When to clip your horse
When to clip your horse seems like an easy question to answer. It’s a bit more complicated than saying “October.” There are several factors to consider about body clipping, more than just the weather. There is only one “correct” time to clip your horse – when they need it. When a horse’s comfort and health can improve by clipping is the exact time to bust out your clippers. You don’t have to use a calendar, although you can if you clip your horse to prepare for horse shows and other events.
Seasons and the hair growth cycle of horses
- The myth is that because of temperature, horses grow and shed their winter coats. If this was true, every horse that winters in Florida or lives in Arizona or Southern Texas would never grow a fuzzy winter coat.
- But it’s really your horse’s brain. A horse’s eyes tell the brain the amount of daylight hours changes, which signals hormones to change the hair for a new coat.
- The winter solstice marks the day in late December with the fewest daylight hours. From that day on, daylight time increases, and most horses start to shed after about six weeks. This shed speeds up, with more hair blowing around, as time goes on.
- The summer solstice, in late June, is the day with the most daylight hours. After that, daylight hours decrease, and your horse begins shedding their summer coat.
- In the spring and fall, the existing haircoat sheds and is replaced with a new, seasonal coat. There may be some overlapping. For example, a fuzzy coat may still be shedding as the fresh summer coat takes its place.
Clip your horse for the situation, not the season.
Forget all about the seasons for a minute. Here are some specific reasons to clip, regardless of the weather.
- A horse’s skin is part of his immune system, offering the first line of defense against microbes. Mud, bugs, allergies, pastern dermatitis, rain rot, and other skin infections can happen.
- Clipping can help prevent skin problems and give easy access to cleaning and medicating existing skin problems.
Support healthy thermoregulation
- Horses sweat to cool their bodies, just as humans do. In warm weather, they may sweat without exercise. In the winter, sweating is more likely in an unclipped horse.
- While small amounts of sweat are usually fine and dandy in the winter, excessive sweating in a winter coat can become a problem. Some horses may overheat, especially overweight, unfit, or excessively sweaty long-haired horses.
- Cooling out a wet horse in cold weather takes time and patience and must prevent chilling your horse. The longer haircoats trap moisture from sweat, dirt, and bacteria. This petri dish of skin funk may be the perfect storm for skin infections and rubs.
- In the summer, extra-hairy horses often benefit from a haircut. Cushing’s disease is a condition that may create an extra long coat that doesn’t readily shed.
- It’s most challenging to clip when the hair coat is grown in the middle of winter or summer. The full winter coat has had months to thicken and trap dust and dirt. This will be hardest on your clippers and likely a bit uncomfortable on your horse with the clippers pulling through his coat unless you can bathe or hot towel your horse to perfection. In contrast, the summer coat is the shiniest, and you will lose some shine with clipping. There’s also all of the pesky UV light to contend with.
- You can absolutely clip in the spring or fall. I tend to wait until it’s warm enough for a bath, so clipping is easier. Your horse will still shed; the hairs will just be shorter. If you find your horse is patchy, it will grow back shortly. You don’t have to wait until the next coat grows in. Hair is constantly shedding and replacing all year long.
Clip your horse in stages
- I live in a climate with four distinct seasons. Winters are frigid, and summers are hot. I choose to do an initial clip as the warm days are winding down, and the winter coat barely comes in. This lets me do a full body clip after a bath.
- About a month or so later, I will do another clip, this time just a trace clip. Clipping away the body prevents sweat, and leaving the legs allows his lower half to fend off the bitter cold. At this point, the winter coat is not full blast (already clipped part of it), so I can get away with a deep curry, vacuum, and hot towel to prep.
Things to think about after clipping your horse
- While clipping can help skin health and your horse’s comfort, you may need to adjust your horse’s clothing.
- Colder weather may require your horse to wear a blanket. As any clip grows out and temperatures change, you may need sheets, lightweight blankets, or even heavier blankets. Base the necessity to blanket on the weather, your horse’s coat, and their need for thermoregulation help. Hard keepers that lose weight in the winter can benefit from some layers, even if they are unclipped.
- Does your barn blanket on an “as needed” basis – or do you need to wait until a certain date for blankets to be allowed? You may want to postpone clipping until after this date.
- Consider, too, your horse’s UV exposure. In sunlight, pink skin under white hair can be susceptible to sunburn. This may not be a problem if you do night turnout or cover up with fly sheets, boots, and masks.
- Clipping and blanketing is an individual decision to be made for each horse as needed.
Things to consider when deciding when to clip your horse:
- Just how extreme is the weather? Super warm days and cold nights make things tricky; I would clip earlier rather than later and use sheets and blankets.
- Do you show? A full body clip throughout the winter season is usually called for. Start early so you can keep the coat short and easy to prep. The same goes for summer – many show horses get touched up with the clippers every month.
- What footing and bedding does your horse live on and roll on? The dirtier and grittier they become from rolling in the sand in long winter hair, the harder clipping prep and actual clipping become.
- Does their winter exercise routine and living environment even require a clip?
- What sort of style of clip would benefit your horse? If you are only doing a bib clip, you might be able to postpone and clip when your horse has more hair. That small area under the neck tends to stay pretty clean. If your horse is a sweat-making machine, clip it all, or most of it before sweat becomes a huge issue.
And can we all admire this adorable pony!?
Also reference the Complete Guide to Clipping and Horse Clipping for Beginners here.
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This is my favorite clipper.