To clip or not to clip, that is the question!

Clipping your horse – understand the reasons

For horse owners in the northern hemisphere, the days are starting to get shorter and the nights have a nip in the air. My horses are starting to get that furry look about them, and I can see their coats starting to change in readiness for the hard winter season ahead. This is the time when everyone frantically sends their clipper blades away in preparation for the season of clipping.

But should you clip as a matter of course? The decision to clip should be made on an individual basis, rather than just because the horse next door is. Not every horse needs clipping, so take some time to go through the reasons to clip and see which apply to your horse, before making that decision.

Reasons for clipping include:-

1. Presentation
2. Easier to groom
3. Prevents heavy sweating
4. Easier to dry off
5. Ease of treatment of skin conditions.

Presentation

There is no doubt that a well clipped horse looks smart and well cared for. Yet clipping purely for presentation is a decision made firmly from a human viewpoint rather than from a horse’s. A horse does not care what he looks like; his only worry is ensuring he has enough food and is healthy. Clipping for presentation should never be the primary reason; instead, consider it as a beneficial secondary consequence.

Easier to groom

Rolling in mud and dirt is a horse’s way of adding more weather protective layers to his coat. To us, it is unsightly, but to a horse it is like a hippo wallowing in mud.

When a horse is ridden, it is important that there is no dirt or mud where the tack sits, as this will lead to discomfort and rubbing if left beneath the tack. It doesn’t really matter if his neck is dirty, or his hocks are crusty with mud. However, most riders like their horses to be well turned out when ridden (this is particularly important if you are hiring your horses out), and grooming an unclipped horse can be a lengthy and physical task. So again, this shouldn’t be your primary reason for clipping, but it will definitely make your life easier.

Prevents heavy sweating

If you wear thick jumpers and go for a run, you are going to sweat. The same is true of a horse with a thick coat. Sweat contains salts and if these are left on the horse’s skin, they can cause irritation and potential health issues. Sweat should be sponged off, which means natural oils will be removed from the coat along with the salts, and the drying process is even longer when the horse is not clipped. Clipping prevents or minimises heavy sweating.

Easier to dry off

A horse’s coat contains natural oils that protect him from the rain. Water drips off the outer hair, and the skin stays dry and warm beneath. When a horse sweats, the moisture comes from the skin and seeps through the hair. When sweat cools, it cools the skin and the horse quickly becomes cold. When a horse is clipped the drying process is quick and easy, and the horse can soon be rugged after work, thus preventing him from becoming cold.

Ease of treatment of skin conditions

Heavy coats can hide skin conditions, such as rain scald, and sometimes clipping exposes them. A clipped coat also allows for easier treatment as many skin conditions need bathing in medicated shampoo.

Is the decision made?

As we said earlier, making the decision to clip is an individual one. The most important factor to consider is whether your horse sweats; if you only lightly hack over the winter and he hardly breaks into a damp patch, then don’t clip. If you work him hard and he sweats profusely, it is probably the right decision to clip.

When to clip

Many horse owners clip early, as they don’t like to see their horses looking untidy. However, the coat should be allowed to fully grow before clipping, otherwise you will be interferring with the natural growth pattern of his coat, which has a knock on effect on his in-built thermogenics (see our blog on how horses cope with the cold).

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. If your horse has Cushings and his overall welfare would be improved by being clipped due to a long coat, then make the decision to clip early or all-year round if necessary. Also, some horses are naturally heavy sweaters and will need clipping earlier than others.

Always think of your horse’s welfare first when deciding if and when to clip; everything else is a secondary benefit. Just remember to rug him up well after clipping as he will feel a little naked for a while!

2nd October 2015

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