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Why Do We Clip Horses? Equine Health Examined

Why Do We Clip Horses? Equine Health Examined

Lauren Dorey |

To non-horsey folk, clipping the hair short on a horse or pony might seem a very peculiar and unnecessary cosmetic choice. However, clipping plays a vital role in our equines well-being, primarily in managing their body temperature to prevent potential health issues caused by excessive sweating. Not all horses need to be clipped, but there are many reasons why owners may choose to clip their horse. In this blog, we'll delve into why horses have their coats clipped, the science behind horse sweating, and the potential health risks associated with excess sweating in winter.

 

SUMMER VERSES WINTER

Horses and ponies have evolved to grow a short coat in the warm summer months and a longer, thicker coat in the cold winter months. Coat growth is triggered by the change in daylight hours. Here in the UK, the winter coat starts to grow in September when the shorter days start to increase the production of melatonin. In the Spring, as the days get longer, melatonin production dwindles and the winter coat is shed. For wild horses, this plays a critical role in protecting them from the elements during these harsh, cold seasons. Naturally, horses need their winter coats to keep warm and dry and for non-working horses, their thick winter coat is enough to see them happily through the cold seasons, keeping rain and snow from reaching the skin and trapping air to keep them warm. However, for our domesticated, modern-day horses that are in regular work or have certain medical conditions, their thick winter coat can be a hinderance and contribute to poor health.

WORKING UP A SWEAT

Horses regulate their temperature by sweating where the evaporation of sweat from the skin acts as their main cooling mechanism. During exercise, as the muscles generate heat, the sweat glands produce sweat to wet the skin and cool them down.  Horses and ponies have sweat glands over most of their body, except the legs and can sweat a lot. But sweating is good thing! It’s a natural process and shows us that our horse’s body is healthy and working properly.

 

WORKING HORSES

Now imagine a horse with a long, thick winter coat in work. Just like we wouldn’t go running in lots of thick layers in the winter, the same applies to our horses. They get too hot and sweat heavily making the entire coat very wet. A thick, sweaty coat takes a long time to dry, causing rapid and prolonged cooling. When the horse’s body temperature drops too much for a length of time, this poses the risk of them catching a chill, hypothermia and becoming sick as a consequence.  A horse’s winter coat is designed to keep the wet and cold away from the skin, but when the skin sweats, the wet and damp is held against the skin. A thick damp coat takes a long time to dry and the horse uses extra energy to keep warm. The excessive moisture against the skin also increases the risk of skin problems forming as bacteria and fungi thrive in the damp fur.

 

HOW DOES CLIPPING HELP?

Clipping the thick coat helps for two main reasons – It reduces the amount of sweat produced when the horse is exercising and allows them to cool down and dry much quicker afterwards. A horse that is exercised in a thick coat will of course sweat more and over time can cause them to lose condition. Clipping the coat also facilitates grooming and allows owners to prevent and keep on top of any skin issues.

Of course, when a horse is clipped, we take away their natural thermal protection so to ensure they are kept warm when they are not working it is essential to rug them with horse blankets. Just like cutting our own hair, clipping is an efficient and painless method to shorten the bulk of the coat. Clipping a horse or pony, does not shave it right down to the skin. There are various clipper blades to choose from to leave a short silky finish or a leave a longer cut to offer more coverage.

 

TYPES OF CLIP

Not every horse will need clipping. There are of course, various breeds of horses with different coat types and equines with finer winter coats or those that are doing only light work may not require clipping at all.  In fact, clipping these horses can cause more hassle for owners as the horse will require more rugs and additional food over the winter to avoid losing body condition as they use up their energy just to keep warm!  Horses in moderate-hard work are most likely to benefit from one of the many types of clip that have been adapted to suit a horses type and level of work. From full clipping to partial clipping, there is a range of clips styles to choose from and it’s important to choose a clip to suit each individual horse and their current work load. You can find more about the various types of clip in our blog here.

(Above - A hunter clip by @Laura Rose Equestrian Services using Masterclip clippers)

 

The practice of clipping horses has been around since the early 1900’s and was adopted for hunting horses and carriage horses. This is where some of the names for the different types of clip originated. A traditional ‘hunter clip’ required the clipping of the horse’s head, neck and body, leaving a saddle shaped patch on the back to avoid the rubbing of the saddle on the skin and leaving the legs unclipped to provide protection whilst jumping hedges and riding through brambles. The ‘Trace Clip’ is another style believed to have originated for carriage horses where the lower body would be clipped with a straight line to follow the line of the carriage traces. This clip leaves the back of the horse covered to allow for protection from the elements.

(Above - A trace clip by @ Laura Rose Equestrian Services using Masterclip clippers)

 

CLIPPING BEYOND WINTER

Traditionally, most horses wouldn’t be clipped after January/February until next winter. It was originally thought that clipping in the spring could ruin the growing coat and leave the summer coat looking patchy, uneven or an unusual colour, but this isn’t true for the majority of horses and clipping is becoming more common for all year-round benefits.

Advantages of clipping

  • To facilitate the management, treatment and prevention of skin conditions and infections such as lice, rain scald and mud fever (where air is needed to reach the skin for healing).
  • Hogging (where the mane is clipped short) - To reduce sweating in the neck area for heavy breeds with long thick manes or to manage itchy skin conditions such as sweat itch.
  • To assist horses that are unable to shed naturally such as those with Cushing’s disease (PPID) which produces a long thick unruly coat.
  • Clipping the legs and feathers – To help manage conditions of the leg such as CPL, feather mites, mallenders and sallenders.
  • Reduce sweating in the summer - For heavier breeds that grow a thick coat even in the summer, clipping can minimise the amount of sweat produced during work and reduce heat stress.
  • To improve performance – Hard working horses lose electrolytes though sweating, reducing how sweaty a horse gets can greatly reduce fatigue and maintain their body condition.
  • Improve and facilitate grooming to keep the horse clean. Especially beneficial for horses and ponies kept in paddocks with peat soil, where mud clings to the coat and is very difficult to remove. Some horses detest the pulling of the hair when grooming a matted, muddy coat so clipping can help to keep them more comfortable.
  • Aesthetics – Careful clipping and trimming techniques can be used to highlight a horse’s confirmation. E.g. Removing guard hairs for a show horse, trimming under the jaw, trimming a bridle path so that a bridle sits more comfortably and evenly on the horse’s poll.

(Above - Clipped feathers to reduce feather mite infestation - @CBS Equine)

 

Understanding the physiology behind horse sweating and the challenges posed by winter coats is crucial for responsible horse ownership. Clipping, when done thoughtfully and with consideration for the horse's individual needs, plays a pivotal role in ensuring their well-being, health, and performance throughout the year.

At Masterclip, we specialise in quality clipping products for dogs, horses, sheep and cattle used by professional groomers, competition yards, veterinary practices, farmers and home users. If you’re looking for help in choosing clippers for your horse or pony’s needs, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0116 2796900 or email us at info@masterclip.co.uk. Our experienced staff are always on hand to help.

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