As with many animals, horses grow a thicker coat in winter. The thickness of the winter coat varies depending on the breed of horse or pony and whether they are stabled or turned out in the field during the colder weather. This thicker coat can cause horses to overheat and sweat during exercise and owners often clip their horses to prevent this.
Clipping problems – how to deal with them
Excessive sweating can cause a horse to lose condition, and a horse with a thick coat may become chilled when drying off after exercise. Clipping your horse will prevent it from getting too hot during exercise, overheating or becoming chilled while waiting to dry in cold weather. Some horses are also clipped to make grooming easier or to make the horse look smarter.
There are many types of clip, where varying amounts of the coat is removed. Some types are more suitable for horses in light exercise, whilst some are more suitable for horses with thick coats which are exercised more heavily.
Horses often do not like the sound or the feel of the vibrating clippers on their body, particularly when sensitive areas around the head, ears and belly are being clipped. The blades of the clippers may be cold when clipping is first started, they may also become hot during clipping and the cold/hot sensation on the horse’s body may be unpleasant.
The horse is naturally a prey species and shows the instinctive ‘flight’ response to a threatening stimulus. In the confines of a stable, a startled horse may attempt to escape from a stimulus they perceive as threatening, but when unsuccessful, may attempt to ‘fight’ the threat, eg by kicking out. It is important for handlers to wear a hard hat, especially when clipping a nervous horse.
The following advice for clipping a problem horse should also be followed for a horse that has never been clipped before. This should ensure that clipping is not an unpleasant experience for them and should reduce potential clipping problems in the future.
Build up to clipping
It is important to familiarise the horse with the clippers in advance to ensure the clipping process is as smooth and as pleasant for the horse as possible. Only when a horse is relaxed with one step of the familiarisation process should the next step begin:
- Horses may learn to associate the sight of clippers with the unpleasant experience of clipping, therefore, they should be allowed to see and investigate the clippers when they are turned off.
- Only when no signs of fear at the sight of the clippers are shown should the horse be familiarised with the sound of them. Familiarisation with the sound of the clippers should be carried out when the horse is relaxed or otherwise occupied, eg when feeding or when being groomed. This can be carried out using the clippers themselves, or by making a tape recording of the sound. Using a tape recording has the advantage of allowing the volume to be gradually increased.
- The clippers or tape recorder can gradually be moved closer to the horse. The horse should always be reassured throughout and rewarded for being calm. The clippers themselves can then be moved close to the horse’s body while a hand or brush is run across the body.
- Again, only when the horse is relaxed with the sound of the clippers should they be familiarised with the feel of the clippers on their body. While the clippers are switched off, run them along the horse’s body, using the same amount of pressure that would be applied during clipping. This should initially be done with the less sensitive areas such as the neck, the base of the neck and the horse’s sides, only moving slowly up the neck towards the head when the horse is relaxed.
- The clippers can then be switched on and held against the horse’s body to allow the horse to get used to the vibration of the clippers.
It is vital that this familiarisation process is done gradually and calmly. When a horse is relaxed, it is important to resist the temptation to miss out a stage of the process or to rush things, as this can end up making the initial problem worse.
Horses tend only to be clipped during a few months of the year and may only be clipped two or three times within that period. This can often mean having to familiarise the horse with the process of clipping each year.
It is important to have a good set of clippers. Some brands of clippers make more noise than others, so clippers that make as little noise as possible should be used, particularly when dealing with a nervous horse. The clipper blades should be sharp making clipping easier, quicker and more comfortable for the horse; blunt blades will pull your horse’s hair which will be very uncomfortable and painful.
It is important to use a stable that is familiar to your horse, where the horse is relaxed and with handlers that the horse is familiar with. Having familiar horses within sight may also help. Horses are very sensitive to changes in human behaviour and are often able to detect when something eventful or unpleasant is going to happen, it is therefore important to be as calm and relaxed as possible.
Only when the horse is completely relaxed with the sight, sound and feel of the clippers should clipping begin.
Using a bridle rather than a head collar allows more control over the horse and holding up one of the horse’s legs can also help to keep your horse standing still; however, if your horse really does not want to be clipped, this is not a very useful approach. Twitching or sedation are alternative options.
Some horses do not like being twitched. Twitching is not a suitable method to use during the whole clip.
Certain sedatives have side-effects making them unsuitable for use when clipping horses. Some may be too short acting for the whole clip to be carried out (although two people could clip the horse at the same time, one on each side); others may cause the horse to sweat or shiver. As well as the expense of sedation, a sedated horse may stumble, creating a potentially dangerous situation for the handlers within the confines of the stable. Veterinary advice must be sought in order to ensure horse and owner safety when considering the use of sedatives.
Whilst these options may address the immediate problem, the horse does not learn that clipping is not something to be feared and the same action will have to be taken each time the horse is clipped.
- If you are inexperienced at clipping a horse ask someone more experienced, especially if your horse is nervous or if he has never been clipped before.
- If your horse does not like being clipped you may be tempted to have two or three handlers available to hold your horse if he becomes nervous; however, if your horse is not used to lots of people in his stable this may make the horse even more nervous!
- Your horse should only be clipped when you have plenty of time. Rushing clipping could make matters worse and may even unnerve a horse that is usually calm while being clipped.
It is important to remember that clipping a horse leaves it vulnerable to the cold weather and they must be provided with extra protection in the form of rugs, stable bandages or extra shelter.