Clipping Your Horse’s Coat

One way to cope with a winter coat is to clip it off. But with clipping comes certain responsibilities.

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Clipping Your Horse
When your horse is nicely clipped, remember that you must take care of him by watching the weather and 'dressing' him accordingly. | Photo: The Horse Staff

As the days grow shorter, the diminishing sunlight triggers your horse to grow a winter coat. This built-in prompt means he is certain to grow a coat no matter what climate he lives in, warm or cold. It’s an amazing protective device for your horse, but for you, if you plan to continue training throughout the winter, a heavy coat means loads of extra work. It will take you far longer to cool your horse out, even after the shortest workout.

One way to cope with a winter coat is to clip it off. But with clipping comes certain responsibilities. Once you clip your horse, you are responsible for making sure he is blanketed according to the weather. This means checking on your horse at least once a daytwice if you live in a warm climateto see if a heavier or lighter blanket is required. And a blanket at night is a must regardless of climate, although on warmer nights a thinner sheet might be in order vs. a heavy blanket.

Some breed societies do not believe in body clipping, so their owners might keep a lamp on in their horses’ stalls all night long to trick their systems into believing it’s still summer. This might seem like a labor-saving device, but if you consider all the aspects, keeping a lamp on is nearly the same as body clipping. If you board your horse, you will be responsible for extra electricity bills, installing the lamp, and turning it off and onand you will still have to blanket your horse since he will only have a summer coat in a winter climate.

To decide whether to clip, think about how much work you plan to do in the winter. If you plan to hang up your spurs for the season and keep your horse in light work, clipping might not be necessary, or a partial clip might do the job. You can choose from several styles of clips that remove hair in areas where your horse sweats frequently.

Free Download: What You Need to Know About Blanketing
Free Download: What You Need to Know About Blanketing

If you have higher goals for the winter, you should consider giving your horse a full body clip. For show horses, sweat will evaporate more quickly and your horse will maintain his neat appearance after a warm-up. You’ll find that your clipped horse is easier to maintain, because you must get the moisture out of your horse’s coat before you put him up, and this is certainly easier with a shorter coat. Also, a wet coat won’t insulate effectively, and if your horse is soaked through with perspiration, a blanket won’t help keep him warm unless you dry him completely. A clipped horse will dry quickly and be ready for blanketing immediately thereafter.

Blanket Needs

Once your horse is clipped, you will need at least three blanketsa light day sheet for mild days, an anti-sweat sheet or cooler for after workouts, and a heavy blanket for cold days and nights. You might also want to purchase a Lycra undergarment designed to prevent chafing from the blanket. Baby powder and coat polish can also help cut down on blanket rubs. Horses in colder areas might require hoods, extra blankets, or liners. No matter what blanket he wears, a body-clipped horse must always be kept away from winter drafts and rain.

Ready to Clip?

For full-body clipping, you’ll need large shearing clippers as well as small clippers. The small ones are for the face, ears, and small body parts and areas. However, trying to use these on the whole body will wear out the motor. Also, shearing clippers can clear a larger area quickly, cutting down the time it’ll take to finish the job. You’ll need clipper lubricant to keep the blades running smoothly and to keep the clippers cool, and/or blade wash to rinse the blades; a small brush or an old toothbrush to clean out hair and dirt from the blade teeth and small parts of the clippers; and clipper oil to protect the motor and teeth of the blades.

For best results, you’ll also need a blanket or cooler to keep the draft off newly clipped areas, white chalk for marking guidelines, a tail wrap, a body brush, clean rags, a step stool to reach his head and ears, and a heavy-duty extension cord.

Before you start, check your clipper instructions for guidelines on oiling and lubrication. Most large clippers have a small hole in the front for adding oil. (Use a small dropper tube of oil.) Apply a thin line of oil onto the top of your clipper teeth and let the machine run for a few seconds; repeat this procedure every 20 minutes or so while you are clipping. Brush your clipper teeth every five minutes or so and spray them with the lubricant or dip them in blade wash. Also, consult your manual for instruction on changing clipper tension and conducting blade maintenance.


Draw chalk lines around the areas you don’t want to clip. If you have chosen a clip other than a full body clip, you’ll want to use a string or a measuring tape to help you create equal patches on both sides of the horse. After you’ve measured out the patch, draw around it with chalk. If you plan to leave your horse’s legs hairy, draw a line along the muscle in the upper leg of the forelegs and an angled line from the stifle toward the hip in the hind legs.

If your horse has sensitive skin, you can leave a patch of hair around the saddle. This will help protect against friction burns and rubs from your saddle and pad. Place your saddle on your horse’s back and draw a line (not including the flaps) around the cantle and along the front. Remove your saddle and join the lines together. To make the tail blend into the clipped coat, draw an inverted “V” at the dock of the tail.

Now that you have your patches mapped out, start clipping at your horse’s shoulder, cutting against the lay of the hair in long, overlapping strokes. Overlapping your clipping strokes will prevent leaving strips of uncut hair behind. Then continue clipping along the back, sides, and quarters.

When you reach the mane, leave a thin strip of winter coat along the crest and under the hair. Coat clipped from the base of the mane tends to grow back unsightly, so take extra care when clipping this area. When you encounter cowlicks, maneuver your clippers so you’re always clipping against the grain of the hair.

Next, clip out your chalked areas. Cut against the grain along the lines of your patches, keeping the end of the blades on the chalk line. Pull any loose skin taut with the flat of your free hand to make a tighter cut. Smooth out any rough edges by turning your clippers upright and taking small cuts along the line. Clip the tail pattern by holding your clippers upside down with the edge of the blade against the “V.” In order to avoid cutting any tail hairs, wrap your horse’s dock in a tail bandage.

Clipping your horse’s legs can be problematic due to the conformation. Loose skin close to the chest is difficult to clip, and for a close clip you’ll have to pull the skin taut. You can do this easiest by enlisting a helper to lift your horse’s front leg so you can cut under the chest. To clip along the bone, hold your horse’s knee or hock to discourage him from lifting his leg. Again, cut against the growth of the hair.

Loose skin on your horse’s belly should be held taut with your hand as you clip. You might have to lean to one side to see what you are doing, but don’t kneel or put your head where your horse can kick. Bellies are tickly things, particularly with mares, so go carefully and hold your head well out of kicking range when clipping between the hind legs.

For the head, switch to your smaller, quieter clippers and start along the jaw or cheekbone. Clip all the large parts first, leaving the muzzle, ears, and eyes for last. Go slowly around the eyes; keep the skin taut and hold the eyelashes out of the way with your free hand. To clip the outside of the ears, hold them closed, point the blades upward, and clip the hair poking from inside and around the base. For the backs and edges of the ears, go with the growth of the hair and blend. Clip the muzzle as you would normally when trimming.

While all of this sounds simple, it takes practice, so don’t start unless you have plenty of time to patiently finish. Enlist the aid of an experienced person if this is your first time. Make sure your surroundings are calm and safe for you and the horse, and will continue to be quiet for a couple of hours (i.e. don’t start shortly before feeding time). If your horse is “clipper shy,” then spend time early in the fall getting him desensitized to the clippers and listening to you. If that doesn’t work or you have to ship to a warmer climate before you have time to finish your training, have your veterinarian sedate your horse before clipping so neither of you gets hurt.

When it’s over and your horse is nicely clipped, remember that you must take care of him by watching the weather and “dressing” him accordingly.


Written by:

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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