Why you should shave your horse’s coat at winter
- Credit: Bob Atkins
Editor-in-chief at Horse&Rider magazine, which is based in Grayshott, Alison Bridge brings us all the latest from the Surrey horse world...
There’s a whiff of autumn in the air, and whilst most normal people are thinking about warmer clothes, we equestrian types are planning to shave our horses’ coats off. Crazy? Not when you know why.
As the days get shorter, horses start to grow longer, thicker hair. In the wild, this would protect them from the weather, but as most owners keep riding their horses through the colder months, this means that horses tend to sweat. And a sweaty horse is an itchy, uncomfortable one, as anyone who has had a horse use them as a scratching post can testify.
So we clip our horses to keep them comfortable, and put rugs of varying thicknesses on to keep them warm when they’re not being exercised. Hence the horses in coats and even hoods you have probably seen populating Surrey’s fields in autumn and winter.
There are various types of clip from which to choose, ranging from a very minimal bib clip that just takes hair off the horse’s chest, through a design that looks like the horse has a furry blanket over his back, to an all-over short back and sides.
Whichever you decide on, clipping a horse is quite an art. Even if the horse stands still, getting a smooth finish on an undulating surface – i.e the horse’s body – is a challenge. In fact, most people’s first attempt looks like they’ve been at it with a knife and fork.
If the horse doesn’t stand quietly for clipping, the challenge is increased further. My cob, Harry, is not keen on the process, twiddling around, stamping, tossing his head and generally acting like a delinquent. Most embarrassing.
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But Harry definitely needs clipping as I tend to do quite a lot of fast work in winter and he has a very thick coat. He also grows a luxuriant beard and moustache – he’s a bit of a Hoxton hipster at heart – so I call in the help of a professional local groom, Tina Small. She makes a beautiful job of clipping him, transforming him from hairy hipster to smart smoothie in about 40 minutes, and everyone is happy.
Tina looks after all the horses at an up-and-coming dressage rider’s yard in Thursley, and we recently persuaded her to show us the secrets of her brilliant clipping technique for an article in the October issue of Horse&Rider. Here’s a few of the things we learned...
First, you need to make sure your clippers are set up to suit your horse. “It’s important to choose the right blades – from fine, coarse or medium,” says Tina. “So a thick-and-fluffy-coated cob will need coarse blades, a silky-coated thoroughbred will require fine ones and an average horse will be best with medium blades. If your horse is easily rubbed, avoid using fine blades – the closer the clip, the less protection from rubs.”
Next, you need to tension your blades and oil them, repeating periodically during clipping. Then get going! Tina advises: “Clip against the lie of the coat in long, sweeping strokes when possible. Avoid tramlines by keeping an even pressure – let the clippers move through the coat rather than pushing them along. Also, clip into the path made by the previous sweep by about a third.”
Some horses move about to start off with, especially nervous ones, but there’s a handy trick that can help. “Keep the clippers in contact with the horse’s body all the time – taking them off and on again can upset him,” explains Tina. “Whorls and changes in coat direction can be clipped neatly by moving your clippers in different directions. And be sure to pull loose skin taut and flat before you clip it to avoid any nicks.”
Using rechargeable cordless clippers can make the job a lot easier and safer, but if you do use clippers with a cord, don’t clip in a wet area, use a circuit-breaker and extension lead, and keep the cord well away from the horse’s hooves.
If you’re in doubt about clipping your horse, it’s best to ask a professional to help you. It can be tricky and even dangerous if a horse gets really upset. Some people even use a little sedative before clipping difficult horses, which you can discuss with your vet.
In any event, a clipping expert will make the whole experience more pleasant for you and your horse if you’re new to the game, and therefore more likely to be easier in the future.
Horse&Rider is the UK’s best selling monthly equestrian magazine (see horseandrideruk.com). For a special £10 discount on Horse&Rider subscriptions for Surrey Life readers, call 0844 499 1766 and quote SLHRS.