There's always much talk here on Eventing Nation about those of us with fantastic artistic skills with a set of clippers, but now it's time to think about actual clipping jobs, and their practical uses, rather than aesthetic features. How do you decide when it's time to clip your horse? What style of clip should you choose for your climate and exercise regimen? What happens when your horse is really bad about clippers? Never fear, I'm here to answer all your questions.
First off, how can you tell it's time to pull out the clippers and get rid of some of that fuzz? Here is my general rule: if my exercise schedule means that my horse is sweating a lot and not drying quickly, I think it's time to clip. There are a few different reasons for this, and it's not just about convenience. If my horse is significantly sweaty under thick hair, I have to squirt them off, because if I leave salty sweaty hair for too long, it will turn into skin funk, and it will hide under the long hair and fester. Ew!! We can't have that! A wet horse also takes longer to dry, and in cold weather, this means your horse is colder for longer, which is terrible for their muscles following a workout. Yes, you can mitigate these effects with a good cooler, but you can't deny the truth. Clipping means you can decrease the sweat factor, keep things clean, and increase the drying time for a happier pony at the end of the day.
As for styles, everybody has their favorite for different reasons. I try to keep it simple during November through January, and then before heading to Aiken in February I generally do a full body clip in preparation for competitions. I love the blanket clip (seen above on Leo), as it hits all the major heat expulsion spots while keeping some warmth on top over their backs and organs. It's like having a clipped horse with his own personal quarter sheet! I'm particular about clipping heads, because I'm obsessed with preventing skin funk, and I think leaving a furry head is just asking for crud to develop under the bridle.
For lesser clips that still help your horse out, you can do an under belly and neck clip, a low trace clip, or a high trace clip. These leave a little more fur on the horse for the colder climates, but help their skin breathe a little easier. For those of you who hate all of the hair, you can do the full body minus legs or plus legs. Legs are quite time consuming, and sometimes I just clip the backs of the legs, so I can keep an eye on the major tendons and ligaments without taking away all the fur. Check out this guide to clipping lines for more inspiration.
If you own or ride a horse that has a particular distaste for clipping, there are obvious ways around that. If you need to get the job done, then you can sedate them and have several people clip at once to get it done as quickly as possible. However, as with anything, I prefer to think that as humans our job is to explain to the horse that clippers are not here to eat you alive, and to familiarize them with the sensation in a way that makes them calmly accept it. Spend time with your ticklish or finicky horse, holding buzzing or still clippers up around their bodies and heads and legs. With enough patience, encouragement and positive reinforcement, all but the most averse horses can be taught to relax into a clip.
If you are unfamiliar with techniques for clipping, hire somebody who is proficient and watch them clip your horse. Ask them questions about how they get the lines to be straight and how they smooth out funny pieces. While bad clip jobs are mostly just an eyesore, they can also be very uncomfortable for the horse, as an uneducated clipper can jab and poke in sensitive spots and make the horse resent the experience. There are always eager young girls who are willing to submerge themselves in itchy hair for an hour or two to make a little money!
It goes without saying that if you are considering a clip, you must also have the proper blanketing available to your horse. Don't expect to clip him naked and then leave him outside when it's thirty degrees! Clip him to fit your needs, and your ability to provide warmth and shelter. And of course, the number one rule of clipping is: less is more! You can always clip a little more off the horse, but you can't put it back on once you've made the plunge, so clip carefully!
This is how I spend my Friday nights...exciting, I know...