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The main reason people clip is to make their horses more comfortable while they are working with their winter coats. Removing the hair stops them getting as sweaty, which is much nicer for everyone involved. However, your horse’s work load shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when choosing a clip for your horse.
Choosing the right clip (or no clip) can help you achieve and maintain your horse’s ideal body weight and condition.
For example, if you have a rather fat, hairy, cob in very light work, he might not need a clip, or if he does, only a small clip like a Bib or Trace clip. However, taking a bit more hair off could be a good way to help that needed weight loss over winter. For most hardy horses, taking this little bit extra off should not mean they need an extra layer/thickness of rug, but it can help them burn a few extra calories keeping warm.
Scottie is a very good example of this. The first year I had him he had a trace clip and he kept weight on very well. Last year he had more off with a blanket clip and kept weight on just as well with the same weight rugs on. Although he didn’t really lose any weight over winter, I preferred the blanket clip as I would much rather have a cold horse than a hot horse, due to how easily they can warm themselves up. So he will be having the same this year!
On the other hand, if you have a horse which you struggle to keep weight on, you probably want to think about clipping less, to help keep them warm. However, if the horse is in regular work and has a thick coat, this can lead to a very sweaty horse, which can cause other problems. If you have access to your own clippers, I would start by doing a smaller clip and see how you go. If the horse is still getting too hot and sweaty in work you can take a bit more off later. But if the horse is getting very cold and dropping weight, you can’t put the hair back on, only rugs!
Some people swear by rugging a horse before they start to grow their winter coat to stop it growing too thick. As far as I am aware, there isn’t actually any research to say this works, but from what I have experienced, there might be something in it. The idea is that a horse grows a coat to match it’s environment. If the horse is cold, it grows a thicker coat, if it’s warm it grows a finer coat. If you rug your horse to keep it warm early on, he will grow a finer coat which is less likely to need clipping, meaning you can keep him warmer without him getting as sweaty. Similarly, I have found that if you leave rugging your horse until they get cold, they grow a ticker coat. A good example of this is thoroughbreds leaving racing. You don’t see many hairy TB’s racing over winter and most aren’t clipped! However, if you are on lots of ex racehorse groups on social media, there are lots of very hairy ex racehorses.
Personality vs Management
Your horse’s personality and your management plans should also be taken into consideration when choosing your horses clip. If your horse will be living out over winter or has a particular knack for removing and destroying rugs, you probably want to consider a smaller clip. Therefore if he does manage to remove his rug, he is less likely to get cold in the field.
On the other hand, if you have a mud monster, you might want to think about taking more hair off and putting more rugs on. Rolling in wet mud/puddles might soak their rug, but that is better than a wet hairy horse. It can also make your grooming easier and quicker. Scottie has a lovely habit of really grinding himself into the mud… especially his face. So last year he had half his face clipped too. This made it much easier to remove the mud and meant that his tack wasn’t going on over the mud.
You will probably also want to think about how active your horse is in the field and stable. Busy box/fence walkers might get quite sweaty if they are too warm. So they might be better being clipped with a rug than naked and hairy.
Finally, if you have a particularly nervy horse, or a horse which has never been clipped before, you might want to just do a small quick clip to start with to introduce them to it slowly. Then take more off a bit later. This stops them getting too stressed by the experience, but also makes it a more regular thing, so next year when it comes to clipping they are more likely to be okay with it as they have more positive experiences from this.
So although work load is an important consideration when it comes to clipping your horse, there is no point fully clipping your horse in medium-heavy work if he’s going to be shivering in the field, the same way that just because a hairy pony isn’t in work doesn’t mean they can’t get sweaty and uncomfortable exercising themselves!