When and How To Clip Your Horse

When and How To Clip Your Horse

Are you considering clipping your horse but unsure where to start? Clipping can be a valuable skill for horse owners, offering benefits to improve comfort, performance and hygiene. It’s essential to approach the process with full knowledge, correct preparation and care to ensure a successful outcome.

Carriagehouse Insurance are leading horse and pony insurance providers, and in this article we have covered what you need to know before you venture into this aspect of horse care. From understanding the different types of clips, to preparing your horse physically and mentally for the process, we’ve provided you with practical tips and advice to help you achieve the desired outcome.

Why do we clip horses?

There are many reasons why a horse is clipped: work load and aesthetics, ease of care, medical reasons are just some of the many reasons why it is appropriate. We will consider a few of these reasons below:

Temperature Regulation

Horses grow naturally thicker coats in winter to remain warm, so clipping can help maintain a comfortable body temperature during exercise or exertion. Horses, such as competition horses or hunters, likely to sweat during their work, are helped to cool down faster and not to overheat by clipping. A sweat-soaked coat takes longer to dry and can be uncomfortable for the horse, potentially leading to chills. By reducing the amount of insulation provided by their hair, clipping therefore allows horses to cool down more efficiently during workouts.

Excessive sweating can lead to discomfort, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. Clipping thicker coats helps to prevent this by allowing sweat to evaporate more readily from the horse’s skin.

Grooming and Hygiene

One benefit of clipping is that a clipped and rugged horse means there is less coat and less exposure to mud, making grooming easier. This can be a significant benefit for horse owners in the winter months were daylight is at a premium and riding time is tight.

In addition, clipping can also prevent skin issues. A thick, matted coat or thick feathers can trap moisture and dirt, leading to skin problems. Clipping allows for better air circulation and easier cleaning, promoting good skin health. It is easier to manage conditions such as Mud Fever or mites, if the excessive hair is clipped away.

Aiding Healing & Medical Conditions

Clipping can be beneficial for horses recovering from skin wounds or injuries. It allows for better monitoring of the healing process and easier application of topical medications. Removing excess hair can make it easier to treat the affected areas, as well as improve airflow around any bandages or dressings.

Legs are clipped by vets during an ultrasound scan for soft tissue injuries. This enables then to scan against the skin and therefore to obtain a better image.

Clipping can also help manage diseases, such as Cushing’s Disease. Horses with Cushing’s Disease often develop excessively thick, long coats. Clipping can help regulate their body temperature and improve their comfort.

Aesthetics & Show Preparation

Certain horse shows may have specific clipping patterns that enhance the horse’s conformation and musculature for aesthetic purposes.

Some horse owners prefer a neat and tidy appearance for their horses, and clipping achieves this. Clipping can improve the appearance of a horse’s coat, making it look neater and shinier. This is often desirable for horses competing in shows or events where presentation is important. However, it is good to note that the FEI have banned the trimming of facial whiskers which are essential for the horse’s perception of its surroundings.

When should you clip your horse?

Daylight plays a major factor in the growth of our horse’s coats. As the number of daylight hours shorten into the autumn, melatonin production increases to stimulate winter coat growth. In January and February as the days start to lengthen, the horse’s hair follicles start preparing the summer coat.

Whilst the when to perform your first clip is fairly obvious: if the coat is too thick for your horse’s workload, then you should clip. As the coat keeps growing during the winter, you may have to repeat this process every 6-8 weeks. There is much debate about when the final clip should be. Traditionalists argue that clipping after January risks damaging the summer coat. However, a number of respected show producers argue that the use of different clipper blades can leave a longer length of hair, therefore horses can be clipped all year round for aesthetic reasons.

In colder climates with freezing temperatures, clipping may not be advisable, especially for horses who live outdoors most of the time. Their winter coat provides essential insulation and waterproofing, protecting them against the worst of the winter elements.

Horses who work up a sweat during exercise or training will benefit from clipping to cool down faster and prevent overheating. The clip you chose should be commiserate with the amount of work you expect your horse to perform. Less active horses may not require clipping or only a small bib clip. Read more on how to keep horses cool during warmer weather.

If the horse is involved in competitions or shows, the timing of clipping may be influenced by the event schedule. Some owners prefer to clip several weeks before a competition to allow the horse’s coat to settle and any clipper lines to fade, while others may clip closer to the event for a neater appearance.

Older horses with compromised immune systems may need their winter coats for extra warmth. Consult your veterinarian before clipping these horses.

Clipping Guidelines Based on Season

Autumn (September – October): This is a common time to clip horses who are in work, in preparation for winter. They’ve started to grow their thick winter coat, and cooler autumn weather allows them to adjust to being clipped before the coldest temperatures arrive.

