Clipping Your Horse

As we move into autumn and the days shorten, you will notice that your horse will start to loose the short, soft, summer coat, which will be replaced by a coarser, longer, winter coat. Obviously, your horse is preparing for the extreme winter months, however if you intend to work and/or compete through these cold months, then you may wish to consider clipping your horse.

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Your decision whether to clip, or not to clip, or what type of clip, should be based on a number of factors:

Exercise. Think about the type of exercise your horse will be doing over winter … resting, light, infrequent, regular, moderate, heavy, competition conditioning. If your horse is resting or will only get light and/or infrequent exercise then it would be best to leave his wooly coat alone. Light to moderate and/or frequent work may require a conservative to moderate clip. Heavy conditioning work and competition may require a more extreme clip.

1132 thmEnvironment. Other critical factors will be your climate and how your horse is managed over winter. If your horse is paddock-kept and your winters are cold then you should think carefully and either NOT clip or only use a conservative clip. If your horse is stabled for part of the day then you may consider a moderate clip. However, if you live in an extremely cold climate, be cautious.

Coat. If your horse grows a very heavy, long winter coat it will cause excessive sweating even with short periods of exercise. This can lead to a loss of condition as well as longer drying times in winter, which could lead to a number of health problems. Again, you must combine this information with the environmental and exercise factors before you can make a decision.

Care. If you decide to clip your horse you must be prepared to rug and groom appropriately. You must also ensure that someone will be checking your horse at least twice a day so as to fix any rug mishaps.

The majority of horses are clipped for health related issues such as releasing excess heat from some of the densest areas of muscle mass as well as the speed of drying for difficult areas such as bellies. For this reason you will find that many of the clips follow the outline of muscles zones on the shoulder, chest and hindquarters. On the other hand, the Full clip is mainly used for the aesthetics values of showing and presentation.

If you make the decision to clip, the following information will help you to achieve a successful result for you and your horse.

When to Clip

Your initial clip would be during Autumn/Fall when your horse’s coat starts to respond to the shortening days by shedding its summer coat and growing its winter coat. In the Northern Hemisphere Fall is September/October/November, and in the Southern Hemisphere Autumn is March/April/May. So people in the Northern Hemisphere would start to clip around late September and if they are competing throughout winter and early Spring they may clip again mid to late November. While in the Southern Hemisphere they would clip late March and again in mid to late May depending on their competition schedule.

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The most important thing to remember is that you should NOT clip after the winter solstice.

The day that has the shortest daylight hours of the year, when the sun is at its lowest elevation on the horizon. After the solstice daylight hours start to increase as we move into Spring. In the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice is December 21 or 22 each year and in the Southern Hemisphere it is June 20 or 21.

Once the days start getting longer your horse will start growing a Spring coat, which should NOT be clipped, as it will interfere with the quality of the Summer coat.

Training your Horse

Chances are your horse has never been exposed to large, heavy-duty body clippers… if this is the case, or you’re not sure, you will need to do some preparatory training.

Find a safe place to introduce your horse to clippers, preferably it will be the same place that you intend to use when you start clipping. I prefer to have horses untied when introducing them to any new equipment or procedures. Always use a long training lead (at least 10ft) and never wrap it around your hand or hold it in the centre of a loop.

Make sure your own body language is calm and non-threatening.

Show your horse the clippers while they are turned OFF, then gently rub your horse with the clippers along the neck, barrel, belly and quarters. Remember to do this on both the near-side and off-side until the horse is completely comfortable.

While standing a little away from your horse turn the clippers ON. Let your horse get use to the sound. Do this until your horse is comfortable and relaxed.

Now let your horse feel the clipper’s vibration on his body. Do not clip at this point, just gently run the body of the clippers over the neck, barrel, belly and quarters.

If your horse objects to a particular part of his body being touched, go back to an area that he didn’t mind. As soon as he relaxes (drops his poll even a little) turn the clippers off. You can use verbal reassurance, gentle stroking as well as a treat reward if you prefer. A hay net can also be a useful aid when you want to keep your horse calm. 

Repeat by turning the clippers on and proceeding to touch with the vibrating clippers starting at the neck. Again, if your horse becomes anxious repeat the previous step.

Don’t rush or become frustrated. Expect to repeat this daily until you are happy with your horse’s responses. Also, know when to stop for the day and always stop on a positive note. 

Some horses will accept the clippers quickly and others won’t, however with patience and following a process that uses small steps to build your horse’s confidence you can avoid the need for sedation as well as creating a safer environment for you and your horse.

