As the season changes, horses will shed their summer coat and grow a thicker coat for the winter months ahead. The amount of coat grown really depends on the breed of horse; fine skinned blood horses such as Thoroughbreds and Warmblood horses seem to grow little coat, whereas a native pony will grow an immense double layered winter coat. There is often criticism levelled at horse owners for over rugging but if you clip your horse, it will need to wear a rug.
Horses are clipped in order to keep them comfortable whilst working throughout the winter months. In the scheme of things, most UK winters are reasonably temperate with the old cold snap and so horses that work hard such as riding school horses or hunt horses, are much more comfortable when clipped. They sweat less during work and it is easier to keep the skin and the coat clean and free from rubs and surface infections, particularly in the saddle area.
The horse’s coat will start to change at the end of August as it responds to the shortening daylight hours rather than the ambient temperature. A clip is often of most value therefore during those mild, even warm autumn days, and likewise at the other end of the season, early spring days which can sometimes reach an unseasonably high temperature.
The timing of the first clip depends on what type of horse you have so how much coat he grows, and how much work you are doing. Horses can often cope well in light work even with a thicker coat but a horse that is working hard may sweat excessively and become quite uncomfortable. He will need washing after work and it will be difficult to dry a thicker coat after washing down.
There are several recognised types of horse clip which derive their name from either the style of the clip or the purpose of it. These are as follows:-
It is not unusual to start with a smaller clip and as the season progresses, to remove more hair from the horse and extend the style of clip. You will normally have to clip a horse several times during the winter season, how many times depends on the coat growth for that particular horse and how much work he is doing. The last clip is usually in February as that is when the coat begins to change for the spring; again this is dictated by daylight hours lengthening rather than temperature as February is often the coldest of the winter months.
When a horse is clipped, a rug is needed to replace the missing coat when the horse is not working so either in the stable or out at grass. The type and weight of rug to use depends on the breed of horse – some horses like Thoroughbreds may feel the cold more – and how much of a clip the horse has.
Horses that remain unclipped do not usually need rugging, particularly if they are of native type. Native ponies grow an immense double layered coat so designed to trap air between the two layers and retain heat, so putting a rug over this actually flattens out the air pockets and prevents the horse’s coat from functioning as nature intended. Horses with adequate shelter and forage survive happily outside without rugs but each horse needs to be treated as an individual so an owner should take into account weather conditions, the keep and the age and type of horse.
Clipping is one of those things that horses have to learn to accommodate in the same way that they have to be introduced to shoeing or trimming and loading and travelling. Some horses tolerate clipping better than others. Clipping is therefore potentially dangerous for two reasons: firstly, the presence of electricity and secondly the possibility of an adverse response from the horse. Horses have to understand the process so it is very important that young horses are introduced slowly and carefully to the clippers, preferably by someone experienced. Some horses never tolerate clipping very well – clippers are large, noisy and they vibrate – so it may be a question of managing the situation when the time comes to clip and using experienced handlers, opting for a lesser clip which makes the process quicker or perhaps even involving the vet to sedate the horse.
Horses that suffer from Cushing’s disease will often grow a thicker and curly coat throughout the year and these horses may be clipped more frequently and outside the usual parameters of the clipping season, in order to keep them comfortable. If a horse has a wound which requires examination and treatment then the first thing the vet will do is clip away the hair with a small set of clippers. It is always helpful therefore if your horse is happy with clippers even if you do not routinely clip for work purposes every winter.