Stress-Free Horse Clipping Tips

Gretchen Canova Gabor shares advice learned over 20 years of clipping hundreds of horses and ponies. Follow these tips and you will be on your way to clipping your horse safely, successfully and line-free.

Clipping is as much a science as an art. Before you begin to body clip or trim your horse, you must prepare several things:

Avoid clipping your horse’s muzzle until he’s comfortable. Amy K. Dragoo/AIMMEDIA

Day Before

  • Purchase clipper blades (read the instructions that come with your clippers to determine the correct blade for the job). It is cheaper to have your clipper blades sharpened but this can take several weeks.
  • You will need larger body clippers for the body and smaller clippers for the face. If you use different clippers, make sure the hair clipping lengths match up, especially for the face.
  • Bathe your horse if weather allows. If it’s too cold, groom well or spot clean. If you are clipping on a warm day you may be able to bathe the same day you clip, but be sure to wait until the horse is completely dry before clipping.
  • Find or purchase a stool without a handle on the top. You want to be able to break free quickly without any chance of getting your foot caught.
  • Find or purchase a halter with a leather crown strap and a snap to detach the throatlatch, or use a grooming halter, which has no throatlatch. You need to be able to access that area to clip.

Day Of

  • Create a clutter free environment in a low traffic area. You want your area free from any item that you or your horse can run into if he spooks. Low traffic areas also help to reduce the stress on your horse.
  • Organize a flat surface nearby to stage your clipping tools: body clippers, smaller clippers or trimmers, bowl for rubbing alcohol, rubbing alcohol, soft brush, two towels, orange extension cord and clipper blade oil (Clipper manufacturers often sell clipper blade oil. In a pinch I have used baby oil. I don’t recommend engine oil–remember this oil will be in contact with your horse’s skin and may irritate.)
  • Put dogs in office or tack room to avoid them getting close to your horse’s legs.
  • Have someone there to help you.
  • Allow at least two hours for a body clip.

Keep in Mind

  • Be patient–most horses find the clipper vibration ticklish and the sound sometimes scary.
  • Leave plenty of time to clip.
  • Hold the weight of the clippers–do not press down hard. Most people, when learning to clip, apply too much pressure.
  • Watch the corners of the clipper blades. You may accidentally clip more hair then you want. Also these corners can poke your horse by accident.
  • Always clip against the direction of the hair. The cowlicks are the hardest.
  • Blend if you use different types of clippers to avoid choppy lines.
  • Do not cross tie or tie your horse if he or she has a tendency to pull back. This type of horse will need to be held during the entire clipping process.

Where to Start Clipping? How to Test Your Horse?

When I’m preparing to clip a horse I don’t know, I always make sure I’m working in a clutter-free area and have someone to hold the horse. I turn on the clippers a few feet away from the horse and observe his reaction. If he flinches with the sound and moves away, I know he will be more sensitive and it will take more time to clip him.

For a horse that is scared, I may walk around and pet the horse with the clippers in hand but turned off, then come back and pet him again in the same spots but holding clippers, running this time, in my other hand. Use your best judgment for horses that are scared. You may not be able to do a full body clip initially.

I always start clipping on the bottom of the shoulder muscle. I avoid clipping the face, elbow area, legs and stomach area until I feel the horse is comfortable. Depending on the horse, I will clip one side completely, then the other. For some horses, I switch sides and areas to keep the horse relaxed and comfortable.

Watch Those Clippers

Dull blades create more lines, make your clipper blade motor run hotter, force you to press down harder and make you clip areas multiple times. A dirty horse will dull your blades quicker and make the clipper motor run hotter. To keep your clippers running smoothly:

  • Clean the blades often by dipping them in rubbing alcohol.
  • Keep the motor and blades well oiled.
  • Brush off excess hair from the blades continuously.

If the blades feel hot to the touch, you must take a break. Hot blades are uncomfortable for your horse and create more lines.

After cleaning the blades by dipping them in alcohol, place oil in the designated holes for the body clipper motor and along the base of the clipper blade to reduce friction. Use a towel to wipe off excess oil to help reduce any skin irritation for your horse.

Eliminating Lines

Lines can ruin an otherwise good clip. They can be caused by inconsistent pressure, a dirty horse, use of different clippers that have varying clipper blade lengths, not going directly against the growth of the hair and dull blades.

You can get rid of lines by re-clipping the area, making sure to go against the direction of hair growth. If you have a hard line to get rid of, try crisscrossing your clipping over this line (like creating the letter “X”) then your final swipe goes directly against the hair growth. Wipe the line down with a damp towel.

Tips for Cleaning Your Horse

If it is too cold to bathe your horse, curry him very well to bring all excess dirt and dander to the surface. Take a warm towel and wipe off the excess dirt. Spot clean very dirty areas with warm water. Use a horse vacuum to remove excess dirt close to the base of the hair.

The dirtiest areas we do not think of are the top of the horse’s rump and the horse’s forehead. These areas usually will develop thicker dander and are harder to clip.

Watch Your Horse’s Behavior

  • Be patient. Body clipping and trimming can be stressful for your horse. Most do not like the sound and are ticklish. This is especially true for a horse who has never been clipped before.
  • Give your horse a (bathroom) break. Sometimes while clipping an hour can pass quickly and your horse may be moving around because he needs to go to relieve himself and not due to bad behavior.
  • If your horse is sensitive on the legs you may have to clip the legs in sections. Clip a portion of the body, move to the legs, repeat.
  • Find the good spot. There’s probably a spot your horse loves to be clipped on. Finding this spot may come in handy later if your horse gets restless. You can clip on this spot to soothe and relax him.
  • A horse usually will raise his head or twitch his tail in protest to clipping a certain spot before he becomes more aggressive. Be careful and stay alert especially near the front legs, which a horse can strike forward, or the back legs where he can kick out.
  • Horses are most ticklish on the belly near the stifle, by the elbows, on the legs, on the inside of the back legs and on the ears and surrounding area. As you work on these areas, be especially careful as a horse may spook or even kick out.

When to Clip

  • Clip your horse to avoid excess sweating, which may be during the winter, spring and fall.
  • If you are not planning to show, you can give your horse a bib clip or high or low trace clip instead of a full body clip.
  • For winter schooling shows, most horses can use a hunter clip. If your horse has very shaggy legs, you will need to do a full body clip or thin the hair on his legs.
  • To prepare your horse for hunter competition for the regular show season, you probably will need to do a full body clip. Some horses shed out nicely while others take too much time and need to be clipped.
  • Bays and palominos: these colors can be muted once clipped until about April when summer coats come in.
  • During the winter months, there is a lot more static electricity. As you clip, you may shock your horse. To reduce static, wipe over freshly clipped areas with a warm damp towel, but be careful not to wet the hair too much or you can’t continue clipping until it is completely dry.

Gretchen Canova Gabor has always had horses in her life. From a young age she was braiding at shows and picking up tips from show grooms. When she was 13, she rode Silver Star to the small pony championship at the then-AHSA Pony Finals. She has been involved with the Goucher College equestrian program since 1995, and served as the associate director from 1998-2002. She left to complete her undergraduate degree and begin a master’s degree in elementary teaching and special education. She continues to help Goucher with showing and braiding.

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