clipping a horse

Q: My trainer recommended I body clip my horse to help with cooling off after riding and prevent her from staying sweaty as long (which I know can lead to skin issues), but when I clipped her last year she became super sensitive to everything. She got skin funk more easily and got rubs on the clipped areas from her saddle pad and even where the reins touched her neck. Do you have any advice to help counteract her extra-sensitive skin or alternatives to clipping if she is too sensitive for that to be an option?

A: The answer to this question will depend a lot on seasonality, location, and available resources. I am definitely a fan of clipping horses that are in work during the winter in colder climates when baths are less accessible and a coat staying wet can be dangerous. Blanketing a damp horse can also trap moisture and be damaging to the skin barrier. If body clipping is not an option during the winter, applying a cooler and towel drying as much as possible is very important. During the warmer months or in warmer locales, I am not necessarily an advocate for body clipping and would instead push for a good rinse off following each ride with a medicated bath every seven to 10 days.

​If your sensitive horse must be clipped, I would recommend using a trace clip that leaves more hair in areas of contact such as where your saddle pad sits and the top half of the neck where the reins rest. This can help with some of the irritation caused by rubbing. I would also recommend adding a leave-on topical antimicrobial spray for after your rides and/or a weekly medicated bath to help prevent overgrowth of bacteria or yeast that may be causing the “skin funk” noted at home. Products containing a concentration of 3% or higher of chlorhexidine are best. Ensuring your saddle pads are washed and changed out regularly will help reduce bacterial and yeast load and limit sweat and dirt that may be irritating.

Horses clipped in the summer or when winter blankets aren’t in use, especially those with less pigmented skin, might also have more UV ray exposure and could benefit from UV-rated fly sheets, which will have the added bonus of protection from insects whose bites can make the skin more sensitive. Good fly control, including permethrin-containing fly sprays and spot-ons, altered turnout schedules to avoid the more buggy times of day, and fans in their stalls to deter some of the flying insects, will also help horses with sensitive skin by reducing insect bites.