder for a minute or until he begins to relax. Then, start at the shoulder as this is less sensitive than other areas on his body. There are different schools of thought on whether to do long broad strokes or short ones. I personally go in short strokes in a Y pattern, but whatever your method, make sure you go against the hair.
Give yourself plenty of time and patience – especially for your horse! Depending on your experience, the type of clip, pre-clip prep, and the personality of your horse, clipping can go anywhere from a 2 to 4-hour job including breaks, oiling, blade changing, and more. Prepare to commit, follow through and finish with the job. Be conscious of your horse’s mood, the temperature of the blades, and have plenty of clipper oil and cookies handy to make the entire clipping experience a positive one for the both of you!
You’ll oil your blades more frequently than you cool them, applying it to the blades every 15 to 20 minutes. Use a coolant only twice – once before going onto the other side and then when finished to clean the blade and disinfect before going onto the next horse. If you over-use the cool lube spray it cruds up the blades and they won’t work as effectively. Make sure you brush away any excess hair from the blades and clipper drive.
When working in tricky areas where the skin folds and creases, use your free hand to pull skin taught as you clip – including the chest, face, elbow, and throat latch areas. When clipping whorls, change the direction/angle of your clippers to correspond with the many direction the hair grows. Step back every time you oil your blades to get a birds-eye view of your clipping job thus far. If lines are present, go back over with the blades. If they still don’t go away, it means the blades aren’t oiled properly, the blades are dull, or the blade drive in the clippers need to be replaced.
In conclusion, if this is your first time clipping, take a deep breath and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Having a helper nearby makes it much easier when clipping legs, in case you need to pull them away from the horse, holding him as you work near the ears or tail, and hand necessary tools to you. Horse clipping is an art and can take years to perfect. At the end of the day, if you mess up, it’s okay – hair will always grow back!
Enjoy the ride,