The Complete Guide to Horse Clipping – Techniques, Tools, and Troubleshooting
Let’s get to it – the complete guide to horse clipping! Clipping horses is part art and part science. Throw in some patience and practice, and things will go well! The primary reason to think about clipping your horse is to benefit his health and comfort. Focus on that first, and the good looks and show-ring bloom will follow.
Table of Contents
I’ve also peppered this guide with handy shopping links. These may be affiliate links, there’s zippo extra cost to you! This helps me keep this website up and running!
I have a few “rules” about horse clipping that definitely ring true.
- Clipping works for some horses, but not all horses.
- You don’t have to do a full body clip or even some pattern you see in a drawing. Make it your horse’s own.
- There’s no reason to clip all the way to the skin if you don’t want to. It is possible to take a little bit off the top.
- Body clipping a horse takes practice.
- Don’t worry – it grows back.
- When in doubt, add more oil. Keep adding oil. Clipper oil is your friend. Like your best clipping friend ever.
- Please, for the love of all things horses, save the directions and manual to your clippers! This helps with troubleshooting and what to do when your tools need service.
Clipping is optional!
Why would you need to clip your horse?
- There are plenty of reasons why you would need to, or not need, to clip your horse. Part of this is a personal preference. But, the largest and most important reason to shorten your horse’s coat is to help your horse be comfortable and healthy. It’s really that simple.
Circumstances in which I would clip a horse:
His haircoat is too much for the climate he lives in.
- While it’s commonly thought that climate and temperature dictate how much hair a horse will grow, it’s actually the amount of daylight. When the days get shorter in winter, all creatures know to start packing on some pounds and growing hair. This happens in Canada; it also occurs in the South.
- The climate around you may not match what your horse grows! Clipping is a thoughtful way to help him stay comfortable in his surroundings.
- Some breeds with naturally thick coats may need clipping all year long! The same is valid for horses with metabolic issues that have trouble shedding and other hair growth issues.
Would I clip this horse that’s clearly sweating too much for the climate? You betcha.
When an exercise or training routine over winter creates a lot of sweat and your horse needs help thermoregulating.
- A sweaty horse in winter has a few issues to deal with. One, he’s going to be teetering on the edge of overheating. There have been a few studies done on clipped and unclipped horses while exercising.
- One study discovered that clipped horses maintained their vitals well, while unclipped horses had longer exercise recovery rates.
- Another study that analyzed clipped and unclipped trotters found that the clipped horses showed less strain on the body’s activity to thermoregulate and exercise more efficiently.
- A sweaty horse in winter also has to deal with a longer drying time for his body. It may take longer for his heart rate and respiratory rate to return to normal, and he’s definitely going to take a long time to dry. He will need to be safely cooled out, and the use of coolers can help. Coolers also cut the cold air from chilling your horse and create safer drying.
***PRO TIP*** Check your horse’s vital signs before and after exercise so you can objectively track his recovery. This will give you an idea, over time, if his hair is too thick for his activity level.
Skin health considerations for clipping
- If there’s a history of skin infections, like equine pastern dermatitis (EPD), rain rot, matted hair, sores, or other weird skin funk, you may want to consider clipping.
- Long hair on some horses is the perfect storm for a skin issue. Hair traps moisture, dirt, sweat, dander, mud, and sometimes even lice and mites. It can be a petri dish for your horse’s next science experiment. Keeping things clipped gives you a leg up in keeping the skin healthy.
- You can see the skin, clean the skin, and medicate it much more comfortably without a forest of hair. It’s just that simple.
- In other cases, you may find that your tack will pull and snag longer hairs. This is usually seen in the bridle and girth areas. Longer hair can also be abrasive under tack as it moves back and forth. Some horses do better with a trim in the elbows and behind the ears to stop snagging.
This is a case of equine pastern dermatitis. Meds reach the skin better when there’s no hair to gunk things up! Too much hair can also trap bacteria and moisture, which is a huge culprit of EPD.
The benefits of full body clipping
- This may make grooming more manageable, and your horse will look sleeker. It’s commonly done in show barns, and in some cases, all year long. This gives your horse a polished look as he enters the show ring if that is your particular jam.
- Full body clipping is often much easier to do than a pattern. You are not worrying about lines and transitions; just take it all off.
- This may not be suitable for horses in colder climates, as his entire body is naked, legs included. There are not any blankets that cover legs. Just something to think about.
What about trimming and trace clipping?
- Just using a pair of trimmers here and there achieve a few goals. Your horse will just look spiffy. You will be able to feel the skin better in areas that you trim. Your horse’s tack may also fit better, as is the case with bridles.
Common areas to trim on horses are ears, muzzles, bridle paths, and legs.
- If you trim up your horse’s ears, you have the option of just the edges or trimming the inside of the ear as well. This removes some sun and fly protection from your horse, so you will have to remedy that. To protect that skin, use fly bonnets when riding and fly masks with ears for everyday wear.
This video has some ear trimming info.
- Muzzles are usually trimmed for some disciplines and left to grow wildly in others. We know that the whiskers of a horse, called vibrissae, help your horse his way along. Vibrissae are on the muzzle and around the eyes. They relay messages to your horse’s brain for spatial awareness. They can’t see under their chin, so the whiskers do that, instead.
- Removing vibrissae will change how your horse can navigate his environment. It’s your choice to trim them or let them remain.
- In some countries, clipping whiskers is banned. At the FEI level, there are new regulations banning whisker clipping. This is for show horses competing at that level, but the trend towards discouraging whisker clipping is spreading.
- Bridle paths, for most horses, are a must. They serve a specific purpose – helping your horse’s tack fit properly. The bridle path allows the crown piece to rest evenly on your horse’s poll. Otherwise, there is a lump that puts uneven pressure on his noggin.
