Should you clip your horse’s lower legs?


  • Yes, yes, yes…it was put there for a reason. But that reason isn’t always what’s BEST in terms of health and comfort. Clipping a horse’s lower legs falls into that category of “depends on the horse”. And on a semi-related note, kitchen sponges can be super gross.


A few weeks ago, I received a message about clipping a horse’s lower legs. Diane D. sent me a note:


“I was wondering your thoughts on managing leg fungus, bacterial infections and “scrunge”. In my experience, I find that using sponges to wash horses is the culprit of transferring and spreading fungus and “scrunge” all our the horses body and to other other horses. Unless properly sterilized, I feel sponges are just filled with grossness. I’ve had a lot of success banning sponges from my show barns and keeping leg scrunge at bay.


I do agree that keeping white legs bright and white is easier with clipped legs; I know many barn think clipped legs reduce the risk of fungus/ scrunge but I think it actually makes it worse. I’ve seen over the last 15 years more and more horses get nasty cellulitis infections particularly in the legs and I feel like there is a direct correlation with leg clipping. I know the trend is that clipped legs look sharp; and obviously body clipping includes clipped legs and would look a bit odd without but I’m starting to feel like horses might have hair in their legs for a reason.”


There’s obviously a lot to unpack here – so let’s just start at the top. I agree that sponges are not always the best tools to have laying around to use on a horse’s skin.


  • A few years ago, a study came out about kitchen sponges and EGADS they are dirty and gross and we may not be cleaning them properly. For good details into this study, read this.


  • So that’s your kitchen sponge – shall we extrapolate to the wash rack sponge that probably has wiped off poop and then left damp and also probably shared between horses? I can guarantee you that I’m not microwaving my horse’s sponges. Instead, I now use washcloths that can be tossed into the laundry. A fresh one for every face wash and butt wash and anything else that needs to be wiped on my horse. I also make my own grooming wipes, which is super easy to do and even easier to transport to shows. But I digress.


bay horse with four chrome socks

This chromed-out show horse has clipped legs.


Now moving onto the clipping discussion – and if you “should” be clipping your horse’s legs.


  • Horses might have hair on their legs for a reason. I’ll bite. But we all know cases in which a horse “grew something” like a rogue eyelash that pokes the eyeball or a tumor or an extra wooly coat long before winter. Just because a horse (or human) grows it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for that particular horse. With his own set of particular medical things. And his own living environment.


  • I asked my vet to pipe in on this discussion, too, and how it relates to scabs and crud and scrounge and leg funk and if we should be clipping things. And the prompt response was this – “It depends on the horse”.


  • Case in point: There are two gray horses at my barn. Both are gray bodies and pure white legs with pink skin underneath. One gets horrible scratches and funk if the legs are unclipped and the fetlock hairs get longer. These hairs get wet during overnight summer turnouts, from the combo of long dewy grass and long fetlock hairs.


  • The other gray gets scabby skin if her legs are clipped. She’s photosensitive, and when she’s in her paddock exposed to UV rays, her white legs scab up.


  • Both horses with scabby legs LOOK the same, but are not – the cause of photosensitivity comes from inside the horse. Some plants that the photosensitive horse eats create toxins inside the horse, which shows up as a severe reaction to UV light on pink skin. There are also some liver problems that cause photosensitivities.


  • Topical scratches are caused by environmental bugs and bacteria and for some horses, heightened by moisture that’s trapped under hair. It’s also harder for any topical meds to reach sores through hair.


  • My vet added that “you need to look at the root causes of something to determine if clipping a lower leg will hinder or help healing. It’s not always so straightforward”.


gray horse getting lower legs trimmed


Some cases where you might want to clip your horse’s lower legs:


  • You actively show. Many show horses are clipped year-round, this can make caring for their legs easier. Chrome legs are easier to keep clean and can present a tidy look for the show ring.


  • Your horse has a medical need to have the lower legs clipped. Perhaps you are battling some sort of skin crud and the meds can’t make it past your horse’s leg hair. Or there’s a wound. It’s much easier to stop proud flesh in its tracks when you can see it coming.


  • Your horse’s environment is overtaking his life. Many horses that live in excessively muddy and wet areas benefit from clipped legs. Specifically when it comes to wrapping or booting up your horse for exercise. There is no way in H – E – Double – Hockey – Sticks that I am booting up a leg that is not pristine and free from mud.


  • Excessively muddy environments are also really good at hiding cuts, scrapes, and the beginnings of skin infections. A clipped lower leg makes all of those things better for you, and your horse.


And some reasons to skip clipping your horse’s lower legs:


  • You don’t want to. If your horse is healthy and comfortable otherwise, it’s your choice.


  • Your horse is photosensitive and needs all of the hair and fly boots and shade to prevent flare-ups.


  • Your climate dictates that he needs fuzzy warmth. Would I clip lower legs in colder temps? Nope.


  • The fly situation at your barn is a bit outta control. Keeping lower legs clipped can help your horse be a bit more comfortable and less likely to stomp with a layer of hair.


power grip clippers on fetlocks


Can you find a happy medium? YES, YOU CAN.


  • It’s easy to use your clippers to “take a little off the top”. Fetlocks and lower legs can easily be tidied up. Use your clippers with the growth of your horse’s hair to just skim a little off. You can also use clipper guards, or safely scissors if you just want to tidy up the super long fetlock hairs. Clipping legs like this is a bit more art than science, but it grows back!


Some clipping tips to remember if you go that route:


  • Make sure your horse is ridiculously clean before you even think about clipping. No spec of dust, dirt, or dander on his skin. But don’t strip his skin and hair of his natural oils by using a detergent. Find a nice mild shampoo and do lots of rinsing. Oily skin and hair is safer and easier to clip. I will always suggest using a grooming oil before clipping to help your clippers glide through.


  • Make sure your clipper blades are SHARP and super well oiled. You absolutely can’t use too much oil. I promise. Add more oil. And then some more.


  • If your horse is dirty or the blades are dull, or both (UGH) you will make a mess of your horse’s legs. You will have lines, the blades will tug at his skin, it’s uncomfortable, and there’s a greater chance of nicking him.


  • Pick up your horse’s legs to run your clippers along the tendons. This allows the super tight lower leg skin to release a little for easier clipping.


  • Don’t share clipper blades between horses unless they are disinfected between horses! This is easy to do. And yes, you need to add oil afterward.


And there you have it – some almost definitive scenarios about clipping your horse’s lower legs. And also about microwaving your sponges more frequently.



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