Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
Today’s Topic: A Close Shave
While the hairy-whiskers look is all the rage in Europe, I still prefer my horses’ muzzles neatly clipped. There is a valid argument about removing an integral part of the horse’s sensory apparatus…but honestly, I’ve never known a negative instance caused by lack of equine nose hair; they know where their nose is without feelers. It adds to the “finished” appearance, so I trim muzzles, ears, bridlepath, and fetlocks prior to competitions.
For clipping muzzles, take your time to view the nose from all angles. Nothing worse than a stray 3″ whisker! For horses with white/pink noses, those white whiskers can be difficult to see, so look closely and use your free hand to feel for them. For a hairy chin and jaw, turn the clippers upside-down and gently shave in the direction of the hair growth. I don’t keep muzzles shaved as a regular part of grooming– I let them get long and hairy until it’s time to go to a show. Life is too short to waste time unnecessarily clipping nose hairs. During the busy show season, whiskers grow pretty fast, so you’ll probably have to re-clip before every event (enough growth accumulates in about 10 days).
I do not shave the guard hairs around the eyes— I do think they can help a horse avoid bumping his eyes in a crowded space, stall or trailer. Also, clipping that area can be a little tricky– working that close to the eye leaves little room for error should the horse move its head abruptly. Eye hairs aren’t that noticeable, anyway.
Similarly, I only clip the outside of the ears. Four inches of hair protruding the ear canal is unsightly, and needs to go. But leave the inner fuzz for necessary protection from insects (summer) or cold (winter). Cup the ear at the base, close the edges together, and clip anything exposed. Neaten up the outer edges, and leave the inner hair alone. Ear hair grows a little slower, so you can probably get by shaving them once a month or so. As with muzzles, I generally only trim the ears before a show, and leave them natural at home– though if greasy-gunk starts accumulating on the hairy lower tufts, I’ll snip them with scissors.
I am a little particular about clipping the bridlepath. I HATE long, over-clipped bridlepaths, a la show arabs or saddlebreds (nothing against these breeds, but my horse is an eventer!). I like mine the width of the bridle, two-fingers width only. It’s a personal choice, but just a pet-peeve of mine (the list is long…you will be informed of others later). Begin just behind the ears, where the halter naturally sits; I like to leave as much forelock as possible. I know it is common to shave whatever was once-clipped before, no matter if it was 5″ long, because people hate the little “mohawk” while the extra hair grows out. Yes, that little piece is hard to braid and it looks unsightly. However, in two months it will be normal mane length and you’re left with a neater appearance. I’ve developed a few braiding tricks to disguise the mohawk, so the horse at least looks pretty for dressage/jogs. (These will be discussed in a braiding feature sometime in the future.) Since bridlepaths actually have a day-to-day function, I keep the area clipped about once a month year-round, or as needed.
Clipping the fetlocks is pretty self-explanatory. Be careful not to shave too close, I generally don’t use anything shorter than a #10 blade. Clip the pastern hair laterally (middle to outside, middle to inside), as well as longitudinally (heel to fetlock) to shave all the long hairs. Use caution around the ergot (the horny growth at the point of fetlock), sometimes leaving a touch of longer hair there is better than a large unsightly scaly lump– it depends on the horse. Most of the time, I do not trim up corornary bands (life is too short)…the only exception is if I’m doing a full body clip and clipping the legs entirely. I suppose if I had a feathered draft cross, I might neaten up the coronets…but for most sporthorses it’s unnecessary.
Another area I Do Not Clip is the top of the tail. Call me old-fashioned–I prefer “traditional”– but I am really not into the shaved-tail, toilet-brush bushy look. (Remember I told you I had some pet peeves? This is another one) I was taught to always pull the tail, or leave it natural, braiding optional. I will grudgingly admit that there are a few clipped tails that look okay… but a well-done pulled tail always looks better. This will be further detailed in a future “Proudly Pulled Tails” edition of Jog-Up.
Straighten (“bang”) the bottom of the tail with sharp scissors, at whatever length looks best. If the tail is thick enough, I cut mine just level with the fetlocks; but don’t save a few extra inches if the bottom ends are thin and scraggly–it’s far better to be short and thick! Be sure the tail is tangle-free from dock to ends before you cut; hold the tail out slightly (place a comb or sweatscraper under it) to see how the tail hangs at working position.
These little clipping details really add a nice touch to your horse’s overall show appearance. It won’t make up for a dull coat or ugly braids, but tidying up the unnecessary stray hair is an important step in show grooming and makes the horse “look the part.”
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I will also mention that you should properly accustom your horse to clippers well in advance of an event. Don’t wait till the last minute to find out that Buster can’t tolerate vibration on his nostrils, or is convinced the buzz-saw of death is trying to remove his ears.
Acclimate the horse to the clippers with them unplugged and turned off; rub them on his nose, face, working slowly towards the ears. If the horse is at all ear shy, work on handling that area as part of your daily grooming routine. Eventually, turn the clippers on and allow the horse to feel the vibration of the clipper casing. Use treats and ample praise to reward the horse for standing relaxed. Have a helper hold the horse, to prevent flip-out episodes when tied or cross-tied. It’s never ideal to force the issue, building on the horse’s fear (and ending up with a hatch-job in the process, with hunks of hair missing or glaringly left behind).
While I MUCH prefer the calm, quiet, treat-giving approach, some horses simply have too much resistance. A twitch is usually my first option; a fist-sized loop of baling twine and a double-end snap does the trick. Some horses respond better to a lip-chain; this should ONLY be used by those with skill and experience. Other horses are so bad that only drugs (tranq) permits them to stand quietly to have the ears done. I really hate resorting to these methods, but sometimes you must *get it done* and the horse can learn from surviving the experience. Generally, the less fighting and fussing you can incur, the better the experience is for the horse.
My horse was awful about her ears when I got her; if I had any kind of object in my hand, she would not let me touch them or her bridlepath. Even with a twitch on, she would slam me against the wall with her head and shoulder, eyes rolling in distress. I persisted, using treats and twitch when necessary over the next year. She improved greatly, and now I clip her head while she stands halter-less. She just needed to learn that I wasn’t hacking her ears off, and then she accepted it peacefully. Many horses are the same way. As with ALL things with horses, patience and consistency are key!