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Horse Clips, Clippers and Clipping

As winter is fast approaching, you may well be thinking whether or not to clip your horse. There are pros and cons to whichever decision you make, and only you will know whether your horse will benefit from clipping or not. Remember that clipping should never be done just to make your horse look prettier, it should only be done to improve your horse's comfort and welfare through the cold, wet weather. A horse living in the wild will grow a thick winter coat to provide himself with the protection he needs from all the cold and wet weather he is likely to encounter. The grease and mud that builds up in the long hair will create a natural barrier helping to keep his skin dry and keep heat in. Domestic horses tend to lead a more sheltered life with warm rugs and snug stables to protect them from the elements. Therefore they tend to grow a less thick coat than their wild cousins but even this amount of hair can cause a problem for the horse owner. Most privately owned horses are used for some form of riding or exercise. This warms the horse more than is normal for him, and the thick coat means he's more likely to sweat. Although this in itself isn't a problem; it is the horse's natural way of cooling itself down, the sweat can cause the horse to become chilled as he cools down in the cold weather. Therefore many owners choose to clip some or all of their horse's coat to prevent them getting too hot during exercise. This does create a problem for the horse though as he now has no natural protection from the colder weather. Artificial coats or rugs are then needed to keep them warm when not exercising. Other benefits from clipping your horse include it being easier to keep your horse clean; meaning you can prevent skin conditions like mud fever as you can keep the skin and hair clean, dry and mud free. The extent to which you decide to clip depends on the amount of exercise the horse does, one that goes for leisurely hacks will often need a small bib or trace clip. Whereas a horse that hunts or is in hard work will be more likely to benefit from a full or hunter clip. Types of Clip
A Bib Clip is suitable for horses used for occasional hacks or in light work. This removes the coat from the underside of the horse's neck and the front of the chest. The clip can be extended to include some or all of the underbelly area. This can be especially useful in muddy conditions as removal of the mud is easier from the shorter coat. As this clip only removes a small amount of the horse's coat, from an area that isn't overly exposed to the weather it can be possible to leave the horse without a rug.
A Trace Clip is a popular clip for horses in light to medium work, who also live out for much of the winter. this clip was originally used for harness horses and followed the lines of the traces of the harness. The clip removes the coat from the underside of the neck and belly, and the upper part of the hind legs. A trace clip can be made higher or lower by adjusting the level to which you clip up to on the horse's side. You must always rug up a horse with this clip as a considerable amount of coat has been removed.
A Blanket Clip is suitable for stabled horses in medium to hard work, most of the coat is removed apart from a small 'blanket' shaped area over the horse's back and flanks. It is usual to keep the clip line level with the bottom of the horse's saddle flaps. Some of the hair from the horse's head can be removed, its usually best to remove up to the level of the cheek pieces of the bridle, alternatively the whole head can be clipped. It is advisable to include a neck cover or hood when rugging up a horse with a blanket clip.
A Hunter Clip is only suitable for horses in hard work, maybe competing or hunting regularly. The whole coat is removed apart from the saddle area and the legs. A horse with this level of clip will need several warm rugs and plenty of feed to help keep him warm in the winter months. Although he is still able to be turned out, it should only be for a few hours each day and with a warm outdoor rug including a hood or neck cover. When exercising, especially on slower hacks, it is recommended that you use an exercise sheet.
A Full Clip is intended for horses in hard, fast work, competition and racehorses or those who hunt several times a week. As so much coat has been removed the horse should only be turned out for brief periods of time on mild, dry days. Even with a heavyweight turnout rug a horse with this type of clip is likely to become cold quickly, as there is minimal hair covering his legs and any exposed part of his body. An exercise rug should be worn for all but the fastest work.
Types of Clipper There are many clippers on the market but they all basically do the same job. Your main considerations when choosing which to buy are how many horses you will be clipping, how often and how thick or coarse your horse's coat is. Mains Clippers - These are perfect for large yards or owners with more than one horse, as they can often complete several clips before needing time to cool. The disadvantage with these though is they can become quite heavy after a prolonged period of time. They are often noisy compared to smaller clippers and their size can make them quite difficult to clip legs and smaller areas. Battery Clippers - You may want to consider a battery operated set of clippers if your horse is nervous or hasn't been clipped before. These tend to be slightly quieter than mains operated clippers and the absence of a lead makes it easier for you to move around and eliminates the risk of your horse standing on the electrical wire. Battery operated clippers do have a limited charge time though so may not be suitable for clips covering a large area or if you want to clip more than one horse. Trimmers - These are perfect for doing smaller, fiddly areas or for tidying lines after completing a clip. They are quieter and smaller than clippers so can also be good for clipping the head and face area. Clipping Your Horse
Clipping itself is not particularly difficult but time and care should be taken so you get a neat clip and do not stress or upset your horse. There are several precautions that you should take though as the process of clipping invariably involves electricity in some form. Always use a circuit breaker and make sure all wires are kept well away from your horse to help prevent accidents and injuries. Alternatively you can use battery operated clippers, these can be especially useful if a horse is nervous of clipping or it is the first time he has been clipped.
