Grooming Horse Care Seasonal Horse Care Stable Skills Young Rider

Winter Clipping Guide

It’s winter, and if you plan to ride your horse heavily all winter, even in a very cold climate, he will get a sweaty coat that takes hours to dry and can give him a nasty chill. This is where the miracle of body clipping for winter comes in! You can ride all you want, and your horse will be able to sweat and dry quickly, and you will have the added advantage of less muddy and/or dusty hair to groom before saddling up.

A young girl holds her horse, showing his winter clipping
Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

Yet winter clipping your horse can be a scary task. You never want to end up with a horse that looks worse than when you started! Here are 10 tips to help ensure you’ll be happy with the results.

1. Buy new blades or have your blades professionally sharpened at a local tack shop or hardware store. Fresh or sharpened blades will do the work in a fraction of the time of dull blades. Dull blades also create uneven clipper track marks. Blades that have been used many times without sharpening won’t clip much of anything at all.

2. Nothing ruins a clip job more than a dirty horse. If the weather is warm enough or you have access to heated water, give your horse a deep shampoo with a thorough rinse. Towel him thoroughly to help him dry, then put on a cooler to keep him warm while he finishes drying. Finally, spritz him with coat polish to help your clippers glide through the hair.

3. Choose the right clippers for the job. If you’re body clipping your horse, you’ll need a set of heavy-duty clippers with a motor made for the job. Smaller clippers, like the type used to groom dogs, can be used on your horse’s face and lower legs.

An array of clippers to use for winter horse clipping
Large body clippers (like the ones on the right) are best for the hard work of body clipping your horse. Smaller ones (left and center) are perfect for the face and legs. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

4. Use blade cleaner specifically made for clippers. Every few minutes when you notice hair building up on the blades, switch off the clippers and use a soft body brush to knock off the hair. Then turn them back on and spray or dip the very tips of the blades in blade wash made specially for this job.

Blade wash, blade coolant, clipper oil and measuring tape
Have blade wash, blade coolant, and clipper oil ready before starting. If you plan to do a partial clip, have a measuring tape and chalk or masking tape to mark off the shape before you start. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

5. Use a proper oil just for clippers. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on where and how often to use the oil. If your clippers aren’t kept oiled, they will overheat and stop working, as well as leaving tracks in the hair.

Applying oil to clipper blades
Oil your blades per manufacturer’s directions to keep them clipping hair efficiently. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

6. Be safe. First, tie or cross-tie your horse in a safe, quiet place where you have room to move around. Use a heavy-duty extension cord. Make sure you can’t get trapped between your horse and a fence or wall. If your horse is hypersensitive to body clipping, turn the job over to a professional groom for your own safety.

7. If doing a partial clip, outline the borders with chalk or masking tape. Measure first with a cloth tape. For example, note how far your border is from the withers and the hip. This way, you won’t accidentally end up with one side of your horse clipped higher or lower than the opposite side.

A girl uses a measuring tape on her horse
To do an even trace clip, measure each side relative to points such as the elbow and hip, then mark off where the clip will start. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnbor

8. Hold the clippers so the base or bottom of the blades lay flat on top of your horse’s coat. Cut against the growth of the hair with steady, even pressure.

A girl winter clipping her horse
Start clipping along the left side of the neck, where most horses are least reactive. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

9. Watch your horse’s behavior. If your horse starts to pin his ears, flinch, or wrinkle his skin, the clippers could be getting hot. Run them through the blade wash and oil them. Then turn them off so they can cool before re-starting. There are also blade-cooling sprays available that work almost instantly.

Spraying with coolant
Check for blade heat every few minutes by switching the clippers off and touching them with your hand; spray with coolant as needed. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

10. Keep vents clean. Large body clippers, and many of the smaller types, have air vents. They’re covered by small metal screens. Remember to brush clipped hair away from the vents frequently while clipping so the motor doesn’t overheat.

A girl showing how to clip her pony
Keep moving your clippers in long, smooth strokes with the blades flat against the skin, going against the direction of hair growth. Photo by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

When you’re done, step back and survey your work for any uneven edges. Does your horse’s body look like a bunch of messy railroad tracks? Try clipping those areas again, but clip across the lines. That usually helps to blend away any clipper tracks.

Once you’re done touching up, you can be proud of your work. Congratulations, your horse is ready to ride all winter long!

Blanketing Your Horse After Winter Clipping

Winter clipping removes your horse’s natural protection against winter weather—now he’ll need a blanket. Choose one with the right amount of fill (insulation) for your environment. If he gets turned out for part or all of the day, he’ll need a waterproof blanket or top sheet in case it rains or snows.

If your weather changes a lot, you may need several blankets: light, medium, and heavy. Very cold climates require neck hoods for fully clipped horses, as well. Partially clipped horses can usually get by with just a mid-weight blanket or even a rain sheet if the climate is mild.

This article about winter clipping your horse appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Cindy Hale

Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


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