Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to: Body Clip

Since Theo needed a second round of clipping, I thought this would be the perfect time to try my hand at this how to idea.

Body Clipping!

Body clipping is when you clip the hair off of a horse in order to keep them from overheating while worked.  This is usually for horses that are working in the winter, but some horses with conditions that prohibit shedding are clipped year round.  There are a bunch of different types of clips, all of which are on Google.  The ones I do the most are the hunter clip, the blanket clip, and the trace clip.

Due to Theo's lifestyle (out 24/7) and a sensitivity to cold, Trainer A and I decided on a high trace clip as the one most appropriate for him.  I was leaning toward blanket clip due to his sweaty nature and ridiculous amounts of hair, but he does live out in New Hampshire.  He needs some hair.

Freshly clipped, showing his nice trace clip, and then his shaggy self just a month later

The trace clip leaves hair over the major muscle groups while clipping the bottom half of the neck and the stomach, giving the horse a way to vent the heat that comes with riding.  Good rule of thumb, I never, ever clip the area under the saddle, even with a full body clip.  The area right under the saddle panels is always left hairy to avoid in grown hairs, irritation, and your horse possibly deciding this isn't okay and unloading you. 

What  you need:

Body clippers - Seriously, get a pair of body clippers if you're going to be clipping a horse for winter each year.  Just one or two clipping sessions and you'll agree.  The little ones take forever and doing body clipping tears them up quickly.  Check in consignment shops and buy them used if you can find them, they last forever with a bit of care.  Don't be afraid to get the older, less fancy models.  They still clip like a hot knife through butter if the blades are sharp.

My ancient but amazing body clippers that weigh a freaking ton

Clippers - The smaller, A5 sized ones are fantastic for doing the fiddly bits like between the front legs and the girth area.  Not required, I've clipped a horse completely with body clippers, but it's a lot harder and not all horses will let you use body clippers near their face.

Sharp blades - Dull blades result in a rough job no matter how good you are and take longer.  It's not all that comfy for the horse either.  I sharpen my blades after two body clips, three at most.  I got three clips out of my current blades but I definitely felt a difference at the end of this one.  The clip had more uneven spots.

Extension cord - Very important for your sanity and helping you work at the best angle.

Step stool - Only necessary if you have a tall horse and/or you're planning on clipping the ears and face.

Coolant/Lubricant - Body clippers in particular can get hot and all clippers need oil or lubricant to keep chewing through all of that hair.  Do your horse a favor and make sure to have this on hand.  I use the Cool Lube brand in a spray can, works great.  Does a good job on preventing rust on the blades as well.  Blade wash is also a good idea to get all of the gunk out of your blades.

Chain shank - Some horses lose their marbles around clippers.  Even horses that don't mind them I typically clip off of cross ties in case they spook or I pinch them.

Cookies - It's a boring, drawn out process.  Bring rewards.

Chalk - Crooked lines are terrible and it's not like you can glue the hair back on.  Grab some chalk or, in a pinch, thin strips of duct tape can work to mark out the lines for your clip.

Armor - For yourself.  Don't clip in a fleece sweatshirt and breeches like I often do.  You'll hate your life.  Rain coats with the hood and rain pants up are the best suggestion for keeping the hair off your body, but I usually clip on impulse and pay for the results later.

A horse - Good luck with convincing him to come inside.

 How to body clip:

1.  Set up your space.   Get out all of your tools and set everything up.  Put on your armor.  It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to clip a horse.  If you're clipping in an aisle, try to pick part of the day when traffic is minimal.  It can take forever if you're always stopping to let people by or you have to keep turning your clippers off to answer questions from confused little girls.  What are you doing to poor Theo?!

2.  Groom the horse well.  I prefer to wash the horse the day before since the dirt and oil in a horse's coat dulls the blades and results in a rougher looking finished product, but when it's cold out, a good curry and brush will do the job.  He needs to be completely dry or you'll have a very uneven clip.

3.  Chalk the lines of the clip.  This is important because uneven lines are pretty glaring once you're done.  I've used sidewalk chalk, but artist chalk is nice, too.  If you're doing a hunter clip, put on your favorite saddle pad and draw around the outside.  Don't forget to chalk the face, using your bridle for the line.  Double check the lines on the back legs, it's terrible when a horse's garters are uneven.

