I was recently blessed with an opportunity to have my horse Paladin clipped by Natasha from A Pampered Pony for a facebook live demo. Even though I have been body clipping my own horses for years I really enjoyed the tips and pointers that Natasha was able to provide. I am so very thankful to both Wahl and Lister for helping to arrange this fabulous event. The response to the demo was overwhelmingly positive. Though I did see a number of questions surrounding the general practice of body clipping. I hope to be able to offer a little more information, about the purpose and goals of body clipping. From the perspective of a performance horse owner.
A little bit about my horse
My horse Paladin is and always has been a show horse, eventer and most recently a field hunter. In an effort to help prepare my horse for his performance career I chose to show him extensively his first three years of life. Regardless of if the show was local or recognized, I always take pride in producing a well turned out horse. I strongly believe that quality show turnout starts in the stable. Providing quality food and forage, regularly scheduled vet, farrier and dental care and allowing ample turnout helps to promote a strong body and sound mind. Everything that you do at home to benefit your horses overall health will be obvious in the show ring or out working in the field. I feel that clipping further enhances all of that hard work you put into your horse on a daily basis.
Clipping for show and ease of grooming
Clipping has been an important part of my horses grooming program since he was a foal. When showing him as a yearling and two year old, I felt that a full body clip really helped him to succeed in the show ring. I feel that it helped to enhance his conformation by allowing the judge to better see his body lines, especially so when I clip the feathering off of his legs. Body clipping also made it much easier to keep him clean on a daily basis. Bathing a body clipped horse is a breeze. I also find that stains do not tend to set as strongly when the horse is body clipped.
Clipping for health and performance
Paladin is half Clydesdale and carries a much thicker coat than typical riding horses. His thicker coat can easily lead to overheating during the summer, or overly long cool-out periods during the colder months of the year, which could cause sickness. Some horses and especially ponies that may or may not suffer from metabolic issues such as cushings disease no longer shed their winter coats normally and the act of body clipping can greatly increase their quality of life.
Why I choose to body clip
Early on in Paladins training it became evident that he was going to be a heavy sweater. Despite providing ample warm up, a short working session and plenty of cool down time, his neck, shoulder hip and flank would be soaked. The amount of sweat really did not change between legging up in early spring through his peak fitness during the summer. If he was moving he was sweating. If I left him with a full coat it might take me two to three cooler changes to get him fully dried. For his health and comfort I actively chose to clip him. By doing so, he was more comfortable and happy to work for longer periods of time.
What are the different styles of body clipping and why would one be better than the other?
Depending on the level of work and the natural changing of seasons there are a number of different common clipping patterns that have different pros and cons. Check out these top three most common clips for more information:
For early spring and very late fall I typically put what is known as a trace body clip on him. The trace clip allows his neck, shoulder, belly and flank to dry much more quickly, while still retaining enough hair over his topline and down his sides to offer him natural warmth with the changing weather. This is also an excellent choice for a horse that will be kept in regular light to moderate work throughout the winter. I leave the leg hair from the elbows and stifles down natural, to offer protection from the elements. This clip requires some blanketing maintenance. Though most horses can manage the winter comfortably with just a rain sheet or light weight blanket on the coldest days, it is advisable to have a medium weight blanket and a fitted fleece cooler for layering in case of severe cold.
For late spring and early fall I choose what is called a blanket or quarter body clip. This leaves only the equivalent of a quarter sheet worth of hair over the horses back and rump in full hair while the remaining hair on the neck, shoulders and belly is removed. This is a great transitional clip that will allow his back to remain warm on cooler days. The blanket clip is a great choice for horses in moderate to heavy work through the winter. I may or may not leave the leg hair on from the elbows and the stifles down.
This blanket clip requires that we (humans) manage most of their comfort based on the weather. When keeping a horse in a blanket clip you will likely need a fly sheet, cooler or dress sheet, cotton or nylon sheet, rain sheet and a medium weight turnout and medium weight stable blanket. You can layer as needed with your dress sheet and rain sheet for times when you need to send out a blanket for cleaning or repair.
Full Body Clipping
During the summer months typically from June through Mid-August I will keep Paladin fully body clipped. I like to leave a small patch of un-clipped hair under the saddle area, to help ward off any saddle sores. If you plan on showing in halter or in-hand classes, I suggest not leaving one. In most cases I will also remove the hair from the elbows and stifles down for the cleanest appearance. With this clip you will have to manage all of your horses comfort based on the weather.
The full body clip requires the most maintenance for the health of the horse. When maintaining a full body clip during the summer you will likely need a fly sheet for turnout, cotton dress sheet or nylon dress sheet, rain sheet, and a fitted cooler for transitioning seasons. For winter you should plan on having a fleece cooler, rain sheet, medium weight stable blanket, medium weight turnout blanket, heavy weight stable blanket and heavy weight turnout blanket. The reason for duplicates in turnout and stable blanket weights is that should your horse damage a blanket or you need to have a blanket washed you need to have a backup available for them. In a pinch you can always layer but you need to have enough options on hand to be able to do so.
The blunt truth about body clipping
The decision to clip your horse is one that comes with increased time, cost and added management on the part of caring for your horse. The benefits aside from controlling overheating and cooling out are otherwise mostly aesthetic. The benefits for many will not outweigh the cost if your horse is not in full work or does not have some other health issue that would require clipping to enhance their quality of life.
The blunt truth is that if you choose to remove the horses hair, you must ensure that he is properly blanketed at all times. This means added time spent changing blankets for turnout and stabling. This includes changing blankets on days that are in the 60’s then again when the night drops down to the 30’s. Changing blankets when we have a random 70 degree day in the middle of February and then again that night when we get an Alberta Clipper through. You must learn to keep one eye on the weather and the other on your horse, watching for signs that he is over or under dressed beyond the obvious of whether he is shivering or sweating.
Much of the added cost of clipping comes with the need for extra blankets, blanket cleaning and blanket repair. Layering is certainly an option but you have to have enough options on hand in the event that one of your main blankets fail. If you keep your horse at a boarding facility, be sure to check with the barn manager about extra costs for blanket changes.
The good news is, is that once you are comfortable with the general process of clipping and the more technical aspect of blanketing, the end result of a quality clip is spectacular. You will have a beautiful horse that is easy to groom and easy to cool out and his quality of life may be better because of it!
Happy Horse, Happy Rider thanks to body clipping!