- Leg trimming is one way to just tidy things up. Just running your trimmers down the leg can tidy up those longer stray hairs around fetlocks and hocks, knees, and elbows. This may make grooming more manageable, and your horse will look sleeker.
You may not want to clip this very adorable chin!
Trace clipping and different clipping patterns.
- Traditionally, trace clipping is the thoughtful removal of hair according to a pattern.
- It can help with how your horse looks, as well as how your horse feels. You can target specific health concerns and address sweaty areas, without the need to do a full body clip.
- The bib clip removes a tiny stripe of hair from the throat latch, down the neck, and into the area between the front legs.
- The strip clip takes the bib clip one step further. This is a mere stripe of hair removed from the underside of your horse’s face to the udders or sheath.
- The Irish clip is a half-face clip, plus a little more. A half-face is when you follow the line of the bridle’s cheek pieces. Hair in front is left, hair behind it, and under the jaw is clipped away. A diagonal line is created from poll to stifle, and all hair below is removed, except the legs.
- A trace clip is a more comprehensive bib clip, combined with a horizontal line from the point of the shoulder to the top of the gaskin. Everything below that line is clipped, except for the legs. There may be a little upswing over the flank where the hair changes direction.
- A blanket clip is a larger trace clip. Here, the half-face, all of the neck, and most of the body are clipped. The legs remain, as does a big patch of hair shaped like a quarter sheet.
- The hunter clip is your horse’s entire body being clipped, except for a saddle pad-shaped area and the legs.
There are SO MANY variations of clipping patterns. Give your horse his own!
Forget the traditional pattern if that doesn’t work for you.
- It’s much better for your horse if you clip the parts that get the sweatiest and leave the rest. Maybe this looks similar to one of the trace clip patterns; perhaps it looks like Swiss cheese. Every horse will have a signature!
- Familiar places for horse sweat are the neck, the stifles, the butt cheeks, around the elbows, and up the flanks. Any or all of these would make a delightful and custom clipping pattern for your horse.
When to clip your horse
- You should clip your horse when he needs it. This usually happens in the fall as his winter coat comes in, and in the spring as fur is shedding.
Consider these factors when deciding about clipping your horse:
- The climate you live in! How much do average daily temps work with or against his natural hair coat?
- Will you be going to shows and clinics? Starting earlier and clipping more frequently to clip help you. There won’t be a lot of growth to touch up.
- Does he need help to shed, or Is there a metabolic disorder at play that makes his coat extra thick in the summer? There’s no rule about when you can clip.
- How sweaty does he become with his level of exercise? If you give your horse a holiday over the winter, perhaps there’s no need to clip, but it may help you as you are riding in the fall and spring.
- Does your barn blanket “as needed” – or wait until a specific date for blankets to be allowed? You may want to postpone clipping until after this date.
- What’s the footing and rolling situation for your horse? Thick winter coats are wonderfully skilled at trapping dirt and sand. Plan accordingly as the prep for these gritty coats is extensive.
- What sort of style of clip would benefit your horse? The clips that take off minimal hair are easier to prep and clip if you decide to postpone any hair removal. A full body clip and variations of the trace clip are easier to do once and touch up later.
These two fuzzy buddies need blankets – it’s THAT COLD. Would I clip them? No, mainly becuase it would be impossible to get them clean enough to have a proper and comfie clip. When it’s amazingly cold, there may not be any sweat to worry about!
A few scenarios to consider regarding when to clip your horse.
- When winter is coming, clip when your horse first starts to grow hair. This probably means that you will do a second clip a month or so later if you need to.
- Or, clip when your horse has finished growing in most of his winter coat. This means you are clipping a thick coat, and you’ll need to find a way to bathe or meticulously groom your horse beforehand. This can be challenging due to colder weather conditions.
There’s also an adaptive scenario, which I have been doing for years with great success.
- In the fall, do a full body clip after some of the winter coat has come in. The temps are just starting to be chilly, but it’s warm enough to do thorough bathing before the clip.
- About two months later, the clip has grown in as the hours of daylight have diminished. Then I will do a trace clip, leaving legs and a belly stripe fuzzy for warmth. Blankets cover the rest.
- Because he was clipped once before, there’s about half a coat to remove, thickness wise. This makes prep work and the actual clipping much easier.
- In different climates, make changes accordingly. Warmer temperatures might prompt you to body clip once or twice. Horses in less work might just need one clip during the fall, and what grows back should be enough to carry him through the winter without sweating during exercise.
What about springtime clipping?
- You can absolutely clip in the spring, too. As a horse sheds, the weather may warm up faster than the hair can drop. Clip! Don’t worry about chopping off any of the summer coat coming in. It will even out. Your horse’s comfort comes first.
- Some horses shed unevenly, and you can clip to even things out. This is especially helpful if show season is starting for you.
- Springtime also brings mud into the mix, and a shedding horse plus mud can be a challenge to groom. Clipping makes the skin and coat easier to clean. You can address any skin issues that crop up when mud, wet, and spring temps mix, too.
- Horses with Cushing’s disease (PPID) often struggle to have an appropriate coat year-round. Many of these horses need regular body clips in the summer and winter to stay comfortable.
- You will still need to keep tabs on the weather, and blankets might be involved. Your horse will keep shedding, too! It’s just with shorter hair.
Teach your horse to love the clippers
- You may find that your horse needs some training to be safely clipped. Having a training system and routine in place long before you will actually be clipping is vital here. Nothing good happens when you try and train something in one go.
Here’s a positive reinforcement method that has worked with getting horses to love clippers.
