With shorter days come longer coats, no matter what the weather is. Winter coats are growing in fast and, for some, this becomes a problem. If you’re planning on training hard this winter, or even showing, clipping your horse is something you may want to look into. Otherwise, be prepared for long cool-down times. While there are many great body clipper businesses popping up, it’s still important to know how to clip and what not to do before, during, and after a clip.
To find out more about body clipping, I followed Cassandra Dietman of Northwest Horse Clipping around for the day.
Before you clip, you’ll want to bathe your horse. “Dirty horses means the blades [of the clipper] will get hotter faster,” Cassandra explained. The blades will have to work extra hard to cut through the hair and the dirt. However, you want to be careful with what you use to wash your horse. Avoid whitening shampoo and dish soap: both will strip the oils from your horse’s hair, making it harder to get a smooth clip.
If you’ve never body clipped your horse before, and are unsure if they’ve been clipped ever, you’ll want to take things slow and make the experience as positive as possible. Safety is important for you, and your horse. Cassandra recommends, instead of clipping your horse in crossties, put them somewhere that has a wall behind them, such as in the wash rack. If you don’t have a place like this in your barn, someone should be standing in front of the horse, holding his lead rope.
Next, Cassandra turns the clippers on to get the horse used to the sound of the clippers. Pay close attention to how your horse is reacting to the sound. If he’s fine, reward him for being calm and it’s safe to start clipping. For the nervous horse, however, the process takes a little longer. With Fargo, a very nervous draft horse, Cassandra worked with him for awhile before she was able to start clipping. She’d turn the clippers off, or moved away from him when he showed good, calm behavior as a way of rewarding the behavior. If your horse has started to lick and chew, “it means his fight-or-flight response has stopped, and that has sympathetic system is kicking in.” In otherwords, he’s processing what’s going on around him and thinking about it.
If your horse doesn’t calm down, however, it’s important to know when you need to stop, get help, or even use sedatives. Medication is available, but your vet must be the one to prescribe it for your horse. If you’re hiring a body clipper, they will not be able to provide or administer the medication unless they are veterinarians. So plan ahead!
Freshly bathed horses shouldn’t need any products to help the clipping go smoothly. However, for the dirty horse, something like Show Sheen or Lucky Braids that has silicone in it will help the clipper blades move more easily through the coat. Do not use fly spray. This can gum up your clippers and ruin your blades.
Once the spray has dried, you’re ready to get started. Plan out where you’re going to start clipping because that will determine the length of the blade you use. Cassandra uses a T84 blade on the body of the horse and a 15 for the legs and face. As she worked, she made sure to keep brushing her blades off and kept them oiled. When she felt the blades were getting too hot — something extremely important to pay attention to — she dipped them in Andis Blade Care and toweled them off.
If you’re going to be doing a second pass on the body of your horse, Cassandra recommends re-applying Show Sheen and currying. This not only helps stimulate blood flow but will also help get any remaining dirt out of your horse’s coat. “Now that there’s less hair, the clipper blades will heat up faster if I don’t lower their speed,” Cassandra explained. Before you make a second pass, however, consider giving your horse a stall break. It gives them (and you!) time to relax and move around before going back at it. This is also a great time for some hay or treats to encourage the idea that body clipping is a good thing.
With especially nervous horses, just like it’s important to know when to medicate, it’s also important to know when to quit. Your safety, and your horse’s safety is what’s most important. If you can’t get that second pass or even their legs, don’t stress about it. It can always be done at another time.
After-clipping care is just as important as before-clipping care. Cassandra stresses the importance of lunging before your next ride, especially if you’ve never body clipped before. “They’ll be colder, so they may start off moving faster and in a more excited way.” It all depends on the horse.
Some of the best temperament horses are the worst to clip and vice-versa. After finishing up a 5-hour clip job on an extremely nervous horse, we expected him to be wound up and wild when we lunged him. Instead, he was back to being the calm, gentle giant he was before the clipping started. But both Cassandra and Fargo’s owner knew when to call it quits, when to give breaks, and when to ask for more help.