Home > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2014 > Daily Dispatch #9

January 9, 2014: To Clip or Not to Clip

I asked Vickie Talbot, who owns an Icelandic gelding to write about clipping because this is something I know little about. Her write-up follows. I have included some links to other sites on this subject at the end of this dispatch.

By Vickie Talbot

You might think it would be counterproductive to give a nice heavily coated horse a close shave in the middle of winter, especially here in Alaska. They will need blankets to protect them from the snow and wind and more than likely require more feed to stay warm during those really cold spells. Why do that when they grow a perfectly good winter cover up?

It really depends on the kind of work you and your equine partner participate in throughout the winter. If you only go for nice quiet walks down the snowy lane, then by all means leave that nice protective coat securely fastened to their hide. If on the other hand you regularly work out to the extent that your pony perspires and their coat becomes visibly damp (sometimes even wet), then do them a favor and help them shed some of those layers.

Putting it in perspective, think of working out in a gym or running outside for about a half an hour with your insulated Carhart suit on. Give it a try and see how quickly you become hot, sweaty,

The crosshatched area is the trace clip. The single hatched area in addition to the trace clip is the hunter clip.

Vickie on Hunar

fatigued, and out of breath. Then to really drive the experience home, stay outside (without unzipping your suit) until you finally become dry. I think you get my drift J

If after a strenuous workout you have the facilities to allow your horse to dry out in a protected and heated enclosure, then clipping will not be necessary. But realize that a horse with a heavy coat could take one to two hours to dry with a good heated blower. That will definitely cost more than a bit more hay or mash for a clipped horse that has a good blanket. If you regularly put your horse out into the elements with a warm (or even worse, hot) sweaty body, you are asking for colic or hypothermia.

Once a horse has been clipped, it will need extra protection from the elements; even horses housed in a stall with a paddock are not protected from the cold temperatures.

Layering is the best way to provide extra warmth. Just as you yourself would put on a lighter under layer and heavier outerlayer, a quilted stable blanket underneath a midweight all weather blanket will do a great job of keeping your pony nice and cozy. It is also a good idea to have more than one outer blanket. Even though they are considered waterproof, they still get soggy and need to be changed. When the weather is milder, you can lose the underlayer and your horse will still be protected.

A stable blanket is usually not waterproof and made of tent type nylon.

All weather blankets come in different grades of Cordura (like canvas), are (mostly) waterproof and have varying grades of insulation: Lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight.

Fleece or woolen blankets are fantastic for soaking up and wicking off excess moisture, but they need to be removed once your horse cools down and begins to dry or they will get clammy. Wool takes longer to dry but is warmer when it is damp. Fleece hung out to dry will dry well outside even if it is cold out. If there is a breeze, it takes no time at all for the fleece to lose the water vapor. They are also an excellent layer in between a stable blanket and an all-weather blanket if the weather gets particularly nasty and cold.

One caveat of fleece, I have found, is that it tends to creep backwards on horses with course hair and get tight around the neck and shoulders. For that reason, I only use it directly next to my pony’s hide to wick moisture away from his hair (like a cooler). As soon as he has cooled down and is just mildly damp, I remove it and cover with his regular layers. Horses (with adequate food) put out a lot of heat, and under the protective layer of a blanket, will continue to dry. Never put a plastic sheet over your horse thinking it will trap more heat or keep them from getting wet. Your horse will be like a rainforest underneath that tarp; no horse blanket is completely waterproof since they all have coatings that breathe for that very reason.

There are three main types of clips with an infinite variety of variations you can create to suit you and your pony’s needs. If you decide to clip, you could always start by shaving a bit less than you think your steed will be comfortable working with, but my philosophy is, “it will always grow back.” I have clipped my little steed three times this winter. After the first clip, he was nice and comfortable. I increased the rigorousness of his workout and his coat of course continued to grow, and sooner than later he was huffing and puffing again. By the third clip I got serious and gave him a modified hunter clip (didn’t clip the underside of the neck). Our next workout, he was fresh and forward and did not get fatigued or winded.

The trace clip, which is shown in the diagram as the crosshatched area, is for mild indoor and outdoor workouts and really helps them shed some heat. It still allows for good coverage on the legs, which is pretty important for horses out in pasture here in Alaska. The snow can get crusty and without that extra cushion of hair, their legs can get very abraided.

The hunter clip is more extensive and usually uncovers a good portion of the rump as well as the underside of the neck and sometimes includes the head as well. The hunter clip also usually leaves the legs unclipped. Horses that are regularly worked indoors are much more comfortable with a hunter clip. Indoor arenas are usually kept at temperatures that are more comfortable for humans than horses and the horses are working harder. If you and your horse’s workouts are rigorous, then a hunter clip is for you (your horse that is). You yourself can shed a layer when the going gets tough, but your horse cannot. Keep in mind if you do a full hunter clip, including the underside of the neck, your horse will need the neck gaiter as well. You can get them separate or ones that attach to the blanket at the shoulder.

