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Body Clipping Secrets

A professional clipper shares her tips for a successful winter haircut for your horse.

By Holly Caccamise |

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If you plan to keep your horse in regular exercise over the winter or live in a mild climate, you’ll probably want to body clip him when his heavy winter coat grows in.

Before you clip, make sure you can commit to keeping your horse adequately blanketed (with a neck cover as needed) for temperature fluctuations. If you live in an extremely cold climate, he should have a stall to stay in during severe weather, even if blanketed, since you will be removing his natural defense against cold, moisture and wind.

Body Clipping

 

Preparing Your Horse
One of the most important parts of a good body clip is preparing your horse correctly, according to Dana Boyd-Miller, a professional body clipper since 1997.

"My favorite thing to use is a plastic mane comb with long teeth that costs about a dollar,” says Boyd-Miller. Using the comb to curry as you bathe your horse before a clip will get a deep-down clean all the way to the skin for best results. This helps remove the oily substance called sebum that builds up in a horse’s coat.

"When [sebum is] not completely removed, it turns to a glue- or concrete-like substance that builds up in the clippers,” says Boyd-Miller.

If it’s too cold to bathe, she recommends using an equine grooming vacuum; just use the mane comb in the same manner and follow behind it with the vacuum. She doesn’t like to use bath-in-a-bottle products due to the weather in South Florida where she works. "Those can turn sticky and gummy in the heat,” says Boyd-Miller. "If a horse has really thick, long hair, I use a coat polish spray to make the clippers go through more smoothly.”

Introducing the Clippers
A professional body clipper since 1997, Dana Boyd-Miller recommends tiring your horse out a little through turnout, longeing or riding before you begin clipping so he won’t be as fidgety. Then you can groom and prepare to clip. "If the horse is so nervous that you’re not comfortable working on him and you decide that he needs to be sedated, let the vet do the sedation,” she says. "Vets understand how those drugs work and in what combination they are useful.”

 

If your horse has never been clipped, or you don’t know if he has, first let him smell and look at the clippers while they’re turned off. Next, put the clippers in your hand, and touch him with the back of your hand, rubbing him all over. You can do this again with the clippers turned on when your horse is ready; this may take several sessions if he’s nervous.

Once you can rub the body of the running clippers (not the blades) all over your horse comfortably, you’re ready to clip.

If you plan to clip his legs and your horse is particularly sensitive around his hind legs, Boyd-Miller recommends desensitizing this area with a towel or plastic bag tied to a long stick or whip. "I use this to rub up and down the legs; this puts me at a safe distance where I’m not going to get hurt,” she says.

Clipper Care
Before you start, always inspect your equipment. The hair feeds through the bottom blade (comb) and is removed by the top, or "cutter,” blade. Check that all the teeth are on both blades; that there is no rust; and that the cutter blade is sitting securely, not loose and wiggly. Look over the cord to make sure there are no nicks.

"I oil my clippers every 15 to 20 minutes,” says Boyd-Miller. "By oiling frequently, you’re going to keep the blade cool so that the horse is comfortable, and prolong the life of the blade so that it clips longer. Oil is different from coolant spray. The cooling sprays are excellent for disinfecting and cooling, but they are not meant to be the primary lubricant.”

She also warns not to use WD40 to lubricate clipper blades because it is highly flammable, containing a propane propellant. If you spray it onto a very hot set of clippers, there is a risk of starting a fire.

Another important tip for keeping the blades cool is to turn the clippers off if you pause to stretch or talk to someone. "If there’s hair going between the blades, they aren’t going to get as hot as if they’re running with no hair going through them,” says Boyd-Miller.

Clipping Technique
Outfitting yourself for a clipping session is also important. Because of the uncanny ability of clipped hair to permanently weave its way into clothing, it’s best to wear a windbreaker and wind pants if you have them. Whatever you do, skip the fleece top, because it will be filled with pokey hairs that you can’t wash out. It’s also helpful to wear glasses (of any kind) to keep hairs from getting in your eyes, and by all means avoid the chapstick! A baseball cap will keep your hair out of the way.

When you’re ready to get started, begin with your horse’s left shoulder. This is where horses are generally the least defensive; it’s where you’d walk up to them for grooming, catching, leading, et cetera.

"In order to take the hair down to the length that the blade is set for, clip against the direction of growth,” says Boyd-Miller. "Use an overlapping stroke, similar to mowing the lawn. I personally take a shorter 8- to 10-inch stroke because I find that I don’t end up with lines and patches.” Make sure the teeth of the blades aren’t pointing at the skin; keep them flat against your horse.

The trickiest areas to clip are those with loose skin, such as the chest and behind the elbow. Boyd-Miller recommends moving the front leg up a half-step when clipping behind the elbow to tighten the skin and open up the area. Likewise, when clipping the chest, shift the leg back a half-step to keep the skin taut. "Once you’re done with the area, move the leg back,” she advises. "That’s how horses learn to stand with their legs in a place you’ve asked for. The same tactic is useful when I’m working on legs; it gives me excellent access to the inside of the opposite leg.”

If you opt to clip the legs, Boyd-Miller recommends clipping on a diagonal. "This will give you more blade coverage,” she says.

Remember to move slowly and calmly around your horse while clipping. "If I’m in a really fast mode and moving quickly, the horse will be suspicious,” says Boyd-Miller. "I usually prefer a two-speed clipper; that way, if the horse is getting nervous or antsy, I’ll go to the low speed.”

Clipper Blades
There are several blade lengths available to control the closeness of your cut. In general, No. 10 blades are used on body clippers, but Boyd-Miller prefers a T-84. This blade cuts the hair to 2.5 millimeters in length, leaving it 1 millimeter longer than No. 10 blades. "On observation, the coat grows back faster if you use a No. 10,” she says.

She only uses a shorter No. 15 blade for trimming ears and bridle paths. A surgical No. 40 blade should only be used by a vet for prepping an area down to the skin, as it leaves sensitive micro-nicks.

You’ll know when it’s time to get your clipper blades sharpened if they start leaving lines or, further down the road, won’t cut the hair. "That’s different from when a blade drive needs to be changed,” says Boyd-Miller. "The blade drive is the piece that makes the cutter blade move back and forth. That needs to be changed when you hear a barking sound and see three distinct lines in the hair. Most clippers come with an extra one and have directions on how to change it.”

Armed with proper knowledge of body clipping, it really isn’t as challenging as it seems. Just go in with your horse and equipment well-prepared, and you’re sure to turn out a beautiful result.

Managing Editor HOLLY CACCAMISE spent her winters during grad school body clipping foxhunters.

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