Winter (November – February): The number of clips during this period depends on coat regrowth. Some horses have finer coats than others and some seem to regrown quicker. If you are lucky one final clip around Christmas will last until the spring moult and the summer coats appears.

Spring (March – May): Horses typically start shedding their winter coats naturally in spring. Clipping during this time can avoid the winter coat shedding and if clipped carefully this can help to promote a smoother summer coat.

Summer (June – August): Clipping in summer can be beneficial for horses whose summer coat is relatively thick and who are sensitive to heat or sweat a lot. Older horse’s with a ‘Cushing’s coat’ which stays thick and curly will benefit from being clipped all summer. However, as their skin is exposed to the sunshine, it is also important to make sure they have ample access to shade and proper hydration during the hottest part of the day.

Different types of clip for your horse

The specific type of clip used and the extent of clipping depend on factors such as the horse’s workload, the climate, and individual preferences. Horses in heavy work may require a full body clip, while those in lighter work may only need a partial clip or a trace clip, leaving some hair on areas such as the legs and saddle area for protection. There are a number of recognised traditional clips (see below) although these days, anything goes and some horses are clipped in artistic fashion!

Once clipped, how you rug your horse should be considered and this will vary according to the weather and the warmth of their stables.

Traditional clips

When and How To Clip Your Horse
Image available at Katia Koperski: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/clipping-patterns–460000549419946111/

A Full Clip removes all the horse’s hair except for the head (including the ears in some variations) and the lower legs (the fetlocks). It is most suitable for horses who are working hard over the winter and can be rugged appropriately. Whilst time consuming it is easier that the other clips as there are no straight hair lines to worry about.

The Hunter Clip is popular for competition horses. It removes hair from the neck, body, and part of the hindquarters. The legs are usually left unclipped or minimally clipped below the knee/hock. The head might be entirely clipped or partially clipped, leaving the muzzle and forelock.

A Blanket Clip offers a good balance between warmth and sweat management. It removes hair from the neck, body, and part of the hindquarters, similar to the hunter clip. However, the blanket clip typically removes more hair from the underside of the body and the chest. The legs and head are usually left unclipped.

The Chaser Clip is designed for horses who participate in activities requiring short bursts of intense exertion, like steeplechase racing. It removes hair from the neck, shoulders, chest, belly, and a section of the hindquarters. The legs are typically left unclipped or minimally clipped below the knee/hock. The head might be partially or fully clipped.

A Trace Clip provides minimal clipping for horses who need some sweat management but also require some winter protection. It removes hair from the underside of the neck, chest, belly, and a small section of the hindquarters. The legs and head are typically left unclipped.

Less Common Clips

The Irish Clip removes hair from the neck and chest, offering a bit more coverage than a bib clip but less than a trace clip.

The most basic clip, a Bib clip, removes only a small amount of hair from the front of the neck and chest. It might extend partially under the belly (where the girth sits).

Things to consider before clipping your horse

Before deciding to clip your horse, there are several important factors to consider to ensure it’s the right choice for your horse’s health, comfort and performance.

Consider your horse’s natural coat type and thickness. Some breeds or individual horses naturally grow thicker winter coats than others. Clipping may be more necessary for horses with dense coats that tend to overheat during exercise.

Assess the weather and climate in your area before clipping. Clipping is typically done during colder months to help horses regulate their body temperature during exercise. If you live in a region with mild winters, clipping may not be necessary or may require a lighter clip.

Evaluate the intensity and frequency of your horse’s exercise routine. Horses in heavy work or regular training sessions are more likely to benefit from clipping to prevent overheating and facilitate cooling during and after exercise.

Take into consideration your horse’s overall health and condition. Clipping may not be suitable for horses with certain medical conditions or compromised immune systems. Consult with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your horse’s health before clipping.

Think about the grooming and maintenance requirements associated with clipping. Clipped horses may require specific grooming to prevent skin irritation, manage coat regrowth and maintain their appearance.

Understand that clipped hair will grow back over time, and your horse’s coat will require ongoing care and maintenance. Plan for regular grooming, monitoring of coat condition, and potential re-clipping as needed throughout the season.

Prepare your horse for clipping by gradually introducing them to the process. Use desensitisation techniques to familiarise your horse with the sound and sensation of clippers, and ensure they are comfortable with being handled and groomed.

How to prepare before you clip your horse

Ensure your clippers are in optimal condition by having them serviced annually. Before clipping, inspect the cables, blades and tensioning to ensure they are in good working order. Sharp and clean clipper blades are essential for efficient clipping; blunt blades can make the process slow and uncomfortable for your horse as they drag through the hair, pulling on the skin. Keep clipper oil and a brush nearby for cleaning during clipping sessions.