A full body clip is just that, the whole body, legs and all. Most horses that are worked indoors here in Alaska do not receive full body clips until spring. If they are pastured outside it is best to leave the legs hairy to just above the knees until after the snow level is down to less than 4 inches. End of March, first part of April is a good time for a full body clip. Much later and they will have a mink-like look to their summer coat.

The advantages of a full body clip in the spring are numerous:

  • the amount of hair a horse with a heavy winter coat sheds out in the spring is copious—mine put out three bags full his first spring—no kidding. They will still lose the same quantity of hair but the volume is of course considerably less.
  • Two, your horse will have much less of the itchiness associated with spring shedding
  • Three, you can really scrub well when their coat is very short, which helps loosen their winter dander (even less itchiness)
  • And four, they lose their coat relatively slowly in relation to how quickly the weather warms up—more stress and huffing and puffing with the typical increase in spring workouts.

Of course, let your horse’s constitution guide you. If he has a relatively short or thin winter coat, he may not need to be clipped, but still may need some blanketing anyway to stay comfortable and help reduce the amount of hay necessary to stay warm.

If your horse is an easy keeper, then more than likely a fairly short clip will be quite comfortable.

Some of the Northern breeds, Icelandics, Fjords, Halflingers, are quite well equipped to weather whatever weather nature can throw at them. Those breeds really benefit from an extensive clip if they’re regularly worked in the winter. The hot bloods may not grow much winter coat at all, but even so, if they are worked vigorously indoors, they will probably benefit from some variation of a trace or hunter clip.

Couple extra notes about blanketing:

Check underneath your pony’s blanket, every other day at least, for rubs, and take it off during the day if the weather warms.

Tack stores that sell blankets do a good job of providing links to information on how to measure a horse for a blanket. One that is a bit too big is better than one that is too small.

Here’s the rub:

A good clipper cost $300.00 A $150.00 clipper will work on an animal with a light to normal winter coat. I’m convinced that the northern breeds have as much hair per square inch as a sea otter. On an Icelandic, the less expensive clipper gets the job done but very slowly and I needed a couple of blades to get the job done in one setting—then plan on getting your blades sharpened if you want to do any more clipping. I use a number 10 and a number 30 blade. I have to use a comb with the 10 first to take the hair down a notch, and then go over again with the 30. It is very tedious-I am going to get a good clipper before next winter. E-Bay is my friend

I use an Oster. I think it might be called a sable pro. It’s fine for trimming chins and bridle paths and fetlocks (not long course feathers though), but trying to do a body clip is an exercise in extreme patience for your horse. The bigger shears, also by Oster/Sunbeam, are much better. They are heavier and a bit more awkward to use, but they cut three times as fast. The bigger shears state they are for livestock: cattle, sheep, horses. There are lots of them on e-Bay and blades are readily available. The ones like I have state they are grooming clippers—really mostly suitable for dogs but they are nice for getting to those trickier areas since they are quieter and easier to handle.

I started with a trace clip, but this last time I gave him a hunter clip without the under the neck portion since I don’t have a neck gaiter. Hunar seems to do fine with it. There was a noticeable difference in his performance at our next indoor lesson and he did not get near as sweated up.

It took us several weeks of desensitizing for Hunar to stop blowing and moving away. I started by just rubbing the clippers over his body at the same time I was brushing him until he was comfortable with it. I did this several more times-let him see it and taste it. At first he was more comfortable with it in his mouth than having it rubbing his rump.

Next I held the clippers near him and turned them on—oooo that got a reaction! I would just hold them near enough to him so that he would not shy away and gradually got close enough for him to want to taste it while it was running (no blades attached). Next step was to touch his shoulder while it was running and gradually move back to his rump then try to get up around his ears (ears were the hardest). If at any point he began to get very anxious and start blowing and dancing around, I would back up to the previous step and let him get comfortable again. Once he let me touch him while they were running, I gave him a treat. Once he was pretty comfortable with it moving back and forth on him (giving him treats as I went) while running, I attached the blade and started out. He was a little shy at first with the blade running but soon had no problem. It was a fairly long process actually (I spent most of the summer doing it). Then after that first clipping session, the next few times I went to clip him, I ran the clippers over him while it was turned off (let him taste them), then turned it on and held it against him, then start cutting. Now he is totally unphased by this procedure.

One important safety precaution: When you are near their rump, it is fairly easy to stay out of harm’s way, but be really careful around the front end. I don’t know if you have ever been hit by a front leg strike, but it is quite damaging. Hunar did not actually strike at me (that happened with another horse), but I have seen him use those front legs with great flexibility and precision.

Other related sites:

More articles on clipping:



Measuring Blanket sizes:
How to measure your horse for a blanket

A large selection of blankets at Dover Saddlery

Fitting a Horse Blanket

Winter Blanketing:
Cooling Out a Hot Horse in Winter Cold

Lots on blankets

To Blanket or Not to Blanket

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