If you opt for sedation, please discuss the options with your veterinarian. Clipping takes some time therefore sedation would need to be appropriately administered. Sedation over a long period of time has its own health risks.

Pre-clip Preparation

One of the most important things you must do before clipping your horse is to thoroughly clean the coat of dirt and grease. This means lots of suds and it may mean having to wash your horse twice. You may need to keep your horse tied up to dry so as to stop him rolling in the paddock.

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A clean coat will allow the clippers to pass through with little effort whereas a dirty coat will clog the blades and make them blunt after only a couple of passes.

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While you’re waiting for your horse to dry, you can plait the mane and tail. This is not essential, but it will keep the mane out of the way, and if you bandage the tail as well you will avoid snagging the clippers on the tail or accidentally cutting off tail hair.

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When your horse is dry, you can mark out your selected clip with chalk.

We would suggest that you wear overalls to stop being covered in hair and a helmet to protect your head (just in case).

Always have a rug on hand as your horse will feel an instant drop in temperature once you start clipping.

Have a dry, rolled up towel to wipe off the remaining hair fibers before you put the rugs on. 

Note: If you are doing a Hunter clip, mark around the outline of the saddle NOT the numnah. If you are leaving half a head put the bridle on and mark the correct position of the cheek pieces. All clips, except for the ‘Full’ clip, leave the leg hair on for warmth and comfort. To do this you should mark out an inverted V at the top of the front legs and a line above the hind legs, which goes up to the stifle.  If your clip goes over the rump mark out an inverted V above the tail.

Types of Clips

The various clip types range from conservative to extreme depending on the amount of hair that is removed. Conservative clips are more suitable for paddock-kept horses, while moderate and extreme clips should only be used for stabled horses. Just because your horse is stabled does not mean you should remove more hair. Always consider the amount and frequency of the horse’s workload during winter.

No matter what type of clip you use or how your horse is housed your horse will need additional rugging. The more hair you take off the more rugs you have to put on.

If your horse has never been clipped before, lives outside, feels the cold or you are unsure which clip to use, select a conservative clip.

Neck and Belly (also called a Bib)

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This clip removes the hair from the underside of the neck and the chest, as well as the belly. It is a good clip for horses living outside and may be used for light or infrequent work.


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The more traditional Bib clip just removes the hair on the underside of the neck as well as the chest, but leaves the belly. Again this is a conservative clip for horses living outside or not doing a lot of work.


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This is an extension of the Bib clip, where more hair is taken off between the legs and through to the girth line. Hair is also taken off the top of the front legs to join the neck, chest and girth line.


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This is an extension of the Neck and Belly clip, where a sweeping triangular line extends from the neck through to the belly. Still a good clip for horses doing more work, but may be living or spending a lot of time outside.

Low Trace

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You guessed it, this clip was originally used for horses in harness, so it followed the line of the traces. Today it is popular for horses that sweat easily but aren’t doing a lot of work or competing, and it is appropriate for paddock-kept horses.

The clip removes hair from the underside of the neck, chest, the top of and between the front legs, belly, lower barrel and across the lower quarters. If you place a saddle on your horse the line should be about a spread hand (ladies approximately 16cm) below the bottom of the saddle flap. This will vary depending on the size of your horse. Chalking your clip pattern will be the best guide.

Medium Trace

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This clip takes more hair off the neck, barrel and quarters. The line should be just below the bottom of the saddle flap. Sometimes people include a half head or full head clip, however your horse will definitely need stabling as your horse will loose too much heat. Even if you leave the head hair on it would be advisable to provide a paddock shelter and in extreme climates this clip would mean stabling at night.

Half Head: If you want a half-head clip put your horse’s bridle on and draw a line down the head, just below the cheek pieces.

The medium-trace clip (with head hair left on) would be classified as a moderate clip. All the following clips would be classified as ‘extreme’, which require the horse to be stabled and adequately rugged.

High Trace

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The line of the trace will be about a ‘closed hand’ width above the bottom of the saddle flap. This clip also includes a half-head clip. Only horses that are fully stabled with only a couple of hours per day of paddock time should have this clip.

The more hair you take off the harder it will be for your horse to maintain his temperature. Stabling and lots of rugs are essential.

Half Head: If you want a half-head clip put your horse’s bridle on and draw a line down the head, just below the cheek pieces.