Familiarise yourself with the tension settings recommended by the manufacturer and adjust accordingly. Safety should always be a priority, so ensure your clippers have a circuit breaker attached. To prevent wires from being trodden on, consider securing them to the ceiling with string if necessary.

Keep surgical spirit or blade wash within reach for sanitising equipment as needed. Always have a spare set of blades on hand and avoid using blunt blades, as they can damage the coat. Remember to oil your clippers and blades before starting each clipping session and during the process to maintain smooth operation.

How to prepare your horse to be clipped

Firstly, thoroughly groom the horse to remove any dirt, mud, or loose hair from their coat. This will help the clippers glide smoothly over the skin and prevent clogging of the blades.

Ensure your horse is comfortable with being touched and handled all over their body. Practise gentle handling and desensitisation exercises to prepare them for the clipping process.

Decide whether you will secure your horse or have someone hold them during clipping. Choose a safe and secure location with good lighting and stable footing.

Prepare the clipping area, making sure it’s clean, well-lit and free from distractions. Remove any potential hazards and make sure the area is comfortable for both you and your horse.

Take your horse for a short walk or lunge session to help them relax and expend excess energy before clipping, to prevent restlessness and make the clipping process easier.

Introduce your horse to the sound and sensation of clippers gradually, especially if this is the first time they have been clipped. Start by turning on the clippers nearby and watch your horse’s reaction. If they become anxious or fearful spend time acclimatising them to the sound of the running clippers while offering treats and/or positive reinforcement. Gradually move the clippers closer to the horse’s body as they become more comfortable.

Approach the clipping process with patience and a calm demeanour. Use positive reinforcement, such as treats or verbal praise, to reward your horse for standing quietly during clipping.

Begin by clipping in less sensitive areas, such as the neck or shoulders, to allow your horse to become accustomed to the sensation of the clippers. Gradually work your way to more sensitive areas, such as the head and legs, as your horse becomes more comfortable.

As clipping can take a long time, it might be appropriate to take breaks during the clipping process to give your horse time to relax and reset, especially if this is the first time they’ve been clipped. Offer the horse water and allow them to move around if needed before continuing.

Is it difficult to clip a horse?

If you are an experienced clipper with a good understanding of horse handling and clipper techniques, clipping can be a relatively straightforward process. For someone new to clipping, it can be more challenging. Mastering proper clipper handling and following clipping patterns requires practice; the straight lines can be tricky!

A calm horse who tolerates grooming and handling well will be much easier to clip. A nervous horse which is easily startled, or dislikes clippers can make the process difficult and potentially stressful for both the horse and the clipper. These horses, especially if young should be started slowly with only a small bib taken off the first time.

Having the right tools, a clean and safe environment, and a chosen clipping pattern beforehand can make the process smoother. Using dull blades or applying excessive pressure with the clippers can be uncomfortable for the horse and lead to nicks or cuts.

Despite these challenges, many horse owners find clipping to be a rewarding skill to master. With practice, attention to detail, and a focus on the horse’s comfort and well-being, clipping can become a manageable task that contributes to the overall health and appearance of the horse.

How long does it take for horse hair to grow back after clipping?

The rate at which horse hair grows back after clipping can vary depending on factors such as the horse’s breed, age, health, and individual genetics, as well as the specific type of clip and the time of year. However, on average, horse hair grows at a rate of approximately 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 centimetres) per month.

After a full body clip, it may take several months for the horse’s coat to fully regrow to its original length. In the meantime, the horse may have a shorter or patchy coat as the hair gradually grows back. Factors such as nutrition, grooming, and overall health can also influence the rate of hair regrowth.

Partial clips or clip styles that leave some hair on the horse’s body, such as trace clips or blanket clips, may result in a less noticeable change in the horse’s appearance and a quicker return to a fully covered coat.

Final Tips for Horse Clipping

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to when to clip your horse. By considering the factors mentioned in the article, and if necessary consulting your veterinarian, you can make an informed decision that promotes your horse’s comfort and wellbeing throughout the year.

If you are not confident clipping, there are numerous professionals who will come a clip your horse for you. Watching their techniques for handling the clippers and asking them questions is a great way of learning how to clip a horse yourself.

It’s important to pay attention to your horse’s comfort level. If they seem hot and sweaty after exercise even in cooler weather, clipping might be helpful. Conversely, if they shiver easily or struggle in colder temperatures, they likely need their winter coat.

Your veterinarian can advise on the most suitable clipping schedule for your horse’s individual needs, taking your local climate into account.

If you do clip your horse in colder weather, provide them with appropriate blankets or rugs to maintain their body temperature when needed. We’ve provided further information on how to prepare your stables and yards for winter, if this is something you would like to read further.


[1] Horse & Hound, https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/clip-horse-final-time-ensure-gleaming-summer-coat-hh-investigates-675820