Body Clipping 101

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The days have started getting longer, and here in New England, our parking lot glaciers are finally starting to melt – spring really is on its way! As you start spending more time in the saddle, gearing up for spring training and shows, you may have found that you’re having to spend more and more time drying your horse off after winter rides. Instead of furiously trying to sop up that sweat, consider body clipping your horse.

“Body clipping” is the term used to describe trimming large sections of your horse’s coat, so that he will sweat less and dry off faster, helping keep him happy and healthy. While it can be a lot of work, body clipping can also be a fun way to spend time with your horse. And you’ll really enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing you did it all on your own.

Like most of the things we do in the barn, body clipping is a skill that requires practice and patience. You may not be great at it right away, but don’t be discouraged – this is a really valuable skill that will prove useful throughout your life as a rider. (And remember, even if you feel like you really messed up, the hair will grow back.) If you want to get better faster, have your trainer, barn manager or an experienced barn mate help give you tips and pointers as you’re learning. You can also offer to clip your friends’ horses for free (just make sure they know you’re still learning!)

If you’re ready to get started, or are simply interested in learning more, check out the quick tips listed below, then watch the short video in which I demonstrate a trace clip.

Clip Tips

Body clipping can be stressful for some horses, so be sure to choose an area that’s as calm and quiet as possible.

Decide what type of clip your horse needs, (i.e. how much hair to take off). Factors to consider include how much work your horse will be doing, and where and how much he normally sweats.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which body clippers to buy, including your budget, how often you’ll use them, and how many horses you have to clip at any given time.

For the closest clip available, it’s best to go against the grain of the hair (see video for details). For a more modest trim, some riders prefer to clip with the grain of the hair, as this takes off significantly less hair.

It’s important to have your blades sharpened regularly. Dull blades catch the hair and tug at the skin, which your horse will definitely not enjoy.

Clipping will be a much more pleasant experience if your horse is clean. You’ll be able to clip faster as the blades glide along, instead of getting hung up in a grungy coat. Also, clipping dirty hair will dull your blades much more quickly.

Check the temperature of your blades regularly throughout the job. Clipper blades usually got hot much faster than the clipper body, so you may not notice the blades are hot, but your horse may be quite uncomfortable.

  • Cooling fluid, like Oster Kool Lube, is a great way to help control the temperature of your blades. You can also stop and turn the clippers off for a period to let them cool.
  • Alternately, if you have an extra set of blades, you can simply swap back and forth, letting one pair cool out while you keep working.

Clipping in stages is a great idea, especially for larger jobs. Switch back and forth from the left to right side, and build up from a belly clip to a low trace, then to a high trace, and on to a blanket, and eventually a saddle clip, moving to a full body clip at the end. Keeping things even on both sides allows you to stop for a few hours, or the day, to give your horse (and yourself) a break, without having to worry that he’ll look terribly lopsided.

  • With this same thought in mind, it’s always better to start low and work your way up. You can always take more off, but you can’t add it back on (fortunately horse “toupees” only exist in the tail world!)

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. If your horse is spooky or fidgety, it’s best for your comfort, and his safety, to have someone help you hold him.

Once your horse is clipped, you’ll want to make sure you keep him properly blanketed through the remainder of the cold weather. If you already know how much coverage you need, you can start shopping our wide assortment of stable sheets, blankets and turnout rugs. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Blanketing 101 blog post.

Like most things in the horse world, there are a lot of different ways to clip, so if you don’t do things the way I do in the video, that’s a-OK. The most important thing is that you and your horse are comfortable, happy and safe.

Happy Clipping!


Need help picking the right clippers?

When it comes to clippers, having the right tool is almost as important as knowing how to use it. We tested our complete selection and highlighted our top picks just for you. Check out our post on Clippers – Tools of the Trade to see our top picks.

Common Types of Body Clips

Pony Clip/Strip Clip/Belly Clip – Hair is removed from under the chin, down the under part of the neck, between the front legs and along the length of the underside of the barrel. Minimal hair removal makes this great for horses and ponies in light work.

Chaser/Trace Clip – Can be classified as “low” or “high,” depending on how much hair is removed. Typically, a wide band of hair is clipped from under the chin, along the neck, down the barrel and on to the flank. The entire belly is clipped bare, as is a generous area around the flank. The back, legs and face remain unclipped. This clip is ideal for horses in light to moderate work, and those who need more coverage as a result of lots of time spent outdoors.

Blanket Clip – Named for the fact that it looks like the horse is wearing a blanket (or, more precisely, a quarter sheet),. This clip takes the hair down all through the neck, shoulder, belly and flank, like the Trace Clip, with additional hair removed all the up through and over the withers. Legs and face are usually left with full hair growth. Believed to help sore-backed horses’ back muscles stay warmer and looser.

Hunter Clip – Named for field hunters, this clip takes down all the hair except for the legs and an area on the back in the shape of an all-purpose English saddle. The long leg hair was designed to protect field hunter’s legs, while the extensive clip job helped the keep cool, even on long gallops.

Full Body Clip – All the hair is clipped, from the coronet band up to the withers, and from the nose back to the tail. Ideal for horses in very hard work all winter, and those that will be traveling to warmer climates for winter competitions.

Sarah Paull

Sarah Paull is a lifelong rider and SmartPak’s Brand Manager. You may know her better as the life-size foam finger from the London Olympics, the host of USEF Network’s Live from London coverage, or “that girl from the Stuff Riders Say videos.” Prior to joining SmartPak in 2008, Sarah worked as a Veterinary Technician at B.W. Furlong & Associates in Oldwick, NJ, and obtained her degree in Equine Science from Centenary College. Sarah is the proud mom of Cody, a semi-retired, 23-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and she’s currently looking for an eventing partner to help her get rid of all the extra time, money and energy she doesn’t actually have :-) If you're interested in her often-horsey, always-odd musings, follow @SmartPakerSarah on Twitter.

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16 comments on “Body Clipping 101
  1. Mikey richardson says:

    Hi i was going to body clip my guy for the first time this year, he is going to be living outside in a run in shed, what would be the best clip for him ? and what size blade do i use ? and what should i put on for him as a blanket? i have sheets to heavy blankets and waterproof sheets. Thank you

    Mikey

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Mikey,

      Thanks for your question! The one thing you didn’t mention was where you live, so it’s a little tough to give specific advice. However, any horse that’s living outside in colder temperatures probably shouldn’t have a full body clip. Given that, the type of clip you want to choose will depend on how much work your horse will be doing over the winter. If he’ll be in light work, a Strip Clip might do the trick, since you won’t have too much sweat to worry about. If you’re going to be keeping him in moderate work, a Trace Clip is probably a better bet to help ensure he doesn’t get soaked with sweat when riding, but still has enough hair to stay warm outside.

      The blades you use will depend on the clippers you’re using, as the blade system varies between brands and models. If you have a selection of blades on hand for show trimming, it’s unlikely that any of them are suitable for body clipping, as they’ll cut the hair too close. Even size 10 blades aren’t generally recommended for body clipping, and they’re typically the largest of the trimmers.
      As for blanketing, winter weather can be unpredictable at best, so we always recommend waterproof or turnout blankets when a horse is outside. The weight of the blanket will depend on the weather, and we’ve created an approximate temperature guide that you can use for a reference point:
      45° F – Not clipped: no blanket; Clipped: light weight blanket
      35° F – Not clipped: light weight blanket; Clipped: medium weight blanket
      25° F – Not clipped: medium weight blanket; Clipped: heavy weight blanket
      15° F – Not clipped: heavy weight blanket + hood; Clipped: heavy weight blanket, liner + hood
      Below 10°F, Heavy weight blanket, liner + hood for all; add polar fleece for clipped

      It’s important to factor in wind chill and remember that these are just approximations and your horse is an individual. You should constantly check under his blankets to see if he’s sweaty and feel the tips of his ears if you think he might be too cold – they’re a good indicator of how he’s feeling. For more blanketing tips, checkout out our Blanketing 101 blog: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2010/10/blanketing-101/
      If you have more specifics questions about your horse’s clipping or blanketing needs, feel free to call 1-888-752-5171 or email CustomerCare@SmartPak.com and our experts will be happy to help!

  2. Grace says:

    Hi. I live in LA and have an older horse who grows a winter coat like a llama (up to 2″ long over ribs and belly). She live on full turnout with a buddy and does moderate hacking over the winter. Since she’s getting older I’m more concerned about getting her totally dry before putting her away. (In the past, the drying process has taken 2-3 times longer than the actual ride!) I have her in a strip clip now, but I’m still waiting forever for her to dry, especially through that stubborn side area. I’d like to give her a fuller clip and add a light/medium blanket (and a medium blanket for those few super chilly nights we get), but I can’t decide between a blanket clip and a high trace clip. