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SUPER groom Karen Salon from Clip Equine takes on a subject of winter clipping in a great detail for us! Full of practical tips and advice for a flawless body clip.

By Karen Salon • Clip Equine

Winter coats present unique challenges. They are longer, thicker, and denser than summer coats and left alone, they function beautifully as all-over heaters for your horse.  However, that winter pelt is much better at warming than cooling; if your horse’s winter workouts are turning that natural insulation into a sweaty mess, it’s time to clip. Body clipping in winter requires some adjustments, and this guide will walk you through some of the particular challenges you will encounter and how to deal with them.

Time Set realistic expectations: however long it normally takes you to do a full body clip, take that time and increase it by half. You will be clipping parts of the horse you never imagined could grow hair, like way up where the sun doesn’t shine, and the actual eyelids, for example. Also, you’ll spend more time re-clipping areas to rid the coat of stubborn lines and patches. You will be slowed by your horse’s thick undercoat and will spend more time cleaning and oiling your blades. There’s no need to rush; the extra time will be well spent.

Equipment •In the spring and summer, I body clip only with A5 clippers with a #10 blade.  I like the Wahl KM-10’s for their quiet motor, power, and lightness.  In the wintertime, you will want to add something more powerful to your lineup. I have a set of Lister Stars, which aren’t terribly heavy and pack enough power to handle dense undercoats.  The “fine” blade on the Lister Stars leaves the hair the same length as a #10 blade. You will want to have some extra blades and lots of clipper oil on hand. Winter clipping will be hard on your blades, and you will want to clean and oil them frequently to keep them running smoothly.

Lighting The wan light of winter will do you no favors.  Invest in a portable work light.  I have an LED bulb that screws right into the base of a basic work light and has a built-in hook that allows me to hang it pretty much anywhere.  And, pro tip: the flashlight on your phone is the best tool for a final close examination of your work product. The last step of my clipping process is to put a #10 blade on my Wahl KM Cordless clippers and survey every part of the horse with my phone flashlight, touching up as I go.

Preparing your Horse Every professional clipper will tell you that a beautiful clip job begins with a freshly bathed, squeaky clean coat. I agree wholeheartedly, but it’s January and let’s be honest here: not everyone has a heated wash stall. If bathing is an option, do it! If a bath is out of the question, you can still produce a beautifully clipped horse using a good grooming, a few tricks, and a little patience.  Here is your bath-free prep guide:

  1. Curry your horse vigorously to stir up as much dirt and dander as possible.  Don’t skip the face or legs.
  2. If you have a vacuum, use it to remove as much of that junk as you can. A vacuum is a great investment, and I highly recommend making one part of your regular grooming routine. I travel with a “Rapid Groom” portable horse vacuum, and it’s held up beautifully.  If you don’t have a vacuum, forget that you saw this and skip to #3.
  3. Spray all over with Ecolicious So Fresh and So Green Body Spray while the coat is still roughed up, and give it a minute to dry.
  4. While you’re waiting for your spray to dry, take a baby wipe or damp rag with a little witch hazel and scrub the face and around the ears with your fingertips to remove as much grime as possible.
  5. Brush your horse vigorously with a stiff natural bristle body brush, followed by a soft brush. 
  6. Now, your horse’s coat will be soft, clean(ish), and ready for clipping.

The Eyes • Take care to get the hair (but not the whiskers) close around the eyes; otherwise, your horse will end up looking like a raccoon. Shield the eye with one hand while you clip around it with the other, angling the clippers so that the edge of your blade won’t do any harm even if your horse tosses her head.  Move and stretch the skin to get an even clip in the divot above the eye (if you cup your free hand over the eye, it may roll back for a moment, filling the divot and allowing you to get that last little tuft of hair in the middle).

The Ears If your horse is showing in certain disciplines, you will be clipping the ears. Also, if you use earplugs while riding, you may want to clip inside the ears so that the earplugs don’t pull your horse’s hair. Clipping ears could be the subject of an entire post, but for now I will say this:  Be patient. Be gentle. Be efficient. Do it without drama, give your horse a treat, and move on. 

The Mane LineWhen your horse’s winter coat is nearly as long as a normal mane, it gets pretty difficult to distinguish between the two.  You may have to rely on texture (and, if you’re lucky, color).  Very carefully, pick through the base of the mane with your fingers one section at a time.  Part the fluff from the mane, insert the edge of your clippers in the dividing line, and take a downward stroke.  This will not give you a finished mane line, but a guide for one.  Then you can clip your beautiful, straight mane line.  Run the clippers perpendicular to the mane starting at the withers and work your way to the poll.  Most horses have a cowlick behind the ears; you’ll have to switch direction up here. Don’t forget to go back and smooth the edges of the cowlick by taking short strokes to even things up.

The NeckFor the rest of the neck, encourage the horse to bend away from you to tighten up the muscles, and clip against the grain of the hair, but at a variety of angles, taking short strokes. If you clip directly against the grain, your clippers will have a hard time picking up the hair.  If the neck looks patchy when you’re done, take a breath and go back, re-clipping any patchy bits at a variety of angles to smooth them out.

The Legs If you have warm water and it’s not insanely freezing, do yourself and your horse a favor and scrub the hocks, knees, and lower legs, then dry with a towel before clipping.  You’ll have much better results.  But winter rules are in effect, which means we may have to take our legs as we find them. Peel any protruding chestnuts and ergots, or you’ll have a hard time getting the long hairs growing just at their base. You will want to hold up the front legs to clip along the tendons; I also like to do fetlocks and pasterns while I’ve got hold of the leg. Put it down, then clip your way from the hoof up the cannon bone with a series of short strokes at a 45° angle (if you go straight up the leg here, you’ll end up with stripes). Some of the thickest hair you’ll encounter is on and just above the knees.  Take it slow here to avoid leaving corduroy-type tracks.  For the hind legs, be opportunistic:  if your horse happens to be resting a leg, clip the tendon area on that one. You will want to do the pasterns, cannons, hocks and gaskins with the horse standing square.

The Barrel After the tedium of the face and legs, the barrel will look like a blank canvas, inviting you to take long sweeping strokes from the belly up to the shoulder and withers. But when you step back to admire your work, you will be confronted with lines and uneven patches of fluff.  The lines will likely disappear as the coat recovers from clipping; the patches come from having to contort yourself to clip this area (it’s hard to be a human pretzel and also maintain even pressure on the clippers). Here, the fluffy undercoat is pretty unforgiving and will show every imperfection. No worries –just go back and “erase” the lines using a series of short, angled strokes, 45° to the original lines in both directions. 

The Butt Thanks to gravity, thick skin, and an exceedingly thick undercoat, dirt and dander loves to settle up on top of your horse’s butt and lower back. Even if you are fastidiously grooming your horse through the winter, your clippers will encounter a layer of dust, dander and grime that will have you wishing for a tiny lawn mower.  This part of your horse’s body is pretty much the entire reason you just spent all that money on those big clippers, so use them! If you don’t have the big machine, just take it slow and pamper your clippers – they’re working hard. Even after your careful prep, your clippers are going to leave a dusty mess in their wake up here. Now, if you have a vacuum, pull it back out and vacuum a second time.  Then, or in the alternative, spray a little body spray on a soft brush and brush all the dusty areas.  With the grey grime out of the way, you’ll be able to get a good look at your clipping job and touch up any uneven bits.

The Big Finish • When you are finished clipping, it’s time to get rid of all the residual dander, dust, and hair and give your freshly clipped horse a good conditioning. First, brush your horse all over with a soft bristled brush to get off as much stray hair as you can. Next, if you have clipped your horse’s ears, gently wipe the insides with a baby wipe or damp cloth. Then take the cloth and scrub around the poll – there’s always a little dust up there. The rest of the body should get a good rub down with Ecolicious Equestrian’s Clippin’ Awesome Deep Moisture Treatment to pick up the last of the dust and stray hair, condition the skin and coat, and kick up your horse’s shine. I can’t tell you how happy I was when this product came to market – it has the perfect mix of oils to sooth and condition your horse’s clipped coat. In winter, I mix the product in a bucket with the warmest water I can find, at a ratio of about 1:20. Soak, and then wring out, a small towel (a terrycloth washcloth or work towel works well). Then rub your horse vigorously all over in a circular motion, rinsing, re-soaking and re-wringing the cloth frequently as you go. Finally, snap a photo of your gorgeous horse, bundle her up, give her some treats, and let her go home!

Check out the post Clippin’ Awesome mad SHINE!!