Top 10 Tips for Perfect Clips

Daaaaaamnn that's a fine clip job. Photo by Kate Samuels.

Daaaaaamnn that’s a fine clip job. Photo by Kate Samuels.

Whether you’re tackling the task of clipping your wildebeest furry horse yourself this year, or hiring a professional, there are a few rules you should follow in order to maximize your opportunities to get a flawless clip job.

There are lots of different styles of clips for horses in varying places in their lives, and if you want to avoid having sweaty, dirt-filled monsters for the next few months, you’re about desperate to start clipping by now. I clip up to eight horses a week during the season, and I’ve developed a few hot tips over the years. Let’s start from the beginning.

1. Make sure your horse is squeaky clean and dry before you even think about clipping. 

None of this namby-pamby “sponge bath” stuff; I’m talking about getting out a scrub brush, a stiff curry comb and your fingernails for this job. Pay special attention to the knees, hocks, fetlocks and on top of the rump, as these are all places with really thick fur that hides dirt deep down at the bottom and is a nightmare to try to cut through if it’s yucky.

A thorough bathing is also a really good way to tell if you might have any trouble spots during the clip. If you can’t bathe your horse’s ears, chances are that you’re not going to be able to clip them that easily.

2. Take good care of your clippers, and read the instructions. 

Your clippers are expensive, and you should treat them with respect or they will mangle your horse. Know how often to oil them, use cooling spray and blade wash continually during the clip job, and always always take them apart and clean them thoroughly after every session.

I have two sets of clippers, the Lister Star Clippers with a medium blade, and the quieter and more maneuverable Andis AGC Super 2 Speed Clippers with the 2.4mm blades for the face and parts of the legs. It’s good to know what kind of clippers work for you, and even better to always have an extra pair of new blades in your bag.

3. Get yourself a super fashionable rain suit. 

Seriously, you’ll thank me later. There is almost nothing worse in the world than enduring horse hair that has stuck itself in your riding pants and down your shirt and won’t come out after several washes. Nobody here will judge you for your fashion. Let’s be real — we all walk around town in basically spandex pants, knee socks and clogs; a rain suit isn’t that far off.

4. Don’t EVER, ever apply chapstick prior to clipping a horse. 

Trust me on this one; you don’t want to find out the hard way.

Fresh cuts! This is the blanket clip, one of my favorites.

Fresh cuts! This is the blanket clip, one of my favorites.

5. Familiarize your horse and yourself with the horse’s reactions to the clippers before you dive in. 

If it’s your horse, you probably know if he’s ticklish or weird about touching his right hind or doesn’t like his eyeballs touched. If it’s somebody else’s horse, ask questions about their previous behavior during clipping and any facts you should know before buzzing away. Always introduce yourself to the horse, show them the clippers, and start at the shoulder and NOT the back leg.

6. Don’t be afraid of sedatives or twitches. 

Nobody deserves to have their head kicked in while trying to shear hair off a horse. That’s an incredibly lame way to get hurt, so don’t put yourself in that position. If you need to teach your horse about clippers, that needs to be done in a methodical way BEFORE you actually clip, and in a way that he starts to become comfortable with them and associate them with good feelings. Most show horses can be clipped completely free of drugs, and I clip my horses in the aisle untied while they fall asleep, but that’s not all horses.

The Humane Twitch is also a great thing to have in your clipping bag if you have a horse that’s good for almost everything, but not quite. Honestly, I don’t want to be crawling around under a horse’s hind legs if there’s a chance he might take offense and smash my head in, and neither do you.

7. Master your lines with a smooth fell swoop of the clippers. 

For any style except taking it all off, you’re gonna have to do some lines. The best way to do this is to do each one as a continuous motion, making sure that both the horse and the clippers hold steady as you slowly go along. Leg lines are best if they follow the bottom of the muscles, and stomach lines for a trace or blanket clip can be eyeballed or done with chalk. Compare your sides in both front and back to make sure they are at least close to even.

Most importantly, remember that you can always take more hair off, but you can never take less off.

Shanti looking stylish with her hunter clip. Photo by Erica Stevens, clip job by Kate.

Shanti looking stylish with her hunter clip. Photo by Erica Stevens. Clip job by Kate.

8. Never deal with lines again by refining your technique. 

Inevitably, you’ll pull back from your clipping to realize there are some weird parallel lines on the horse that just don’t look classy. I usually find that they appear on the mid-section, where all the hair grows in the same direction and we tend to buzz it like a typewriter.

First, make sure you aren’t just digging the corners of your clippers into their skin, because sometimes it’s just a raised lump. Then, come back over your lines from a slightly different angle that you originally did, using short swipes to eliminate any hair that is a millimeter higher. This also works well for the shoulders, where the hair can be lighter and there isn’t a lot of meat on the horse.

9. Pull your horse into the bright light and get a second opinion. 

When you’re finished with your clip, pull the horse out into the brightest light you can find and get a full 360-degree look at your work. If you can, snag a friend and ask them if they see anything weird. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes.

10. Polish your job off properly. 

Don’t just throw all your hairy stuff in a bag and leave your poor horse covered in shards of his own spiky hair! If you’re itchy, so is he.

If it’s warm enough, I like to give them a quick warm shower afterwards to get all the little tiny horrible itchy pieces off. Otherwise, I throw a dollop of Skin So Soft in a bucket of warm water and rub them vigorously with a towel all over the clipped parts. This removes hair, dirt, clipper oil and also moisturizes the skin a bit to prevent allergic reactions. Also, it makes them shiny and pretty, which is important.

I hope all of these tips help you become a master of clipping and bring you great satisfaction. If you are the creative type and you got mad skillz in the clipping department, send pictures to [email protected] to be featured in a collective about talented horse hair stylists!