Here are a few checks to make before you begin to clip
  1. Make sure that your blades are sharp and are adjusted correctly to ensure an even clip
  2. Thoroughly brush or ideally bath your horse to ensure the coat is clean and free of any mud which may clog the clippers
  3. Have a clean rug ready to put on your horse once he's clipped
  4. Arrange for a helper to assist you, they may need to hold the horse still or support a leg whilst clipping round the elbow
  5. Use chalk to mark the lines you need to clip to, for a Hunter Clip, place your horse's regular numnah on his saddle area and draw round it to achieve an accurate shape to clip round.
  6. Have a haynet handy in case your horse gets bored when you are clipping his body - don't tie this up straight away though as your horse won't keep his head still whilst clipping his neck and the hay will also get covered in hair.
  7. Bandage the horse's tail to keep it out of your way and so you don't accidentally clip any tail hair.
  8. If using mains operated clippers ALWAYS use a circuit breaker attached straight into the plug socket
How To Clip I'd always advise wearing overalls whilst clipping, this will prevent you getting too much hair on you which can be extremely itchy and irritating to the skin. Always introduce the clippers to a horse slowly, even if he has been clipped several times before. With the clippers switched off allow the horse to look at and sniff the clippers, switch the clippers on and allow the horse time to become accustomed to the noise. Again, allow the horse to sniff and approach the clippers with his nose, preventing him from actually touching the moving blades. Once your horse seems comfortable and relaxed about the noise you can move the clippers slowly towards his body. If he appears agitated at any point, stop and wait for him to relax again. With the clippers running, place the hand holding them against the horse's shoulder, he will then feel the vibration from the clippers through your hand. If he appears to not mind this sensation you can then proceed to clipping. Always clip in long lines, going against the hair growth, the horse's skin needs to be taut to avoid dragging of the blades and potential cutting of the skin. Ask your assistant to move your horse's head slightly away from you when clipping his neck as this will prevent any wrinkles in the skin, alternatively you can place your free hand further down the area you are currently clipping and slightly pull the skin downwards. This will also tauten the skin and aid you to clip more easily. Always slightly overlap each line you are clipping to avoid track lines from the clippers, try to keep the blades parallel to the skin with an even, light pressure against your horse's body. Regularly brush excess hairs from the clipper blades and air vents during clipping, ensure you switch the clippers off whilst you do this. Switch the clippers off at regular intervals to allow them to cool slightly and also apply clipper oil to keep the blades lubricated.  When clipping along the mane area, ensure all the mane is on the opposite side of your horse's neck and clip with the blade angled slightly away from the mane to avoid clipping any unwanted hair. When clipping around the horse's front legs ask your helper to hold his leg up and slightly in front of him this will help to keep the skin tight and allow you to access the area with your clippers more easily. Take care though that your horse does not pull his leg down again as you may be in the way and could get kicked. Also ensure that any loose hair is swept up from the floor surrounding you and your horse as it can be very slippy. Tidy up any stray hairs with trimmers and check that any clipped lines are level and straight. Once your clip is complete, groom your horse with a soft body brush to remove any stray hair and put on a suitable rug depending on the weather and level of clip. Sweep the area thoroughly and place the loose hair on your muckheap. Remove all hair from your clippers paying particular attention to any air vents and between the blades. Wash the blades in a suitable solution and check for any broken teeth or blunting of blades. Package the blades carefully if they need to be sharpened or oil them thoroughly and replace onto the clippers if sharpening isn't required. Clipping will need to be repeated every 6 to 8 weeks throughout the winter months depending on the level of hair growth, try to do your last clip no later than a few weeks into January otherwise you can affect the new summer coat that is starting to grow. As long as you take your time and don't rush you should encounter no problems from your horse throughout the clipping process. Subsequent clips should be easier and less time consuming as the hair will be less thick and you can follow the lines created with your first clip. Remember to rug your horse well especially if he has a significant amount of hair removed and keep checking that he is not cold by feeling the base of his ears. If these appear cold regularly you may need to consider adding an extra rug or a less severe clip next time. For further information about clipping and trimming your horse, we'd recommend the Threshold Picture Guide #2: 'Trimming and Clipping' or the Allen Photographic Guide #1: 'Clipping'.

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