The Chaser

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Originally this clip was used for steeplechase horses, which means that it is for horses in heavy work and competition. This clip is similar to the High Trace clip with more of the neck hair taken up to a point just behind the ears. This means that hair is left on the top of the neck so that these muscles are kept warm. A full-face clip is usually incorporated.

Stabling and lots of rugs are essential.

Full Face: Take great care when clipping out your horses head. The head is basically skin pulled over bone therefore your clippers can hurt your horse. Use smaller, lighter clippers rather than your body clippers. The hair inside your horse’s ears should be left alone… only trim the tufts that stick out from the ear line. Ear hair protects the horse from insects, foreign objects and drafts… leave it alone. Do not trim the hairs around the eyes. Trimming muzzles is optional.

The Blanket

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All hair is removed except for a blanket that starts mid-withers and extends over the hindquarters. The head is either a full or half clip however some people leave the head alone. The line of the clip can vary from the bottom of the saddle flap or approximately 12cm above the bottom of the flap. This clip is for horses in moderate to heavy work and competition.

Stabling and lots of rugs are essential.

Half Head: If you want a half-head clip put your horse’s bridle on and draw a line down the head, just below the cheek pieces.

Full Face: Take great care when clipping out your horses head. The head is basically skin pulled over bone therefore your clippers can hurt your horse. Use smaller, lighter clippers rather than your body clippers. The hair inside your horse’s ears should be left alone… only trim the tufts that stick out from the ear line. Ear hair protects the horse from insects, foreign objects and drafts… leave it alone. Do not trim the hairs around the eyes. Trimming muzzles is optional.

The Hunter

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The Hunter clip only leaves the saddle area, a V above the tail and the horses legs. When drawing your line put your saddle on without a numnah or saddle blanket and chalk around the saddle. This is an extreme clip and should only be considered for horses that are in heavy work, competing and/or hunting regularly.

Stabling and lots of rugs are essential. An exercise blanket will also be required.


Everything goes! This is the only clip that removes the horse’s leg hair, so all that is left is the mane, forelock, tail and a V above the tail. Needless to say, this is an extreme clip and your horse’s legs will need to be kept warm. 

Stabling and lots of rugs (including leg covers) are essential. An exercise blanket will also be required.

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If you are new to clipping, start somewhere that’s less obvious, such as the belly. When you are comfortable with the clippers and the long runs, move to the shoulder and up the neck and then to the body.

Always hold the clipper blades flat on your horse and clip against the direction of the hair. Never press too hard.

Clip with long continuous strokes, overlapping each stroke to avoid lines between runs. If you do end up with lines, clip at right angles to clean them up.

When you are clipping difficult spots such as behind the elbow, your assistant can pull the horse’s leg forward to stretch the skin. This will avoid nicking the skin

Do not use body clippers on sensitive areas such as the face, ears and muzzle. Small, light-weight trimmers will be quieter and more maneuverable for difficult spots. Again, clip against the hair starting under the chin and moving up to the neck.

Watch the videos below to help with your technique.

Types of Clippers

As a rule of thumb, the body of a horse will require heavy duty, powerful body clippers, and if you have more than one horse this will be essential. The more powerful the clippers, the easier and quicker the job will become.

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Most quality brands will offer a selection of blades ranging from fine to medium and course cut blades. Several also offer battery packs that can be handy when you need a portable unit.

Heads, ears and whiskers will need a smaller trimmer, which will not only be kinder to your horse but also more effective for those difficult areas.

Purchasing a clipping set comprising of heavy-duty body clipper, lighter trimming clipper as well as a selection of blades is not a cheap purchase, so do your homework. Speak to experienced people, your saddlery as well as manufacturers’ ‘help lines’, before making your purchase.

Alternatively, you may decide that you would rather employ an experienced person to clip your horse rather than outlay the funds.


If your clippers are mains powered, you should ensure that your power box has a circuit breaker installed. This is a basic safety measure when you are using any electrical appliance around horses. If you do not have a permanent, fixed circuit breaker installed then you can purchase a portable unit that can plug into the power point before you plug in the clippers. Make sure you purchase the best with the maximum rating… it may just save you and your horse’s life.

Even with a circuit breaker you should always be mindful of the proximity of electrical leads to your horses hooves as well as water. Ideally, you should try to keep all leads off the ground.

Don’t try to clip alone… ask a person with good horse handling skills to assist you. They can help you to keep your horse calm, lift a leg if needed and stretch skin wherever folds occur, which will minimize the risk of nicking the skin.

Horse Clipping Videos: