To clip, or not to clip: that is the question …

A Clean Slate

… Bear waits patiently for the inevitable …

Clipping a horse is not an exact science.

There are as many opinions about when and how to clip as there are horse owners.

Thus begins the great clipping debate.

By now horses are sporting the new season’s latest trend in fuzzy winter wear. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (see below), Bear tends to spare no expense here, donning a fine fall fur that, when I flatten my hand against his side, engulfs it in its deep fluffy plushness.

The flip side of this, however, is that during a workout Bear’s winter woolies become a damp and nasty matted mess which can take hours to dry. Heaven forbid my poor boy should catch a chill.

So, to clip or not to clip?

In Bear’s case it’s not really the question at all. It’s more a matter of when. Too soon and I might have to clip him again in February. Continue the waiting game and I’ll be waiting for him to dry forever.

A little background …

The decision to clip or not largely depends on the type of work a horse is doing and their living conditions. Horses who live outside during the coldest season and are in light work, maybe a couple of hours a week, may need only a light clip or may get away with wearing their natural winter duds. Light blanketing may be in order also.

Horses with a more intense workload and who work up a heavy sweat will need a more thorough clip and blanketing when they’re at rest.

Bear is in the latter group. His muscles fire on all cylinders during a workout. He needs relief.

Still, it’s a crap shoot to figure out the particular needs of each horse, taking a couple of years to understand their MO. Needs vary from year to year too. Different horses grow different thicknesses of coat at different rates.

So, a typical conversation in the barn around the subject of horse clipping might go something like this:

“Wow, Bear sure is fuzzy these days. When are you going to clip him?”

“Soon, I think. Maybe the end of October.”

“Won’t you need to do it again before spring if you clip him this early?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Last winter was milder so Bear’s coat didn’t grow back as fast, but I’m hearing rumours that this year winter’s going to be harder, so I dunno … What about Pebbles? What will you do about clipping her?”

“Oh … I’m going to put it off as long as possible. All that hair flying around ~ getting up my nose, in my eyes, and down my shirt. It’s soooo itchy. I don’t want to go through that more than once.”

“I hear ya. …”

A moment of silence as we both pause to contemplate the inevitable itchy shower of horse hair that is part of the annual clipping ritual.

“Hmm … What kind of clip for Bear this year?”

“Same as last year ~ a triangle of his winter woolies from his withers to over his bum. Looks sharp on him and, most importantly, keeps him warm where it matters ~ over his kidneys and such. Everything else, off. That way he’ll stay dry.”

“Face and legs too?”

“Face just to his halter line and legs to the knees and hocks. Anything else would be overkill, at least for our needs.”

“Did you get your blankets cleaned?”

“Yup, all eight present and correct. Freshly washed and weather proofed. He’ll be snug as a bug in a rug.”

“Eight blankets!!! For one horse? Why so many?”

“Two lightweight day sheets so there’s always a spare. One warmer sheet that can be used under a turnout rug or as a cooler on colder days after workouts. Two turnout rugs ~ one lightweight blanket (plus an extra if this one gets ripped) and another heavier blanket for colder weather. One winter-weight rain sheet, i.e. it’s wool lined. And another lightweight fleece cooler for warmer days. … I think that’s everything.”

“It’s enough.”

“I’d like to think so …”


So yesterday Bear was clipped …

He was such a good little soldier, standing absolutely still through most of the two-hour ordeal. He’s not bothered by the whirring of the clippers or their vibration against his body. I think he rather enjoys the attention. Occasionally he’ll give a sideways glance to see what I’m doing.

And I wish he wouldn’t, because I’m such a neophyte.

Up until three or four years ago I was paying someone to do this. But then circumstances changed and I decided that perhaps it was time I took this particular task on myself.

For one season I struggled with clipper hand-me-downs that were too small to do the job properly. It took forever. The next year I invested in a more suitable (expensive) pair of heavy duty clippers that allow the job to be done more quickly.

These behemoth trimmers are great except that I’m such a mechanical gadget klutz I don’t really know what I’m doing. Christine, who’s much more adept at this sort of thing, helps to set me on the right path. She makes it look so easy. I stick to the large body areas and leave her to negotiate the legs and face with a smaller pair of trimmers. Maybe next year I’ll be braver about that. After all, once you clip out a notch you can’t put it back. I don’t want Bear looking like a patchwork teddy.

Still, for all that there’s horse hair floating freely and getting up my nose it’s a pretty special time with Mr. Bear. As I inspect our handiwork he looks at me with those big, trusting brown eyes in a way that makes me feel my responsibility to keep him happy. This is easily met with a carrot, of course. So, during breaks to spray coolant on the clipper blades and clear the air intake of horse hair, he gets royally spoiled.

If the interval between carrots is too great, the long face throws me a look; a restless hoof paws the ground.

I’m fortunate. Many horses don’t handle their annual appointment with the clippers nearly as well.

When we’re all done, he looks incredibly handsome …

The coat he no longer wears lies in a fluffy pile on the cold barn floor and revealed is a beautiful, soft seal-grey velvet that, most importantly, releases moisture generated by a vigorous workout so he won’t look, or feel, like such a drowned rat.

New jammies

A special treat this year is a new blanket to replace one he’s had for several years that’s no longer weather-proof.

So debonair …

To clip or not to clip? I believe, for the purposes of this blog post at least, we’ve answered that question. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013


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Summer Says Goodbye

Managing the Equine Fall Fashion Faux Pas

19 thoughts on “To clip, or not to clip: that is the question …

    • No, I happen to have to rough collies and I’ve never clipped them. And wouldn’t either, even though the old one also hates to be groomed. It’s the brush and comb all the way. Would be tempting to clip them though, eh? 😉 … Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Nurture what you love … Dorothy 🙂

  1. How timely that I’ve been away and just back now to read this blog post! Avery was in her first horse show a couple of weeks ago and I noticed some of the horses had been clipped. Being new to the horse world, I was wondering why someone would clip their horse. Thank you for the informative post! I’m going to share with my daughter so she too will also understand why it’s done. 🙂

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