Be sure the following things are accurate before you start:
- Your horse responds to a consistent reward given by you. It doesn’t have to be a treat. Scratches, rubs, and kind words also work.
- Don’t have a timeline or deadline.
- You should start over with step one if you accidentally go too far one day.
- Know if your horse can deal with cords. It might be overwhelming for a horse to adjust to cords and clippers at the same time.
- Work on this for one minute a day. That’s all you need. Drilling things often make new scenarios worse. You can add time later once the clippers are on and touching your horse.
Step by step instructions on how to train your horse to like the clippers:
- I typically like to train a horse to tolerate the clippers when he’s not tied up. This allows a horse to retreat slowly without fear of being trapped.
- Use a halter and lead rope in your horse’s regular grooming area. He already knows that’s the place for handling, attention, and touch.
- I avoid rewarding unless my horse stands still or advanced towards me and the clippers. Rewarding or reassuring during a frightening moment or balk isn’t helpful.
***PRO TIP*** Keep your key training goal in mind – your horse need to learn that clippers equal a reward.
HERE WE GO! The first step:
- Your horse can look at a pair of clippers. Perhaps you are holding them or put them on a shelf near your horse. REWARD. Reward again if he steps towards them.
- Repeat as needed, maybe even for a week or so.
The second step
- Move the clippers over his body while they are turned OFF. Rub him as if you were brushing him. Only work on large masses of his body, like the rump and belly, to start. REWARD when he doesn’t flinch or step away.
- Do not push things and keep trying to touch him if he moves away. Go back to step one instead. He’s not entirely certain that the clippers mean a reward yet.
- Do this for weeks if need be.
The third step
- Repeat step one and turn the clippers ON this time. Reinforce clippers = reward when your horse is still or steps towards the clippers.
- Do this for weeks if need be and go back to the absolute beginning if you need to. This will only build trust. It’s not a failure.
The fourth step
- Move closer to your horse with the clippers on. REWARD. Don’t push on if he’s stepping backward.
- Repeat ad nauseam.
The fifth step
- Rub the clippers on your horse while they are ON. Tons of rewards if he’s not moving away.
- Do this for weeks. Start over if you need to.
The sixth step
- Try clipping a small section of your horse’s side! A tiny amount. Throw him a REWARD PARTY.
- Your horse should be trying to rip the clippers out of your hands and clip himself to earn those rewards.
- Most horses don’t need months to work through this system. Be patient and start over as necessary. The reward system gives your horse a reason to trust you instead of being bullied or drugged into being clipped.
Make clipping stress free.
- Now that your horse is BFF’s with the clippers, time to make the entire process of clipping comfortable and low stress for your horse. Clipping can take hours depending on what pattern you are doing, and sometimes boredom sets in for you and your horse.
Keep your horse comfortable while clipping with these handy tips:
- Make sure he is physically comfortable.
- Does he have slack in the cross ties to look around and adjust his head and neck?
- What is he standing on? Mats are definitely more comfortable than hard footing.
- How full is your horse’s belly? He doesn’t have to be stuffed to the brim, but he shouldn’t have delayed meals to get the job done. Hay nets are a wonderful distraction.
- Keep his freshly clipped areas covered if the weather is chilly! Sheets are good to use here; just fold back the sheet to work under it. You can also use coolers, but fleece and wool’s fuzzy nature makes it attractive for loose hair to get stuck.
- Take breaks! Pop your horse in his house to have a drink, chill out, and have a bathroom break. Same for you, too!
- Keep your hands and eyes on his body language as you clip. Tickling is likely, and your horse will appreciate a scratch or brush. Don’t spend too much time in a ticklish area.
Letting your horse have a break and a snack makes clipping much easier. For everyone! Hay nets can also be hung in your clipping area so he can snack as you work.
Tools for clipping – Clippers
Do you need shears, clippers, or trimmers for your horse?
- Even if you never plan on body clipping your horse, it’s a good idea to have a good set of clippers on hand. They are handy for wounds, touch-ups, and bridle paths. But should you get shears, clippers, or trimmers? What’s the difference?
Shears for horses and other farm animals
- Shears are the heavy-duty livestock clippers that can practically cut through anything. Many professional clippers and grooms use this style for the easy of quickly clipping many horses. The blades are wide, the motor is powerful.
- However, because of these shears’ size and heft, you will find that they are usually not appropriate for clipping legs and faces and those tighter spots. Body clippers are more suited there.
- Most shear styles of clippers are corded, as well. They tend to be heavier than body clippers, so working with them takes a bit of practice.
Reasons to use shears while clipping your horse.
- Your horse’s coat is wildly thick. Shears cut through even the thickest fur with little effort. Many horses with Cushing’s disease need help all year long managing their longer and thicker coats. Shears make this job quick and easy.
- They are typically corded, so you don’t have to deal with charging them or switching batteries.
- These could be a good idea if you only trace clip or create a custom clip with fuzzy faces and legs.
- For situations where you need to clip many horses, shears will save you time on the horses’ large areas.
This video has awesome info on how to set up your shears.
- These types of clippers are corded or cordless. Most come with snap-on blades that sometimes work between brands. There are a few models of body clippers that use adjustable blades that are screwed on.
- You could say that body clippers are mid-size, more flexible than the shears, but not as agile as the trimmers. The power level is also mid-range. Traditionally, the cordless varieties are slightly less powerful than the corded models, but that’s not the case with newer versions.
- These styles of clippers can also take care of any trimming needs in addition to covering large areas for body clipping.
Reasons to use clippers on your horse:
- Clippers are great for body clips, trace clip variations, making large designs, and clipping patterns on your horse.
- These styles are also powerful enough to get through the thickest of manes if roaching is on your to-do list.
