Horse Clipping Basics
Learn basic trimming techniques to keep your horse looking his best.
By Leslie Potter
Before You Begin
If you have never clipped your horse before, you will need to gradually introduce him to the clippers. First, let him see and sniff them while they are turned off before you slowly move them around his face. Once he is relaxed with that, switch them on and hold them against his neck to let him get used to the noise and vibration. Carefully move the clippers near the areas where you will clip. Most horses are amenable to clippers once they’ve had a chance to get used to them. If your horse seems frightened by them, take your time and consider recruiting the help of an experienced horseperson.
For regular trimming, you will need a small set of clippers. There are cordless models and ones that plug in. Some have adjustable blades that range from No. 10 to No. 30 using a switch while others use changeable blades. A lower number indicates a coarser cut. Generally you will want a No. 10 blade for most clipping and a No. 30 or 40 for finer detail. Wider blades are available for body clipping, but for regular trimming, narrower is usually preferable.
Make sure you have clipper oil and apply a few drops to your blades before and after each use. This will keep your blades running smoothly and extend their useful life. You may also want to have some blade wash on hand for cleaning between uses and coolant spray to keep the blades from becoming hot and uncomfortable for your horse during long clipping sessions.
Trimming the Face
Most horses grow long hair under their jaw during the winter. To trim this area, use a No. 10 blade and starting at the throatlatch, trim in the direction of hair growth toward the muzzle. The goal here is not to trim down to the skin, but just to get rid of the extra long hairs to create a more chiseled appearance. Look at the jaw from both sides to make sure you have clipped evenly.
Your next step will be to trim the whiskers around your horse’s nose. Because whiskers are believed to help horses detect things—such as stall walls—in the dark, many horse owners choose to leave them untrimmed. However, most horses do just fine without them, so whether you choose to trim is up to you. If you do trim them, use your No. 10 blade and again trim in the direction of hair growth. Trim the whiskers down to the base, but be sure to leave the finer hairs just on the inside of the horse’s nostrils.
Most horse owners choose to leave the whiskers that grow around the horse’s eyes, but others trim them for shows. If you do trim them, be careful not to get too close to the eyelashes. Those should never be trimmed as they provide protection from eye irritants. Move slowly and carefully when clipping near your horse’s eye. You may want to gently cover your horse’s eye with your hand while trimming the whiskers so that the trimmings don’t fall in his eye.
The correct length for a bridle path varies depending on your horse’s breed and use. In the hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage worlds, bridle paths are kept at 1-2″, just enough space for the headstall to sit without interfering with the mane. This length is usually preferred for horses kept as pleasure mounts. Horses showing on the breed circuit for Quarter Horses and similar breeds may have a slightly longer bridle path, approximately 2-3″. Horses associated with saddle seat riding, namely Saddlebreds, Morgans and Arabians, may have bridle paths 6″ or longer. Arabians competing on the breed circuit often have nearly half their mane trimmed off to create a highly refined look.
Bear in mind that if you compete at open hunter/jumper or dressage shows rather than on your breed’s circuit, you should generally defer to the discipline standard rather than the breed standard.
When clipping the bridle path, you can go in either direction. If you start at the poll and work back, be careful not to trim too far. Half an inch may not be a big deal, but if you trim half an inch too far each time you clip, eventually you’ll have more bridle path than you bargained for. Conversely, if you clip in the other direction, be careful not to take off too much forelock. Always err on the side of caution. It’s much easier to clip off a little more later than it is to wait for your horse’s mane to grow back if you’ve clipped too much.
If your horse has a very thick mane, you can angle the end of your bridle path so that the underside of the mane is trimmed just a bit farther than the top. This will help the top of the mane lie flat.
Clipping the Ears
While it is common in some show circuits to clip your horse’s ears, most horse owners should leave the inner ear hair. It provides protection from bugs in the summer and insulates in the winter. However, you can trim some of the excess hair to create a neater appearance.
Use caution when clipping around your horse’s ears, which will be more sensitive to noise and vibration than other parts. Some horses that willingly accept clipping anywhere else will try to leave the scene as soon as you head for their ears, so don’t be afraid to recruit a helper.
A finer blade, such as a No. 30 or 40, will make trimming the fine hairs of the ear a bit easier. Cup the ear with your hand and gently squeeze the sides together. Starting at the top, trim downwards to remove the protruding ear hair. You can also go back and carefully trim the edges of the ear for a more refined look.
Clipping the Legs
If your horse is turned out in the winter, you’ve probably noticed that he picks up a lot of mud and ice on the long hair around his fetlocks and pasterns. This is actually a good thing as that hair protects his skin from mud and the potentially harmful bacteria that comes with it. But once the weather has warmed up enough that you can wash your horse’s legs as needed, you’ll want to trim that lower leg hair.
Use your No. 10 blade and start at the back of the knee, moving down in the direction of hair growth to the fetlock. Trim off the long hairs on the back of the leg and remove the long hair that grows on the fetlock and the back of the pastern.
Some breeds, such as Friesians, draft horses and some pony breeds, are meant to be shown with full feathering on their legs. Check your breed’s rule book or judging guidelines if you are unsure if you should leave your horse’s feathers alone.
Keeping your horse trimmed isn’t just a tactic for the show ring. Regular clipping will make your daily grooming easier and leave your horse looking great.
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