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Should I clip my horse? Clipping, full shag or something in between – what’s the best option for you & your horse? And how do you know?
Feed. Leg protection. Bits. Blankets. Should I clip my horse?
All topics guaranteed to start a popcorn-needing drama fest on equestrian forums all over the internet. At times, it feels like each discipline, breed group, region, and subset have their own supposedly ironclad rationale for their particular flavor of horse management.
Unfortunately, all that disagreement stems from the truth that there is no single correct answer. Without an objective metric for determining whether or not I should clip my horse, I’m left to do my own research and decide for myself!
My Clipping Choices
Often, our background feeds our baseline opinions on horse management choices like clipping and I’m no exception. I don’t remember clipping much as a kid, except to trim ears and muzzle and legs. But, I had the good fortunate to grow up in coastal Carolina where we regularly rode our new Christmas bikes outside (sometimes in shorts) on Christmas Day. My first exposure to the full body clip came when I was working as a groom. The show horses were clipped to prepare for heading to Florida for the season and the school horses were given a hunt clip for quicker post-lesson grooming. My tolerance for shenanigans (I was just happy to be working with horses) meant that I became the go-to girl for body clips, happily spending quiet evenings alone in the barn with the whir of clippers and horse hair in my nose.
Now, as an adult amateur with one horse, I’m more judicious in my clipping application. Elf happens to get as hairy as comic strip ponies so heavy work during the winter means clipping or an hour+ wait for him to dry before being blanketed and put away. This winter, I clipped in late September while Texas was still enjoying 80+ degree days but let his coat grow in over December and January in Kentucky. Colder temps, less work, and more turnout meant that a quicker drying time and cooler working temp simply weren’t high priorities. Now that the temps are beginning their spring see-saw and we’re back to working three times a week, a full body clip means a more enthusiastic and forward horse.
Factors to Consider
The answer is that it depends. It depends on your horse, your weather, the workload, and the stabling situation. It also depends on your ability to adjust blankets and ensure your horse is out of the weather.
How cold does your winter get? If you are dealing with considerable wet and snow, leaving your horse some hair is probably a good idea. Rocking Texas or Florida? A clip of some kind is probably in order if your horse is doing much work. My rule of thumb is that I like to leave the hair on their legs unless I have a compelling reason not too. If they’re going to be out in the rain, I want them to be comfortable with a no fill sheet on with average for the area temps.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. If you might ride 3-5 times a month, leaving your horse with the insulation nature provided is probably a good idea. If you’re riding several times a week and having to wrestle mud out of their belly hair, clipping should be on the table. Working hard enough to sweat through your saddle pad? Consider at least a partial clip. For me, I let my horse’s comfort be a major component of my decision. If I feel like his getting hot is impacting his ability to work hard during our rides (and I’m out of shape so it would really have to impact him), then I’m going to look at ways to keep him cooler.
Stabling the Clipped Horse
There is such a huge range of stabling options that it has to be part of the decision-making process. A fully body clipped horse will need shelter during severe or inclement weather. Wet weather will impact them more. Horses that are field boarded may be more comfortable with one of many partial clip options – removing enough hair at the neck, chest, and flank to stay comfortable but leaving plenty of protection from the elements!
Clipping helps The Rider
I clip partially because it makes Elf a happier worker bee. But, a major factor is convenience for me. Getting real for a minute, it’s hard to carve out the time to ride consistently. My barn is 30 minutes away. Riding time, work, housework, errands and meals are squeezed between school drop off, pick up and after school activities. And that’s okay – it’s the season of life that we’re in.
But that saddle time is something that I need. It’s my spot to reconnect, get grounded and recharge. I have to look for ways to help fit riding into my life. It’s part of why I’ve worked to build a career with a flexible schedule. I drive a truck that can pull a trailer. I pay extra to board at a facility that can handle the day to day care like blanket changes so that I can use my available time for riding.
The reality is that my typical two hour time frame isn’t enough to clean off the winter mud, ride, cool out a sweaty Elf, dry and thoroughly groom. I’d be limited to maybe one weekday and 1 weekend day – as long as the rest of my schedule cooperated. That’s exactly what I’ve done between moving to Kentucky at the end of October and early February.
It wasn’t enough. Not enough ride time, not enough making myself a priority, not enough sanity to keep me in a good place for the rest of the things that I need to do. So, last weekend I clipped Elf. Then I rode 3 days in a row without neglecting the rest of my to-do list. And I felt better.
Should I Clip My Horse?
Let’s look at it this way. Can you answer yes to (most of) these questions:
- Is your horse getting sweaty enough during your rides that you have to plan for drying time?
- Does your horse have shelter during inclement weather?
- Is your horse in good weight?
- Is someone (you, barn staff, etc) able to change blankets to suit shifting weather conditions?
If you’re answering yes, then clipping is worth considering. If it will make it possible for you to get out to the barn more or if it will make your horse more comfortable – go for it.
Now, let’s look at the flip side. If you answered no to more than 1 or 2 of those questions, clipping might not be the best idea. When your horse isn’t working hard enough to sweat and need the drying time, save the clipping and enjoy not needing to worry about all blanket changes!
Do you clip your horse? Have more questions about clipping?