- Clippers can be used to trim wounds, although you may need to change the blade to get the best trim possible.
- These lightweight and nimble clippers are for touch-ups and details. Most are cordless, and some even have removable batteries.
- Trimmers are great for wound cleaning, and bridle path trimming, the edges of ears, and even around tail tops. Tails can also be banged with trimmers to provide the sharpest cut possible.
***PRO TIP*** Usie a water-based lubricant on the wound before you clip to prevent stray hairs from jabbing the injury. This rinses away.
- Trimmers are also great for fancy rump designs on horses. Their small size makes it easier to “draw” on your horse.
- For legs, you can easily trim up coronary bands and around fetlocks. You don’t need to go all the way to the skin. Taking the fluff off to tidy things up is enough.
These trimmers make fast work of detailed areas, like lower legs. These are the Creativa in black, their curved body is great for lower legs and doggos!
Reasons to use trimmers:
- If you are never body clipping, trimmers are all you need. You can save some dollars this way.
- Cordless and lightweight trimmers come in a few styles. Trimmers with internal batteries can be charged on a stand, or use a cord to charge as you work. Removable batteries can be charged on a stand, and you can get replacement batteries if needed.
- Most trimmers come with adjustable blades that allow you to change how much hair is removed!
Tools for clipping – Blades and Blade Combs
- Now we get into more of the nitty-gritty and how clipper blades are sized.
Generally speaking, most blades have numbers, while others are designated fine, medium, or coarse.
- With rare exceptions, the number of a blade tells you what it does. The higher a blade number, the more hair it removes. In the horse world, you usually find blades between #8.5 and #40. The #8.5 or #10 is typical for body clipping. You would use a #30 or #40 to remove as much hair as possible for cleaning wounds.
- Each number correlates to the length of hair that remains. Sometimes, the blades themselves will be labeled with the number and the length of hair remaining in millimeters.
Parts of the clipper blades
- Every blade is actually two pieces – the clipper and the comb. These glide side to side, making the teeth move back and forth, creating the actual cutting motion.
- While it seems that these two pieces are flat against each other, they only touch in a few places to help keep away heat generated from friction.
- It’s important to note that the teeth length often dictates how many times a blade can be sharpened. Sometimes, there’s just not a lot of metal, as with the #30’s and #40’s that remove a lot of hair.
These #10’s indicate they leave 1.mm of hair. These are the Ultimate Competition Series.
Clipper blades for shears.
- These are heavy-duty blades, which come in two pieces, and are screwed into the clipper body. The blades are quite broad and have fewer teeth than other styles. This allows thicker hair to fit into the blade to be cut.
- You will see blades for this style of shearing clipper labeled as Surgical, Fine, Medium, Coarse, or Covercote. This is just a fancy way of describing how much hair is left, instead of using numbers.
- Surgical blades leave 1mm of hair on your horse. This is much too close for anything other than a medical reason.
- Fine blades also cut quite close, leaving about 1.4mm of hair.
- Coarse and medium blades each leave about 2.5mm of hair, and the medium blades are designed for your horse’s hair. The coarse blades are better for cows and other livestock. This is roughly equivalent to a #9 if you are body clipping.
- Some shears have Covercote blades, which leave about 5-6mm of hair. For horses that just need a “little bit off the top,” this is the blade system for you!
Body clippers usually use a detachable blade system.
- Detachable blades snap on and off your clippers. There’s a hinge that flips out, and you can slide different sized blades on and off. As with the shears, there are lots of different sizes available. In the horse world, you will typically find #8.5 to #40, while the dog grooming world has other blades that work well with different breeds.
- You can select a blade, such as the #5F, also known as a full coarse, that leaves 6 mm of hair. On the other end of the spectrum, blade #50 is considered surgical and only leaves .4 mm of hair.
- Most horse owners have blades that range from a #10 to a #30. The #10 blade is commonly used for body clipping, and the #30 is great to use for wounds and bridle paths and small trimming jobs on your horse. You can also find a #10 blade in a wide version, with increased blade coverage, thus making your job much faster.
- You may also find the T84 and the T10 blades. These wide blades are also detachable and correspond to a #8.5 and a #10, roughly. They are branded as “T” blades by the manufacturer and can be used on body clippers with detachable systems from other brands.
The detachable blades slide onto the metal hinge on the clipper body and snap into place. Turn your clippers on before you snap them in!
Some body clippers use a screw-in style of blade.
- These are adjustable blades and can move from #10 to #15 to #30 with a lever on the clipper body’s side.
- They do arrive in two pieces, and you need to screw them in, which is relatively easy. Clippers of this type are typically handy enough to do some light body clipping and trimming.
Blade systems for trimmers.
- Then you have those handy little trimmers. Most of them come with a 5-in-1 blade, which is adjustable with your thumb. Moving the lever at the blade’s base gives you a #9, #10, #15, #30, and #40.
- If you are not sure which length to start with, go with the #9. You can always take off more hair, but you can’t if you start with the #40.
- These can be sharpened, but it’s not as easy to do as a detachable blade. It takes a skilled sharpener to make this happen.
- You can also buy non-adjustable blades for trimmers in various sizes.
***PRO TIP*** When you are changing detachable blades and 5 in 1 blades, click them into place when the clippers are on. This allows everything to line up correctly.
This is a 5 in 1 blade on an Arco trimmer. That little black nub near my thumb is how you adjust the blade length, from #9 to #40. Clever!
Here’s a list of the common blades sizes you can have for the detachable blades and how much hair is remaining:
#5F: Full Coarse – 6mm
#8.5: Medium – 3mm (1/8”)
#9: Medium – 2mm (5/64”)
#10: Medium – 1.8mm (1/16”)
#10W: Extra Wide – 1.8mm (1/16”)
#15: Medium Fine – 1.5mm (3/64”)
#30: Fine – .8mm (1/32”)
#40: Surgical – .6mm (3/128”)
#50: Ultra Surgical – .4mm (1/64”)
Accessories – blade combs.
- You can also add clipper guards, also called combs, to the mix.
- Clipper combs are slide-on attachments that leave your horse’s hair even longer. They act by providing an extension of the clipper blade. The comb rests on your horse, setting the blade away from the hair.
- Most combs or guard sets come in various sizes so that you can get the perfect cut.
- For thick winter coats, you may not want to trim everything. Combs provide a way to work towards an even finish while shortening the hair.
- You can also use combs to touch up lower legs, blending legs, and around cheeks and jaws when you just need to trim away those errant long hairs.
Combs come in many sizes, and slide over the 5 in 1 blades. There are also styles for the detachable blades.
Clipping tools – coolant, oil, and a way to clean your clipper blades.
- You want to use coolant and oil as a team – every five minutes! Coolant will take any heat out of the blades and blow out some gunked-up hair, which helps. BUT – it evaporates quickly! This leaves your blades likely to heat up fast!
- Always add oil after using a spray coolant. Add oil. Add oil. I literally can’t stress this enough – your blades need to remain oiled at all times. Otherwise, you create heat, damage the blades, and make the whole clipping experience uncomfortable for your horse.
- Clipper oil is literally the solution to most clipping issues. As it sticks to the blade components, it flushes out bits of dust and hair that can interfere with the comb and cutter’s side-to-side motion. Oil also reduces the friction between the comb and cutter, which helps your clipper motor work effectively. It all boils down to oil!
- When you are done clipping, you can clean your clipper blades with a sanitizer. Let this sit for a few minutes, then wipe away. Not surprisingly, you will need to add oil! This saves your blades from inevitable demise by rust during storage.
This is Blade Ice, to be wiped off and followed by oil. I’m starting to think that oil is the secret of the horse clipping universe!
How to prep your clippers.
Part of a successful clip rests on the cleanliness and sharpness of your clipping tools!
- Check all of your equipment before you begin. Are the clipper cords, batteries, motor, and blades in good order? The blades should be sharp, rust-free, and ready to snap into a properly functioning clipper body.
- Oil the blades before you begin! Oil is applied to the teeth and any areas where the comb and cutter touch. You can see these areas when you view the side angle of your blades. Dab a dot of oil at these intersections on each side.
- If you are using shears, you will need to tension the blades and add grease and oil. Grease is usually placed into a hole where the clipper blades and body meet.
- To tension shears, use the knob to tighten the blades together. When the knob becomes distinctly much harder to turn, stop. You will reverse the knob’s direction 1.5 times around. Double-check with the manufacturer of your shears for specifics.
- Have your coolant, clipper oil, some brushes to clear hair from the blades, and some rags handy before you get rolling.
How to prep your horse clipping shears.
These Lister Stars have a tension knob that is marked for easy “backing-up” when you are tightening the blades.
How to prep your horse for the best clip
- Before you ever start clipping your horse, he needs to be ridiculously clean. Like he’s never been that clean before in his entire life. Ideally, he’s also quite oily! Just like your clipper blades.
There are three basic things to do before you start clipping:
- Clean your horse
- Make your horse slippery and oily
- Make your clippers oily
An ideal horse prep situation would go like this – clean, bathe, dry.
- Curry comb your horse as you have never curried before. And then do some more.
- Add a vacuum into the routine to get all of the dust and dirt out.
- Use your dandy brush or soft brush or whatever brush works the best so that you can flick all of the dirt away. If it’s dry and there’s a bunch of static in the air, rub your brush on a damp cloth. This will cut the static and pick up the dust.
You can’t go wrong currying the snot outta your horse before a bath. You can use these HandsOn Gloves dry or wet, too.
Now you can get to shampooing.
- Pick a gentle, horse-friendly shampoo and avoid all detergents and stain removers. These strip all of the natural oils from your horse. Who cares about stains – you are about to clip them all off. Those natural oils are similar to the clipper oil – it makes it more comfortable for your horse and helps the clippers do their job.
- If your horse has a tendency to have a dry coat, use a conditioner. This will soften the hair and help the clippers as well.
- Rinse! And rinse again!
***PRO TIP*** Use a sweat scraper when your horse is soaped up to scrape off the first layers of shampoo. This means you are rinsing less, and it goes much faster!
You want to dry your horse without him rolling.
- This may require walking him, using coolers, and buffing him with towels. A good buffing also helps to eliminate any post bathing itchiness that may pop up.
If bathing is not an option, go for an excellent hot toweling session.
- Use washcloths in hot water to get going. Wring a washcloth out until you are about to disintegrate it. You want it to be barely damp but extra warm and steamy. Use this as a curry comb on your horse after thorough grooming.
- Hot toweling can be time-consuming, but the cloths lift all of the dust and dander from your horse.
- This technique requires two buckets of water, one hot and one cold, for rinsing. Add a bit of spot remover like Easy Out to the hot water. Add several washcloths to soak in hot water.
- After a thorough groom, take a hot washcloth and wring the snot out of it. You want the warmth and steam with just a tiny bit of dampness. Use this cloth to wipe your horse against the growth of his coat.
- He should not get wet, and you should be able to reach his skin. When that cloth is cool and/or dirty, toss in the cold water to rinse out. Lather, rinse, repeat until your horse is clean. Cover him with a cooler as you work. This allows any dampness to dry warmly.
Hot water kettles are the BEST to have in the cross ties. Grooming in cold weather will never be easier!
How to bathe without actually bathing
Next – slick up your horse.
