The Savvy Station

Why are Horses Clipped?

by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Apr 19, 2023

Why are Horses Clipped?

If your horse has a thick winter coat and you ride all winter, you have probably considered clipping. Horses grow thick winter coats naturally in response to temperatures dropping and days getting shorter. This provides protection from the cold and winter elements. However, if you ride your horse during the winter, a thick winter coat can be a challenge. When your horse is exercised, a thick coat can make them sweat. A wet coat and cooler temperatures can make it hard for your horse to stay warm.

This is the most common reason horse owners clip their horses, but not the only one. Clipping can be beneficial for some horses and detrimental for others. It is important to know the pros and cons of clipping your horse before moving forward. Once you've made a decision to clip, we've covered some of the best ways to introduce your horse to clippers using the retreat and re-approach method.

The Pros of Clipping Your Horse

Clipping is a practical management method for many horse owners. Here are a few reasons you might consider clipping your horse this year:

Regulating Body Temperature – for high intensity exercise

As we mentioned, most horse owners find clipping helps regulate their horse's body temperature if they have an intensive riding or competition schedule in the winter. A thick winter coat means more sweat, which quickly cools your horse. Clipping a horse's winter coat will minimize sweat and allows the horse to be dried off faster after a workout. Many horse owners will use a cooler or quarter sheet during warm up and cool down to help keep the horse's muscles warm as they don't have long hair to protect them.

Clipping Minimizes Grooming Time

The more hair, the more time it takes to groom. Clipping naturally reduces the grooming time needed compared to unclipped horses. With less hair, mud and dirt can easily be brushed off the horse's coat.

Cushing’s Disease

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, formerly known as Cushing's Disease, is an endocrine disorder. This disorder disrupts hormones, weight, and changes in coat. Many horses with Cushing's Disease will grow a very dense coat and are unable to shed it out in the Spring. For many horse owners, this is the first indicator of an issue, prompting a call to the veterinarian for bloodwork.

Should You Clip Your Horse?

While there are lots of benefits of clipping, it is not for every horse or horse owner. Here are some important questions to ask yourself before clipping your horse:

Does your horse live outside in the winter?

Nature provides your horse with the winter coat he needs during the winter season to protect them from cold, rain, and snow. If your horse is outside during the winter months, you shouldn't clip their coat.

Is your horse a senior?

Senior horses often have a harder time in the winter. Some older horses will drop weight and have a hard time regulating their body temperature. The natural winter coat gives them additional protection since they are more prone to the cold than younger horses.

Are they active in the winter?

While some horse owners ride all winter long, others spend less time in the saddle when it's cold. If your horse isn't ridden intensively in the winter, you may want to leave their natural coat.

How to Prepare Your Horse for Clipping

Clipping can be a confidence issue for many horses. Clippers make loud noises and feel strange on their skin. It is important to invest time playing the Friendly Game long before you think about doing a full body clip.

Bathe Your Horse

Your horse should be clean and dry before clipping. This will keep your clipper blades sharper and ensure a smoother clip. Many horse owners bathe the night before to make sure their horse has enough time to dry before clipping. Whether you are doing a blanket clip, hunter clip, trace clip, or low trace clip, chalk can be used to mark the area on your horse. This keeps your lines cleaner as you clip.

Prepare Your Clipping Area

Pick your clipping area carefully. You also need a safe, well lit area, away from the wind. We always suggest feeding your horse immediately before clipping. Clipping can be a long process, sometimes 3-4 hours for a full body clip and your horse will get hungry.

Gather all your tools before getting your horse. We recommend a cooler, brush, and braiding bands or clips to keep the mane out of the way. Make sure your clipper cord is long enough and place the clipper oil and cooling spray in a location for easy access to keep your blades lubricated and prevent overheating.

Building Your Horse’s Confidence for Clipping

We recommend using the Parelli Friendly Game qualities of rhythm, relaxation and retreat and re-approach for building your horse’s confidence as you prepare to clip. When a horse loses confidence, it is important to retreat (back off, move away, etc.) from the threshold, obstacle, or objective. Retreating does not come naturally to people because we are predators. But as we learn to become partners through the Parelli Program, clipping can become part of our confidence building program, not just a task to get completed. 

Pat recommends buying a $5 hand held massager and teaching your horse to enjoy the feel and acclimate to the noise they make prior to ever trying to touch your horse with clippers.  The feel and approach you offer your horse when coming up to them with a massager is often softer, slower and more friendly than when you come at them with a tool to get a job done.  Our goal as partners is to manage and adjust our body language so that we are offering a friendly approach at all times, and investing time massaging your horse can help with this. 

Fear can quickly intensify when you approach and is reduced when you retreat. If you can prevent the loss of confidence which is the first phase of fear, you can reduce fear.

So, when should you retreat?

If your horse hesitates, shows tension in his body language or breathing, or has any type of trouble with a maneuver or obstacle, retreat. You'll notice your horse gets calmer when you retreat. If you push your horse over their confidence threshold, they will become less and less confident. By using the retreat and re-approach method, your horse will grow more and more confident until their fear threshold disappears entirely.

Here at Parelli, we believe in putting the relationship first.  Building your horse’s confidence is way more important that getting the task or the job done.  Take the time it takes to build a positive pattern of confidence and curiosity with your clippers until it becomes a natural part of your partnership. 

For more information or to take your education to the next level, check out our Clipping with Pat Parelli DVD

Is Clipping Right for Your Horse?

Clipping can be an intimidating process, especially if you are new to horses. Before you start clipping, ask yourself if this is the right choice for you and your horse. If the answer is, yes, consider asking a Licensed Parelli Professional to help you when you first start clipping. Make sure to take the time to prepare your horse first and use the Friendly Game to build confidence and partnership behavior.

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