4.  Introduce the horse to the clippers.  Body clippers are usually loud, so even a horse that's used to clipping might need to be introduced.  Theo is a dork about clippers, so I have to introduce them every time.  I turn them on, but leave them on the rubber matting and give him a cookie.  Then I pick them up, walk over, and give him a cookie with the clippers at arm's reach.  He gets to inspect the clippers, then he gets another cookie.  After all of this, I'll touch his shoulder with the end so he can get used to the way they vibrate.  He usually jumps a bit, but by that point he's mostly looking for cookies .  He gets one more cookie, then I can finally start clipping him.  He clips ground tied for safety in case something startles him.

5.  With the body clippers, carve out the big swathes of hair to remove.  For a trace clip, that's the bottom of the neck, the shoulders, the belly, and the hip area.  Go against the growth of the hair.  The hair direction changes all over the place, so follow the hair and not the lines you drew.  You'll go back in and neaten it up with the little clippers.  The skin needs to be taut in order to avoid pinching or cutting your horse, use your free hand to keep skin tight and smooth when needed.  Keep an eye on the temp of the clippers, they can get burning hot fast.  Spray them with coolant and make sure the air intake stays clear of hair.  You'll have some lines no matter how careful you are, you can even them out by going over them at a 45 degree angle.  You'll get clip lines no matter what, but a clean horse, sharp blades, and touching them up will get the worst of it.

After step 5.

Note the slightly jagged lines and the shaggy spots on the belly and face.  Close up shot, pretending the old clip is the chalk lines.

That's about how close I get to the lines with the big clippers.

6.  Do the trim work with the smaller clippers.  This is usually between the front legs, between the hind legs, the area around the tail, the face, and the ears.  If you have someone to help, having them pull a front leg forward makes it much easier to trim the hair over the wrinkles in the armpit.  It's very easy to pinch a horse in this area, go slow.  On particularly hairy horses (*cough*Theo*cough*) I do clip the face up to the line of the bridle.  You typically don't with a trace clip, but Theo's head is big enough without the added padding.  Even if I don't clip the whole face, I always clip the underside between the jowls.  I trim the tufts of the ears but don't clean clip them since they need the warmth and they'd look weird clean shaven unless I'm doing the whole face (only with a full body clip). 

Shots of the face and tail area after going over them with the small clippers.  Black bay is a pain for photos, but you should be able to see the line down his face, his still fuzzy ears, and the even garters at the tops of his back legs (at least when he's standing square).

Because I keep Theo's tail trimmed, I did that today, too.  Makes his butt look bigger.

7.  Even out your lines from the body clippers.  It's hard to do detailed work with the heavy beasts.  If your horse is really hairy, you'll have trouble making your lines even due to the hair hanging down from the unclipped parts.  Flip your clippers over to run along the line and make it straight.  This gives it a bit of a tapered look and keeps the woolly mammoth impression to a minimum.

8.  Give your horse a good brushing and another cookie for being so patient!

Can you believe all of that is from one month?  Ridiculous.

Tricks to remember:

  • Keep a close eye on the heat of your clippers.  I can't even count the number of times I've seen people struggling to hold their clippers because they've gotten so hot, but they keep clipping.  Guess what, their horses don't clip well.  Because clipping is painful with blades that hot.  If they're uncomfortable to hold, they're probably painful for your horse and you need to take a break.  Keep the blades lubricated and check the air intake for hair if they're heating up quickly.
  • Lighting is key.  If you can clip outside on a sunny day, do it.  
  • Better to clip multiple times then to wait.  Theo will probably get clipped three times this fall/winter (September, October, November).  That keeps him comfy even though more hair is coming in.  He doesn't shed well, so he'll probably get clipped again in April with a full body clip.
  • I firmly believe any horse can learn to be clipped while ground tied.  It just takes forever for some horses.  Don't wait until fall to introduce the clippers.  Make it a ho hum every day sort of thing.  Turn on the clippers, run the end over the body, give them a cookie, put them away every day for a month.  If that's too much, start with just turning the clippers on and have them running in the background while you groom.  They'll start enjoying the sound of the clippers if it means a cookie and nothing else.  It takes dedication and time.
  • Clip at least a week before your show so your horse's hair has time to settle down and so you can touch up little spots you missed.  All horses look a bit like shorn sheep right after a clip.  Some shine products can help with the dull effect from the cut hair, just avoid the saddle area.
  • Keep spare blades on hand for the times when your blades start to quit but you're only half way through the horse.  It also lets you rotate which ones you send off to be sharpened so you always have some on hand.
Happy clipping!


  1. nice review! tho i remain grateful that clipping isn't really a thing i have to do for my mare

  2. I wish I had seen this before clipping my mare! That being said, my mare was a dream when it came to clipping (she's never been clipped before). I did a fair bit of research and was able to have a friend present who has more experience. Everything went well and considering it was my first time clipping a horse as well!