Which is better? Sheens or oils?
- It was fairly common for many years to talk about using a sheen product on your horse before clipping. The theory is that the slick hair helps the clippers, which it can! Be warned that some sheen products have a lot of additional alcohol, which can dry everything out.
- A better alternative is using a grooming oil. These oils act as a deep conditioning treatment, softening hair, and adding shine. Grooming oils won’t dry out the coat and act like a horse-friendly clipping oil.
- Grooming oils go a long way – there’s no need to soak your horse. A little bit on a washcloth buffed into your horse is all you need. Alternatively, you can add some oil to a warm water bucket and use that as a final rinse when you are bathing.
- You want just enough oil on your horse to create a bit of luster. Nothing should feel greasy.
- One added bonus – the grooming oil helps the clipped hair clump together, so more of it lands on the ground and not in your skivvies.
This is the best grooming oil, No. 1 Light Oil. A little bit before clipping to help your clippers, and a little bit after clipper to bring back shine.
Post clipping skin and coat care
It’s time for elbow grease!
- There’s a lot of dust and dander left on your horse after clipping. Time to do some currying, brushing, and rubbing down. You can also rinse your horse if the weather is good.
- If you rinse, there are some color-enhancing shampoos available. EquiTone is gentle, won’t strip oils, and brightens up a newly clipped horse. Your chestnut will look more like a chestnut than a dull pumpkin! EquiTone comes in whitening, black, red, and gold, so pick accordingly.
- Conditioners and oil treatments are also a good idea after clipping. These soften the chopped hair and add a bit of shine.
- Mayonnaise is sometimes used as an overnight deep conditioner. The smell, mess, and need for a bath the next day outweigh the benefits. Since mayonnaise is basically oil and protein, there are horse-friendly substitutions. Grooming oils can be used sparingly to condition and don’t need to be shampooed away the next day.
- It’s also up to you and your strong arms to help his skin and coat return to a luster. Plenty of grooming and brushing, paired with a good diet, can make a clipped coat look amazing. Address any ticklishness or extra sensitivity with softer brushes and a change in the pressure you use while grooming.
- If you have a horse with actual white hair, the skin underneath is pink. Sunscreen and UV protection is vital, even in fall and winter. Use sheets, hoodies, fly boots, fly masks with ears, and any other horse clothing to cover your horse up.
General clipping techniques
- As you start clipping, work on the larger areas of your horse first. These are less likely to be ticklish and allow your horse to settle in.
- Do a small test stripe on your horse before you go bananas. Start with a #8.5 to leave a fair bit of hair. If you want more removed, you can test out a #10 or #15.
- Keep one hand on your horse as you work. You will feel his body language if you are busy being upside down in a pretzel shape and can’t see his expressions. That hand allows you to push against him if needed.
- You will usually be clipping your horse’s hair against the direction of the hair growth. Diagonally, even! This allows the blades to skim under the hair and produce a crisp cut. There will be plenty of times that you will need to break this rule. Smaller areas, whorls, and awkward spots won’t follow this guideline.
- Use the “squish and move” technique to clip around whorls, loose skin, and bony parts. Gently press the skin with your free hand, and slide it over. The clippers can then move across taut skin.
- Stop clipping every five minutes. Brush any hairs from your tools, and check for hot blades. Clipper coolant is excellent to use: this allows you to blow out the bits of hair and cool the blades. It must be followed with fresh clipper oil!
This is the “typical” way to maneuver your clippers – against the hair growth. Chuck this right out the window if you need to.
How to make loose skin taut for easy clipping
Specific clipping techniques – faces, legs, tricky area, lines, and designs.
Keep safety in mind as you work around some of the challenging areas of your horse.
- Enlist the help of a friend to distract and monitor your horse as you work.
- Use your hand to cover his ears, eyes, and nostrils as you are clipping close to those areas. You can also hide his forelock, so it’s not accidentally clipped off if your horse moves.
- Use your spare hand to cover his eyes, ears, and nose as you work. Be safe around his legs, too!
- Stepstools are ideal while clipping faces. You won’t become as tired, and you have a much better view of your work.
- Don’t assume that your horse will be chill when the clippers start on his face. Take your time and don’t press the issue. Work on desensitization instead.
- Throw out the “against the growth” rule about clipping. There’s only one way to discover how many cowlicks your horse has, and that’s to clip them.
***PRO TIP*** If you have a friend helping you, both of you should be on the same side of the horse. If you are being the bread to his sandwich, a spook will take out one of you. If you are both on the same side, that’s two more hands to communicate with him.
Using a step stool will help save your arms, and make easy work of keeping the topline areas smooth.
Tips for clipping your horse’s face.
- Only clip what is absolutely necessary. Some horses wear a grazing muzzle or cribbing strap. Leave the hair where any straps touch your horse to prevent rubs. If the hair itself causes a problem, you can then clip it off. Leave the hair on your horse’s face if the weather is horrible!
- Creating a half-face is another option. All of the hair in front of the bridle’s cheek pieces remains. They may look a bit funny when your horse is naked, but the cheek pieces cover the line when you are riding.
- Let your horse keep his whiskers, eyebrows, and lashes. These specialized hairs are vibrissae and function to navigate your horse. Basically, they help with spatial awareness where he can’t see. This is critical for finding all of the food to eat!
- When clipping around the eyes, point your blades away from the eye. You will probably not be going against the direction of hair growth. That’s better than poking out an eye.
Keep blades pointed away from eyes, and cover eyes as you work around the face. This is the Creativa again, in pink. The shape is really handy around faces, too.
Tips for clipping your horse’s lower legs.
- The lower leg has taut skin! Your clippers will run smoothly if you pick up the lower leg and then clip. Face towards your horse’s nose as you pick up the leg to make this happen.
- To tidy up the spaces between the tendons, employ the “squash and move” technique to shift the skin. Using trimmers is best for this small area.
- You have the option of leaving the lower legs long and blending the clipped upper leg into it. Use combs if you have them, and point your clippers down. Use a raking motion with the direction of growth. Start high on the upper leg to give yourself plenty of room to mess up and try again.
- Knees and hocks have tight hair that will slow clippers down. Don’t use the entire width of the blade for these areas. Work in smaller stripes using the outer portion of the clipper blade. You will make more passes, and the results will be better.
This is the one way to clip around the tendons.
Video about clipping legs – so easy!
Tips for clipping your horse’s skin folds and elbows.
- Have a friend help you! The elbow area is filled with nooks, crannies, and skin folds.
- A helper will be able to stretch out the front leg to allow access for you. Pair this with some squishing and moving of skin to get it all. Throat latches are another area where it’s nice to have extra hands.
Squish down on any loose skin and slide it over so you can maneuver.
Tips for clipping around the girth area
- One of two things happens around the girth. The extra winter hair protects the skin from rub marks and sores. Or, the excess winter hair gets pulled and can even act like an abrasive. This can create rubs and sores!
- If your horse is sensitive in the girth area, leave it long to see what happens. You can always clip it off.
- Anti-friction sticks are great to use around the girth anyway to prevent rubs. For long coats, it can get a bit goopy.
These deodorant-like sticky helps keep rubs away! I find they work best on short or clipped hair.
Clipping designs and lines on your horse.
- I have a simple process for creating saddle pads, lines, and designs. This is especially handy if you are doing a trace clip or any clip that requires a transition between long and short hair.
This paper stencil was printed out on regular paper, and a bit of tape mostly secures it in place to carve a border around.
For video instructions on playing with designs, watch this!
Draw it out!
- Depending on what you have on hand, you can “draw” lines and borders on your horse. Use a marker to trace a half-pad on your horse. You can also use chalk, tape, or stencils to give yourself some guidelines. With stencils, use a bit of tape to keep it in place.
- If you like, you can use a #30 or #40 blade to actually clip a border or line into your horse’s coat. Hold the clippers as you would a pencil. Allow the corner of the blades to cut into the hair. This technique works well for complicated designs and gives you a definite edge to bring your body clippers up against.
- Now you can start clipping out the design on your horse. Don’t forget to switch the blades back to a #10!
- If you find that your horse has some marker lines remaining, grab a damp cloth to wipe them away.
This Bravura trimmer is set to #40 in the 5 in 1 blade, and I’m holding it like a pencil to outline a design.
How to make crisp lines on your horse for his trace clip
Common clipping issues and solutions – Techniques and equipment issues.
- You may run into some clipping issues that seem to be related to skill and technique.
Your clippers are pulling and tugging along your horse.
- You may even feel the sensation that the clippers are catching along your horse’s skin. This means you have one or more of the following:
- Dirty horse
- Dirty blades
- A clipper motor that needs servicing
- Not enough oil on the blades
- Dull blades
- When dust, dirt, and dryness muck up the blades, they create friction, product heat, and damage the teeth. Oil helps with the temperature, but if the teeth are dull and damage, it’s time for new blades.
REALLY – OIL is the secret.
The clippers are creating varying depths across your horse.
- You are seeing sand dunes of hair on your horse! You may also see areas where it looks like the clippers have dug into your horse.
- This is usually caused by dirty horses and/or blades. There’s also another reason which can be fixed with some practice! Blades should glide atop your horse without the need for pressure.
- Using a step stool is also a great way to eliminate these sand dunes of hair. Get taller, and you will find it’s easier to move evenly across the surfaces.
- Keep loose skin taut as you clip. This will also help!
You have clipper lines.
- There are a few reasons for clipper lines to appear.
- Dirty horse
- Dirty blades
- A clipper motor that needs servicing
- Not enough oil on the blades
- Dull blades
- Seems familiar, right?
- It’s perfectly fine to ignore lines! As your horse continues his natural hair growth cycle, they will fade away.
- Creating a new X across any lines can help them fade. A perfect example of throwing that “rule” about against the growth out the window!
Uneven lines and divots! It’s just practice.
Mechanical issues with your blades or clipper body.
The clippers are getting too hot, too quickly.
- If you are ending up with hot blades, you shouldn’t be. All of these are culprits. This is, most definitely, a theme.
- Dirty horse
- Dirty blades
- A clipper motor that needs servicing
- Not enough oil on the blades
- Dull blades
- Hot metal means it’s working too hard! Dirt, friction, and dull blades make the heat. Get it all clean and oiled up, and you should be ready to go.
These are batteries that pop out and charge on a stand. You can get replacements!
Your clipper batteries are not lasting as long as they should.
- Most cordless clippers have batteries that can be replaced as needed. It’s just how batteries are! For batteries that pop out of the clipper body, you can buy replacements.
- For batteries that are inside the clippers, you can have them serviced. Alternatively, connect the charging cord directly into the clippers. This allows you to use them with zero battery juice.
Your clipper blades are rattling.
- Screw-on blade systems, as with the shears, sometimes create a rattling sound. This means the blades need to be tensioned! For shears, follow the guideline of tensioning the knob until it’s taut, then back out 1.5 rotations.
- For body clippers that have screw-on blades, you will need to tighten them with a screwdriver.
- In both situations, add oil and grease if applicable!
You hear weird noises from the clipper body.
- This is common when the detachable blade isn’t attached correctly to the hinge! Did you turn the clipper on before snapping the blade?
- There may be a problem with any of the inside parts as well. When was the last time your clippers were serviced?
- There’s a little tip that slides back and forth on the blades. This can get worn out, and easily replaced. Some clipper models come with replacement tips to pop in.
When this white blade tip starts to wear down and round out, it’s time to replace it.
Slowing of the clipper body motor.
- Things slow down when the motor is challenged.
- Dirty coats are one culprit! As are filthy and dull blades.
- Ultra-thick coats also slow things down. In this case, you may need to service the clippers you have or choose a more robust model. Most body clippers do fine for an average coat. Shears are more appropriate for the horse with Cushing’s, thick Shetland and Icelandic coats, and even some Baroque horse coats.
- The battery may be on its way out! Does it need to be charged or replaced?
- For corded clippers, check to be sure the cord isn’t damaged. This is one good reason to avoid winding up the cable into tight spirals or with sharp bends.
Most clipper manufacturers have service programs.
- What’s easier than mailing in your clippers? You may also find someone local to you. Double-check about your warranty; these are often voided if you don’t mail them to the manufacturer for service.
Add oil! And most of your clipper issues are fixed.
- Read the directions!
- Look at how much dirt your horse and blades have.
- Check for dullness blades and/or rust on the blades.
- Inspect the blade drive or drive tip.
- Check the tension of the comb and cutting blades if you are using shears.
- Charge batteries and check for cord damage and wear.
- Perhaps read the directions if you skipped that part.
***PRO TIP*** Ask your veterinarian’s office where they have their clipper blades sharpened and serviced. Tack shops may also have a drop-off and pick-up service.
What happens when you send your clippers in for repair?
- If you send your clippers in for service, it’s most likely they will be totally dissembled. It seems extreme, but there are not that many parts. Everything needs to be inspected and cleaned. Worn or damaged parts are replaced and then reassembled.
- As a complete shocker in this process, the parts inside the clipper body are also oiled. Now it’s good as new!
Cleaning and storing your clippers
- Now that your horse is taken care of, it’s time to address your clippers. Before storage and in between horses, they need to be cleaned, sanitized, and oiled.
Here’s how to clean and store your clippers!
Take care of the hair first!
- The first step is to remove all of the hair from the clipper body and blades. After removing the blade from the clipper body, use a brush or cloth to wipe away hair. Toothbrushes do easy work if you have lost the tools that came with your clippers. It’s up to you to return the toothbrush to its rightful owner.
- When working with the clipper blades, you can slide the comb and cutter apart – a little bit! They are wildly challenging to put back together, and cussing might ensue.
- I use a larger stiff brush to brush off the clipper body. You can also vacuum it.
- Compressed air is also an option. This is better for blades. The force of the air might push some dust and hair into the clipper body. There’s already some there; there’s no need to add more.
Don’t slide the clipper all the way out! Instant regrets.
The second step is to wash your clipper blades.
- You can do this with blade wash or coolant. This is inexpensive, and most manufacturers have their own brand.
- For those of us in a certain age bracket, you may have grown up using kerosene as a blade wash. YIKES! Today’s blades are made of more modern materials like titanium, steel, and chromium. Kerosene will damage these metals.
The third step is to sanitize your blades.
- This is especially important if you are using your tools to clip more than one horse. Several skin conditions, like rain rot and ringworm, can be transmitted from horse to horse via grooming tools.
- Sanitizers, also made by several manufacturers, are a spritz-on product. Let them sit in the spray for a minute, then wipe off any excess.
The fourth step is to oil your clipper blades.
- Just in case you missed it, oil is the magical solution to almost every single clipping issue. And, clipper oil will keep your blades healthy when you aren’t using them.
- Covering the teeth with oil fends off the rust. If you use shears, these also need to be oiled and greased. There is sometimes a port where you squeeze some grease in. The instructions vary by manufacturer, which is one more reason to save the directions!
- Store your blades in a container that can be sealed. Humidity and air contribute to rust.
Almost as much hair in the clippers as there is in your skivvies after clipping.
Sharpening clipper blades
- You may want to have your clipper blades sharpened before storing them. But there are a few things to know about this! It’s not straightforward to just “get your blades sharpened.”
- Assuming your horse, clippers, and blades are pristinely clean and oiled, you may find that they still tug on your horse’s coat. You likely have dull blades!
- Clipper blades can only be sharpened until the teeth run out of metal to sharpen. If that makes any sense?
- There’s a finite number of times the blade teeth can be shaved down to create sharpness. For blades like the #40 that cut very close, the teeth are short to start with.
- For blades like the #10, the teeth are longer, allowing more sharpenings. You will probably be able to sharpen these two or three times.
- It’s quite difficult to sharpen the 5 in 1 style of blade. You may find a craftsman that can help in your area. Some manufacturers have services to help with these blades.
- For blades that need to be tossed, they can have a second life as a mane shortening comb. You can create a natural finish on the mane without pulling the mane out.
More horse clipping tips!
- If you would like to learn with the help of an experienced clipper, just ask! A lesson in-person in technique can really help you along.
- Protect your own skin and clothing from stray hairs and dust. Many professional grooms wear masks and have their favorite clothes to keep hair at bay. Finding clothing that’s slick and not woven is critical! Look for fabrics similar to a hair salon cape or snow pants.
- Give yourself ample time! If you are unsure about how long it will take, opt for working top-down. You could work right side and not the left side, but appropriate blanketing becomes impossible. If you work top-down or even bottom-up, blanketing makes much more sense.
Enjoy this quality time with your horse! And be amazed at how much more comfortable your horse is after his clip.
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Wahl Professional Animal Bravura Lithium Clipper – this includes the 5 in 1 blade that goes from a #9 to a #40. Perfect for designs!