Horse Clipping Guide: Types of Clip & How to Use Them

Horse clipping guide: Types of clip and how to use them

As a rider, you want your horse to feel as comfortable as possible at all times, whether they’re out in the field or you’re competing in an event together. Having a horse who is both relaxed and happy will make riding and training easier, as well as giving you peace of mind.

One of the big decisions you will need to make for your horse is whether or not to clip them, which is something that can have a major impact on their comfort. Choosing to trim their coat can make life much easier, but it needs to be approached and managed in a way that’s best for their welfare.

In this guide, we’ll look at the basics of horse clipping, explain the different types of clip, and share a few tips for successfully clipping your horse. We’ll cover:

What is horse clipping?

Horse clipping is the process of shaving off the top layers of a horse’s coat so that it is shorter than it would be naturally. There are many levels of clipping, from quickly trimming overgrown parts that cause annoyance to removing large sections of the coat for competition purposes. If the right type of clip is chosen for the horse, they are shaven safely, and their welfare is managed correctly, clipping can provide many benefits for both horse and rider. However, it’s important to remember that horse clipping is not always required and may not be necessary for everyone.

Why are horses clipped?

When the colder weather sets in, your horse will begin to grow a thicker winter coat that will protect them from the elements. This is a natural process that the species evolved when they were wild, but it can cause issues for domesticated horses, especially those that work through the winter.

This is because they are even more insulated than usual, so even light exercise can make them sweat more profusely. That extra sweat becomes trapped in the thicker winter coat as it cools, putting the horse at risk of catching a chill and leaving them prone to colds, colic, and other serious health issues.

By clipping a horse, layers of winter hair will be removed, allowing body heat to escape and reducing sweating during exercise. This is particularly useful for horses that work year-round and a big reason why many owners carry out their clipping ahead of the colder months, when the horse’s coat will be at its thickest.

Clipping also has other practical benefits. For one, horses that are clipped in the right areas will experience much less rubbing from tack, which can make them more comfortable during exercise sessions and shows. And, if the legs and fetlocks are clipped, mud will not cling to their coat, putting them less at risk of mud fever. Finally, you will benefit too, as a clipped horse will take less time to groom as they don’t have as much hair for dirt and debris to cling to.

Many owners choose to clip their horses for aesthetic reasons, too, and it’s not uncommon to see a horse with intricate patterns trimmed into their coat. Lots of riders think that clipping is neater, so it may appeal if you want to go eventing or enter dressage and showjumping competitions. Some owners also believe that if they clip their horse’s coat through winter, it encourages a luscious and glossy spring coat to grow in the following year.

Cons of clipping: On the other hand, horse clipping will remove your horse’s natural protection from the cold, so they won’t be able to be left outside in the winter. A clipped horse may require stabling and will need to have appropriate blanketing each day, increasing the amount of attention they will need to ensure they are healthy and comfortable throughout the colder months. This is especially true if you have an older horse that is more at risk from the elements, which is something else you’ll need to consider.

Should you clip your horse?

Not sure if you should clip your horse? Here are some key questions to consider:

  • Will your horse be worked during the winter months? If they will be, then it may be worth clipping them to ensure they can cool down quickly and sweat less.
  • Do you have access to a stable for your horse? Should you clip your horse, then it might be necessary to provide shelter and warmth for them during the winter to make up for the lack of winter coat. If you don’t have access, you might want to reconsider clipping or opt for a more conservative type of clip.
  • Do you have access to ample rugs/blanketing for your horse? A clipped horse will rely more on blanketing to stay warm in absence of their winter coat. This also means they will need their rugs or blankets changed more often, so you will need to stock up on your options and be willing to wash and rotate each one.
  • Will you have time to regularly change your horse’s blanket? As you will need to change your horse’s rugs more often after clipping, you will need to spend more time at the stable doing so. If you can’t make this commitment, is there a member of staff or a fellow rider that can do this for you?
  • Will you have less time for grooming over the winter? If you can’t dedicate as much time to grooming your horse’s longer and thicker winter coat, it may be worth clipping them to make the job quicker and easier to do.
  • What is the climate like where your horse is stabled? If your horse resides in a particularly cold climate, clipping them might remove essential protection for the harsh winter.
  • How old is your horse? Does your horse have any underlying health conditions? An older horse may be prone to colder temperatures, so clipping them may be inadvisable. And, if your horse has any underlying health issues that may be exacerbated by clipping, it may be worth leaving their winter coat. Speak to a vet if you aren’t certain.

