Does your horse resemble a wooly mammoth come December? Wondering if you should take the plunge and give him a buzz cut? Liv Gude of Pro Equine Grooms  talks about what you should consider.
To clip or not to clip? This is sometimes a great debate among horse owners and trainers—people wonder is it necessary, are we interfering with what’s natural, how much extra time it may lead to with blanketing and the like.
There are a myriad of factors to take into account when deciding to clip, from the requirement to blanket appropriately to dealing with skin issues. In addition, riding a clipped horse in the early morning on a brisk day can sometimes leads to the “cold weather friskies,” and for some horse-and-rider pairs can lead to the “cold weather buckies.”
Because we all must decide what’s best for our horses, I invite you, for just a minute, to toss out the “it’s not natural” reason for clipping a winter coat. While I agree with you that it is not natural to remove a winter coat, it’s sometimes the healthiest option. Here’s why.
We ride and exercise our horses. Some of us live in climates that can reach 70 degrees on a winter day. We have horses whose normal winter coat can create a fuzzy sauna. Take into account every angle of this debate, and you might agree that while clipping is not natural, it is necessary for the health and comfort of some horses.
Now down to brass tacks. What do you need to think about as you are making the clipping decision?
First think about your climate. Will your horse be comfortable during the day with a winter coat? Many climates will make a winter coat wonderful during the day and night, other climates are asking for overheating during the day.
Consider his exercise routine. Winter coats are designed to repel the forces of nature like wind, rain, and snow. Rain on a winter coat is not a big deal! Your horse will remain dry on the skin and warm. But, if your horse is sweating due to exercise, that moisture is coming from the skin and will be trapped by his winter coat. This is an awesome petri dish for a myriad of skin problems to grow in.
However, the major issue is long it takes for a long, thick, sweaty coat to dry, which adds more time to your already busy day. You can’t just throw your horse back in his stall or out in his field with a thick, wet, sweaty coat. You need to take the time to cool him out and groom him, which can be time-consuming.
Consider how you want to maintain healthy grooming practices for an unclipped horse, where the dirt and dust get trapped deep in the hair. Vacuums are amazing if you are lucky enough to have one. You can also hot-towel your horse, but this is time intensive (think hours) to do a proper and thorough job. Add to that the cool-out time and drying time, with countless coolers and hand-walking.
What is your show and clinic schedule like? If you have no shows or clinics until after the spring thaw, you are golden if you don’t want to clip! If you have things planned, a great clip will boost your horse’s eye candy appeal in the show ring.
Does your boarding facility offer blanketing service? Of course if you clip you will need appropriate blankets during the evening and sometimes during the day. Having this service provided at your facility can make life easy for you. Otherwise, you may be making twice daily (or more) trips to add, remove, or change blankets from your horse as the temperature changes. You will also need a few different blankets to get from fall to spring. A sheet, medium weight blanket and heavy weight blanket are the basics—if he’s going to be turned out in them, they need to be sturdy and waterproof. You can always layer if there is a major cold blast headed your way.
Don’t forget that there is no hard and fast rule about clipping. You don’t have to do a full body clip. You can do a trace clip or one of many variations on the theme. The purpose of a clip is to let your horse be comfortable, and to have the sweat dry quickly and safely after exercise. The primary places horses sweat are on the neck and flanks. Clipping a modified trace or a totally custom racing stripe down the side can provide cooling and ventilation without stripping him of all his natural protection. Leave the legs fuzzy if you like. Put an initial or pattern on his rump if you want to!
Also think about where shorter hair may increase the chance for a rub. Do you want to use a clipper blade that leaves more hair, or do you need to leave the hair unclipped under his crown piece or behind his sensitive elbows? I like to leave a furry saddle pad under the saddle area to protect the skin there. You may want to buzz it all away.
A few more tidbits of thought for you before you clip… If your trace clip looks like a drunk person used some rusty scissors to clip, remember that the hair will grow back. Also plan on having microscopic bits of hair everywhere. And, I suggest skipping the lip balm while you are clipping!
Do you have any grooming questions or mysteries you'd like answered? Email them to us  and Liv will address them next month!