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HORSE SENSE: Let the clipping commence
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HORSE SENSE: Let the clipping commence
on 30 September 2016
In Ireland, horses tend to grow their thicker winter coat from mid-September to mid-October, so now is the time to give your horse their first clip

WE have been experiencing very disturbed weather patterns in recent weeks but one thing that is steadily declining is the daylight hours. Many horse owners may have noticed that their horse’s short, glossy, summer coat is starting to be replaced with longer, thicker hair.

Horses begin to grow their coats when the days get shorter, not necessarily as the temperature drops - this is so that they are well prepared for winter before it arrives. In Ireland, horses tend to grow their thicker winter coat from mid-September to mid-October.

However, horse sports are an annual game - as the eventing season comes to an end the point-to-point season begins, autumn hunting is well underway and many pony club and riding club autumn leagues are taking place all over the country - and thick coats can present problems for owners.

If your horse is in hard, fast work a thick heavy coat can cause distress. Excess sweating leads to weight loss and this can make it difficult to keep your horse in good condition.

It may take longer for your horse to dry off after exercise, leaving them liable to get a chill, and longer coats may also require extra time and labour spent on washing and grooming. The inevitable solution is to clip your horse.

If you would like to read our advice on trimming heels and fetlocks, click here


Coat growth can vary from horse to horse, depending on factors such as breed and whether the horse is stabled or not. These factors and the amount of work you plan to do with your horse during the winter should be considered before you clip.

A well-bred horse that has been rugged and stabled throughout the year is less likely to grow a heavy winter coat. If this horse is not in hard, fast work then there may be no need to clip. Horses and ponies which are grass-kept should be left unclipped to protect them from the weather. If they are in steady work then they may benefit from a trace-clip.

Competition horses and hunters doing more demanding work may require a full clip.


Ideally after your final clip of the year you should have had your blades sharpened and your clippers serviced, if necessary, leaving the equipment ready for next year. Servicing is dependent on the amount the clipper is in use. If you find your clippers are not working as they should have them seen to sooner rather than later to extend their lifetime.

Start by checking the clippers thoroughly. Ensure the power lead is not frayed or damaged as it may cause injury to the operator and horse. It is also very important to check that the air filters on the motor body are clean as this will help extend the lifetime of the clippers.

Assemble your clipping machine by following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Don’t over tighten the blades as you put the machine under extra pressure and this will also shorten the blades life. Once you begin clipping it is recommended to apply blade oil (light oil) every five minutes or when you notice you have to push the clippers through the hair rather than guide it. Plug in the machine and check that it is working correctly. Using a power outlet that has an earth wired in, to protect both operator and horse, is recommended.

Before you start clipping, the horse needs to be clean and dry, with as much grease as possible removed from the coat. The clipper blades will not cut a damp coat - dirty, mucky coats clog the blades and blunt them.

Ideally you should choose a warm, dry day to clip and start as early in the day as possible.

The area where you choose to clip your horse is very important. Good lighting is essential, you will also need something on the floor to prevent the horse from slipping - rubber matting is ideal or a small amount of bedding. Most people choose to clip in a stable.

The person handling the clippers should wear rubber-soled shoes and overalls. If you are clipping a horse for the first time, or your horse is difficult to clip, make sure you wear a hard hat. If you have a difficult horse to clip ideally you should have someone there to hold the horse and help you. The helper should also wear strong boots, a hard hat and gloves.

Some horses don’t like having their heads clipped or may be ticklish - a twitch can be used on the nose to aid in restraining the horse, allowing the clip to be finished quickly and efficiently. Have the twitch to hand before you begin clipping just in case. A very difficult horse may require sedation. This should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon. Sedatives will have to be administered by your vet and the correct timing is very important. Always be aware that a sedated horse can still deliver a kick effectively.

Have rugs or a light sheet ready in case your horse gets cold during the clipping process.


1. Always allow the horse time to become accustomed to the noise of the clippers before you start.

2. Lines can be caused by inconsistent pressure, a dirty horse, use of different clippers that have varying clipper blade lengths, not going directly against the growth of the hair and dull blades. Ensure your horse is clean, your blades are sharp, the clippers are in good working order and make sure you clip against the growth of hair with a firm, even pressure. You could also try putting a rug on your horse for about an hour before you start clipping to encourage the coat to lie flat.

3. Sometimes you can get rid of lines by re-clipping the area, try crisscrossing over the line, with your final swipe going directly against the hair growth. Wipe the line down with a damp towel.

4. One common mistake made when clipping is clipping into the mane hair. This is very frustrating because the mane can take some time to grow back and during this time you will be left with bits of mane sticking up if your horse is plaited. My advice is to plait your horse’s mane quickly, to help keep it out of the way and to help differentiate between mane hair and coat hair, then clip at a slight downward angle away from the mane.

5. If the clipping machine heats up when you’re clipping, stop immediately. Clean the the machine and allow it to cool before continuing. Continuing to clip a horse with over-heated blades could lead to them being difficult to clip again in the future.

6. When clipping ensure the clipper machine cable is not left lying on the ground where the horse might stand on it.

7. Don’t leave all the difficult parts until last. By the end your horse might be getting fed up, so I would advise that once your horse has settled and is relaxed start doing the more difficult areas, like the head and legs. If your horse becomes fidgety then move to an easier area.

8. Hold the skin taut when clipping around the flank and joints. The front legs can be lifted one at a time to avoid nicking skin around the elbow.

9. To hog the horses head and neck, the head should be held low and the mane should be clipped from the withers toward the poll.

10. Be patient. Clipping can be stressful for your horse. Most do not like the sound and are ticklish.


  • Clippers
  • Blades - having a spare set readily available is always a good idea
  • Clipper oil
  • A soft brush to clean the hair off the clippers and to brush away loose hairs from your horse’s body
  • Tail bandage and plaiting bands – I find having the main plaited and the tail bandaged makes clipping around these areas easier
  • Chalk for marking the saddle patch or lines of a trace clip. Some people suggest using saddle soap to mark out lines, I wouldn’t recommend this as it could potentially clog the clippers
  • A twitch to use as a restraint in case your horse becomes unsettled
  • Hay net – if your horse stands quietly you can hang a haynet to keep them occupied
  • Rugs in case your horse gets cold
  • For the handler - hard hat, overalls, strong boots
  • If you are leaving a saddle patch, don’t use a numnah as a template. The patch will be too large, instead put the saddle on without a numnah on and draw around it with the chalk to mark the saddle patch
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