When should you clip your horse?

A horse’s winter coat will begin growing in September or October in the UK, so many riders plan to clip their horse at this time. Depending on how quickly your horse’s hair grows, you may need to repeat the clipping every 3–5 weeks to keep the coat from overgrowing once again.
While this means that you may need to perform this task three or four times through the winter, if you intend to let their summer coat grow, take care not to clip your horse after the end of February, as that’s when they will begin to grow a thinner layer of hair. This is because, as the days get longer, the increased levels of sunlight will trigger your horse’s natural need for a thinner coat.

Should I clip my horse in the summer?

If your horse tends to grow a thicker summer coat and you plan to work them through the season, you may consider clipping them year-round. This is common with some breeds — cobs and natives, for example. The majority of competition and show horses are clipped all year.

What are the types of horse clip?

If you’re planning to clip your horse, it’s not simply a case of picking up the razor and giving their coat an all-over cut. There are many types of horse clip to consider, each of which will see different areas of their coat cut back in a considered pattern.

The idea behind this is that if your horse is only worked occasionally or lightly, they won’t need as drastic a clip as a horse that is worked hard, as they simply won’t sweat as much or as often. Some people also prefer certain types of clip for aesthetic reasons.

To help you make a decision on what type of clip will be suitable for your horse, we’ve split this list into occasional, light, moderate, hard , and very hard work categories so that you can pick one that matches your and your horse’s needs. We’ve also provided horse rug advice for each one.

Occasional work clips

The clips in this category are suitable for horses that see occasional work, such as a hack or light schooling on the weekend. The aim is to remove the minimum amount of hair from areas that get sweaty, such as the chest, between the front legs, and the girth region. They’re handy for horses that are nervous about clipping due to the fact they’re simple and don’t take much time to do.

Most horses should be able to get some exercise without sweating too much, but if your horse sweats a lot, you may wish to consider some of the light work clips.

They are appropriate for horses that live outside during the winter months or for those that are stabled but still struggle with the cold.

Rugging advice: Any horse with an occasional work clip that is turned out at day, night, or all the time, needs to have light rugs or blanketing to keep them warm, unless they are hardy.

Bib clip

The bib clip is the most basic clip. Only the hair from the lower neck and chest is trimmed.

Apron clip

The apron clip sees slightly more hair removed than the basic bib clip. The coat is trimmed from the lower neck, chest, between the front legs, and the girth area. Some also clip on the tops of the front legs, which are also prone to sweating and picking up mud.

Strip clip

The strip clip is the same as the apron clip, but a section of the belly is also trimmed. This means that the coat is trimmed from the lower neck, chest, between the front legs, girth, and belly area. There is also the option of clipping the tops of the forelegs.

Light work clips

The aim of the clips in this category is to remove the coat from locations where sweating will occur when the horse advances beyond occasional work into regular light work. This means that spots like the lower front of the body and the back legs may be clipped.

They will be suitable if your horse is worked lightly each day, if they sweat around their back legs, or if they get particularly sweaty during occasional work. These clips are suitable for horses that get nervous about clipping, as they are relatively quick to do.

Horses with these light work clips will usually need to be brought in during the night, unless they are hardy enough to withstand the weather or temperatures are mild.

Rugging advice: As these light work clips represent a more significant loss of winter coat than those intended for occasional work, you will need to provide light to medium blanketing at all times the horse is turned out.

Irish clip

The Irish clip consists of the front shoulders, belly, and half the neck being clipped in a diagonal line. The line runs from below your horse’s jawline to the back of their stomach, and everything down to the tops of the front legs is trimmed. The idea is that the coat is shaved where the horse will sweat the most, but still leave hair where they need to be warm.

Low trace clip

The low trace clip sees the horse’s coat removed from the neck, chest, on and between the top of the front legs, the belly area, and the top of the hind legs. It is also extended to a low level on the body line. The trace clip can be adjusted depending on the level of work, so there are also medium and high trace clips.

Moderate work clips

Moderate work clips are designed to trim the coat from similar sweat areas to light work clips, but are more extensive to allow the horse to be worked harder comfortably. They are ideal for horses that see steady daily sessions that may cause more widespread sweating. You will need to turn in your horse during the night with one of these clips.

Rugging advice: When clipping for moderate work, we’re reaching the point where more than half of the coat is being trimmed back, so it’s essential that you make up for this with rugging. You’ll need warm blankets and to be prepared to add more if your horse isn’t coping or the weather takes a turn.

Medium trace clip

The medium trace clip is very similar to the low trace clip but features a higher body line that means a greater area is clipped for extra sweating. This style is ideal for horses that face regular moderate work but still need to retain some winter coat, particularly around the head where heat can be lost.

A medium trace clip is only really suitable for horses that are turned out in the daytime, as they will require stabling when the temperature drops at night. Don’t choose this clip if where you keep your horse is exposed or liable to experience extreme weather.

High trace clip

The hight trace clip follows the same general pattern as the low and medium trace clips, but takes a higher body line again and also sees half the head hair below the jaw trimmed. This clip is perfect for any horse that is worked moderately on a daily basis, with some fast work involved. It’s also suitable if your horse will be competing at shows infrequently through the winter.

If you choose a high trace clip for your horse, you will only be able to turn them out through the day for a few hours in nice weather. At this point, half of the head is clipped, so significant heat loss can occur in the cold. At all other times, the horse will need to be stabled.

Hard work clips

As we get to the hard work clips, we’re seeing more than half the coat trimmed from the horse, so they are even more suited to intensive work sessions, but will be much more exposed than with light and moderate work clips. Horses with these types of clip are generally fully stabled and not turned out.

Rugging advice: Rugs are necessary at all times, apart from when the horse is being worked. Your horse will need thick blanketing and a neck warmer if turned out in nice weather. If the weather is bad, you will need to provide extra rugging.

Chaser clip

The chaser clip follows a nearly identical pattern to the high tracer clip, with the coat removed from the neck, chest, on and between the front legs, the belly area, and on and between the back legs. A key difference is that the horse’s head is completely clipped, rather than half clipped. The upper part of the neck is left covered so that the muscles stay warm.

Traditionally, this is the clip of choice for steeplechase horses, but it has become popular in other circles of equestrian sports. The chaser clip is ideal for horses that are worked hard regularly and need to be competition ready. As this is quite an extensive clip, these horses are fully stabled.

Blanket clip

With a blanket clip, the majority of the horse’s body coat is removed apart from a region consisting of the upper hind quarters, rump, and saddle area, which aren’t as prone to sweating. Some versions of this clip completely trim the head, but many choose to leave the top section for warmth, like in the high trace clip. The legs, apart from the tops, are also left untouched.

This clip removes hair from high-sweat areas but leaves others be, striking a balance between how fast the horse can cool down and having a bit of extra warmth. It’s suitable for horses that regularly work at a medium to hard intensity or compete in shows, but who are fully stabled. If the weather permits, they can also be turned out during the day with appropriate rugging.

Very hard work clips

For horses that work very hard on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to clip the vast majority of the hair from their coat. These clips will only leave small sections of hair untouched, which is great when an intensive workout causes them to heat up and sweat. However, it also leaves them totally open to the elements, so their stabling and blanketing will need extra attention.

Rugging advice: Horses with very hard work clips will need blanketing all of the time, whether that’s heavy rugs at night, a neck warmer and rug through the day, or even an exercise blanket when they are training. If your horse looks like it isn’t faring well, be prepared to double blanket or choose something with greater insulation properties.

Hunter clip

If you choose a hunter clip, you’ll trim all of your horse’s coat apart from the saddle area and the legs. This clip ensures that a horse is able to cool down quickly with all of the sweat areas free of hair, but still maintains protection from the saddle and warmth in the legs. Some choose to keep half of the hair on the horse’s head for additional warmth.

