Do I need to clip my horse in the winter?
To clip or not to clip - it’s that time of year to decide what works best for your horse's health (YES, HEALTH) and your grooming routine. Every horse and climate and exercise level and grooming style will play a factor, it’s up to you as the owner and groom to decide what’s best for your horse. Be warned that BEST does not always equal NATURAL. (More on that topic here)
I’m not a huge fan of saying “never do this or always do that”, it rarely has a place in the care and grooming of horses. What does have a place is taking many factors into account, and maybe even some trial and error until you end up with a best case scenario for you horse. Such is the case with clipping.
Not all clipper blades are the same! Different sizes leave different lengths of hair, so you can clip your horse and leave a bit of fuzz on if you like.
For the most part, your riding habits and climate in the winter will likely determine the need to clip. We all know that most of the time, a horse can and will grow his own coat to shield him from the elements, including rain and wind. This is why we all have seen horses standing outside in snow and windstorms, and not in their shelters! The density of the hair, combined with these tiny muscles in the skin that make the hair stand on end, creates a warm layer of air and insulation. This will also allow snow and even ice to form on the coat without the skin even noticing. Add in the extra layer of fat that horses collect in the fall as the days get shorter, and you have mother nature’s recipe for a toasty horse in the winter.
What happens when we mess this up a bit?? For example - with riding or exercise in some fashion? Well, we can seriously mess with this delicate hair/air/warmth balance. A wet coat from rain rarely if ever causes a chill, as the water rarely reaches the air pocket layer and the skin. However, sweat moves from the skin out, and is likely to cause a chill. Wet horses lose body heat 20x as fast as a dry horse, not so good in the winter, right? There is also a recent study from Sweden (a very wintery place) that suggests that unclipped horses who exercise are more likely to overheat and have a higher maximum respiratory rate. Do you have the time (and a lot of it?) and equipment (like coolers) to properly cool out a sweaty, long haired horse? This means you will be grooming, hot toweling, and switching coolers until the skin and all of that hair is dry and clean.
An almost full body clip - with "saddle pad" remaining. Great to protect the withers and back from saddle rubs.
We can also mess this natural winter hair coat up if we live in a more *tropical* location. For example, I lived in SoCal and many times the daytime highs are in the 80’s, sometimes higher. For those horses that live in Florida for the winter show circuit or races, the highs and humidity are even greater. Is it fair to keep a horse in a natural winter coat if he’s sweating just hanging out in the shade? It's not, and it gets worse if you ask him to work in those conditions.
Clipping can help you make your horse more comfortable in his climate and also for riding. You have a zillion choices when it comes to clipping and many factors to consider here, from clipper options to clipping patterns.
Gobelin's trace clip works for his tropical climate. He can be naked during the day, and with a blanket at night. He's in a training program, so if he sweats while working he's fast drying.
Choosing the right clipper blade for the job is something that’s super easy - pick one that leaves a bit more hair and if you need to go shorter, you can! You can also start by clipping the sweaty parts - under the neck, saddle, etc. Or you can go with a more traditional partial clip job that includes a “stripe” from chest to rump. Your choice on leaving legs long or short, you may opt for clipped to help with grooming and even scratches control. Again, you don’t need to do a surgical clip, there are many clipper blades and blade guards that allow you to leave a bit of hair.
If you decide to clip, please follow through and provide proper blanketing during the night (and sometimes the day) so your horse can be protected.
One point to be made here also about excessive hair growth, which can sometimes be indicative of metabolic changes in your horse. Talk to your Veterinarian if you find yourself clipping off very long hair, or if you are needing to clip many times in a winter. Metabolically challenged horses (such as is the case with Cushing's) often start to become fuzzier before barn mates.
What's your winter clipping plan??