Grooming your horse’s fetlocks and feathers


All horses have extra hair on their fetlocks, typically on the back of the fetlock. This hair grows longer than the rest of your horse’s leg hair. Some horses only grow a few extra long pieces that hang down towards the heel.  When it comes to caring for your horse’s fetlocks and feathers, you have many options!


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  • Other horses, like some draft and baroque breeds, are covered with feathers front to back and sometimes well up the cannon bone. It’s sometimes hard to see the hoof with some breeds. 


thick feathers on a freisian horse

This Friesian horse has so much hair it’s hard to even feel his lower tendons and ligaments.


Feathers and extra fetlock hair are like ergots for me – I want them gone.


  • That’s just my preference and I happen to live in an area that sees rain about twice a decade. I find clipped legs are easier to clean and keep clean, and you can certainly feel and look for swelling more easily.


  • BUT – I refrain from clipping them totally in the winter. I once read that those extra long hairs guide water away from the heels during wet weather. Not sure if we can prove that either way, but it makes some logical sense to me.


  • However, during wet weather, you have an increased chance of developing scratches (read more about that condition here), and keeping feathers and furry fetlocks can delay discovery and inhibit the healing process.



tiny fetlock on barefoot horse

These sparse fetlock hairs can guide water away from the hoof, or they can be clipped for showing or during non-rainy seasons.


Best management practices


  • So what do you do with your horse’s fetlocks and feathers? As with everything horses, you must balance your horse’s show schedule, breed, the tendency for scratches, living situation, etc.


  • If you do decide to clip the lower legs of your horse, you also have a few options there. You can go nuts and clip the entire lower leg so it’s nice and crisp and clean. This makes it super easy to keep clean, a bonus for grays and horses with lots of chrome.


  • You can also trim the fetlock area with scissors and comb for the master barber with the infinitely still horse.


  • Or use clippers, my choice for safety and convenience. If you go the clipper route, go lightly with the direction of hair growth to get the long shaggy bits off, but avoiding putting a clipped path of destruction into an otherwise natural leg.


  • You can also pull the longish hairs out away from the leg and clip or snip them off.


fetlock mullet

My horse’s leg has a fetlock mullet – business up front, fetlock party in the back.


Clipping tips for fetlocks


  • This is a great way to get a clean-looking leg without clipping the whole thing. Don’t worry about any faint clipper marks, they disappear within days.


  • Also, using a blade that leaves the hair a bit longer may hide a “mistake” with your clippers. The longer hairs also protect against the sun, but you can easily inspect and feel for swelling, ticks, and scratches.


  • If you decide to keep your horse’s feathers long, be prepared to spend some extra time with your fingers every day making sure those legs are scab free and not swollen.


  • Keeping fetlock feathers long is appropriate for many breeds, especially if you show your horse. Some Baroque breeds and draft breeds are known for their feathers! Diligence about detangling, keeping the hair clean and white, and checking for scabs and ticks are top priority.


Practical tips for feathered legs


More details about how to tidy up feathered legs





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