The hunter clip was traditionally used by horses in the hunting field, where long periods of galloping may be necessary. It is suitable if your horse is worked very hard and is regularly attending shows and/or out hunting. Horses with this clip are nearly always fully stabled and need a specialist diet.

Full clip

A full clip involves clipping all of the hair on your horse’s coat, including the head, ears, and legs, so that they are able to dry out after sweating during intensive hard work. At the same time, your horse will have no protection from the colder temperatures of winter, so they will need to be cared for with rugging. You will also need to be aware of potential rain scalding and mud fever.

This clip is suitable for horses that are worked hard, with fast and competition work involved. It is well suited if you will be entering shows, hunting, or racing with your horse over the winter. A full clip can also be useful if you want to enter your horse into early spring events, as you will be able to go in with a short coat that’s primed for competitive riding.

Horse clipping tips

So, you’ve decided on the type of clip to give your horse and when you’re going to perform the clipping — it’s time to put your plan into action. But, if you’ve never clipped a horse before, there are a few things to know before you begin to ensure you can successfully, safely, and comfortably carry out the job. To help you out, in this section we’ve put together some tips for how to clip your horse.

Before you begin

Ensure you have the right clippers

Clipping a horse is a task that requires specialist clippers to ensure that you can cut the hair quickly and effectively, as well as making sure your horse is comfortable.

  • Make sure that any clippers you are using are suitable for your horse’s coat — thick hair will probably require heavy-duty clippers, possibly with a coarse blade.
  • Consider whether you need battery-powered clippers or a mains-powered model. The former will ensure you have maximum manoeuvrability, but may need recharging if the job takes too long, while the latter will need a power source nearby, but won’t run out of juice.
  • If you’re using a mains power clipper, always use a circuit breaker, as this will ensure that you or your horse won’t get an electric shock if the cable is stepped on or severed.
  • Trimmers are smaller clippers designed for smaller jobs or detailing. They may be suitable if you are carrying out a basic clip, but you’ll probably need full-scale clippers if you want to remove large areas of hair. Trimmers are smaller and quieter, so they may be a better choice for younger or nervous horses, provided you aren’t doing a large-scale clip.
  • Ensure that your clipper blades are nice and sharp, as going over a coat with a dull blade can cause discomfort and will take longer. It’s also a good idea to brush and oil your clippers every few minutes during clipping to ensure they don’t get clogged and can glide smoothly. If your clippers begin to heat up, allow them a few minutes to cool down before resuming.
  • Take care to test your clippers on a regular basis and to store them in a safe, dry place when they’re not in use.
  • Dress for safety and practicality

It’s important to remember that clipping is a task that will bring you into close contact with a horse, who probably won’t enjoy the experience of being near a loud, buzzing tool, especially if they are a nervous or young animal. This means that you have to dress with safety in mind first and foremost.

With this in mind, it’s advisory to wear the following items of clothing:

  • Your riding helmet — to protect against head injury
  • Steel toe capped boots with a rubber sole ­— to protect toes from being trodden on and electrical shock if there’s a fault with mains clippers
  • Overalls — to protect your clothes
  • Scarf or snood — to prevent hairs from getting in your collar

Choose the right location

The area you choose to clip your horse is very important. If possible, it should be a place they are familiar with so they can feel at ease, with somewhere to hang a hay net if they need distraction. Pick a location that has good lighting and a non-slip floor that will be fairly easy to tidy up after you are finished. Feel free to clip outside in the stable yard, but avoid doing so if it is wet and windy. Take a moment to remove any loose objects that could be accidentally kicked or knocked by your horse.

If you’re using mains clippers, there needs to be a power source nearby. Be sure the cable can be safely laid out without your horse standing on it, as well as being away from blades and water.

Ensure your horse is clean

It’s important to ensure that your horse is groomed and bathed before you clip them. This is because the debris and dirt in the coat can blunt your blades and damage your clippers, as well as making it harder to smoothly glide through the coat, making it more uncomfortable for the horse. In addition, a clean horse’s coat will have fewer blade lines in it after clipping, resulting in a neater appearance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance

When you’re preparing to clip, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from another rider or someone with more experience. This is particularly important if this is the first time you’re clipping a horse, as you don’t want to make any mistakes and you need to make the task as safe as possible. Quite often, clipping will be a two person job, particularly if you have a large horse or they need some extra care to help them stay calm during the session.

Mark up where you’re going to clip

Don’t forget that you can mark up any lines or areas that you plan to clip using saddle soap or chalk, which should dust off or comb out with no problems. This can help to ensure you remove hair from the places you were planning to without accidentally trimming too little or too much hair. It’s also a useful technique if you’re trying to create one of the more complex types of clip, if you are trying out a new clip, or if you’re clipping for the first time. Lastly, you may wish to tie up the mane and apply a tail bandage to make sure you don’t accidentally catch either with your clippers.

How to clip a horse

1.      Get your horse used to the clippers

Clippers can make a horse nervous with all their buzzing and cutting, so you need to take great care when you begin your session. Even if your horse has undergone a haircut before, always turn on the clippers at a distance and calmly approach them, which will ensure that they aren’t startled.

If you have a young or nervous horse, there are a few things you can do to make the experience a little bit more comfortable for them:

  • Should there be a more experienced horse due to be clipped, see if you can position your horse nearby so that they can get used to the noise and movements without being approached themselves. They’ll also see that there is nothing to worry about.
  • You can try to acclimatise your horse to the clippers. Start by running them over their body without power, then with your hand between the clippers switched on so they can feel the vibrations, and then finally try without your hand, moving the clippers in the direction of the coat without cutting it. Hopefully, your horse will get used to the sound and feeling.
  • If it’s their first time, only try a basic clip, such as a bib or apron clip, which shouldn’t take as long. This should help your horse have a positive experience, and you can try a more drastic clip the next time around.
  • Consider investing in some clippers that are designed for nervous horses. They usually have reduced noise and lower vibrations when compared to regular models.

2.      Start clipping correctly

When the time comes to start clipping, always start at the shoulder as the skin is smoother, flatter, and less sensitive than other areas. If your chosen clip does not involve cutting at the shoulder, then try to begin in another spot that is not bony or delicate. After a few seconds, pause to assess your horse’s reaction and see if they need any time to calm down. If they are happy, you can continue.

3.      Use the right motions

Your clipping motion should be in long, overlapping strokes against the direction of the hair growth. The clipper should always lie flat against the skin as you move, which allows them to cut effectively. Around folds and wrinkles, use your free hand to pull the skin tight, rather than trying to just shave over them. In parts that see the direction of the hair growth change, adjust your positioning so that you’re still trimming in the opposite direction.

If you have difficulties pushing the clipper through the coat, then don’t force it — your blades probably need sharpening, tensioning, or replacing. You will also want to intermittently check the blades against your hand to make sure they are not too hot, as this will be uncomfortable for your horse.

4.      Be cautious with sensitive areas

Just like humans, horses have areas of their bodies that are more sensitive, such as their head, legs, underbelly, and other places that are bony. This means you need to take extra care when clipping around these regions. Don’t hesitate to switch to a smaller trimmer for delicate hair removal.

One area that can be particularly problematic is the head, as there are so many sensitive spots in just one small region. Should your horse be comfortable enough to let you clip their head, then take your time and don’t rush. You can use your free hand to move loose skin to better shave the bony parts, as well as using it to shield eyes when trimming nearby. Your horse’s head collar can be unbuckled to allow access to the jawline, but take care to keep the trimmer blades parallel to the jawbone.

5.      Take care of essentials after clipping

Once you’ve finished clipping your horse, use a grooming brush to go over their coat and brush away any loose hairs, then use a cloth dampened with warm water to remove any hair and grease that is clinging on. This will ensure that they are nice and comfortable, with no itchy spots once you’ve put their rug over their coat. It’s important to put their rug on as soon as possible after clipping to make sure they don’t catch a chill, especially if they’ve had a drastic clipping. Finally, clean off your clippers so that all the hair and grease is removed, and put them away in a dry place.

Clipping your horse is a choice many riders make to keep their horse happy and healthy during the winter months, as well as making sure they are event ready. Hopefully, our guide has helped you decide whether to trim your horse’s coat as well as assisting in choosing a suitable type of clip.

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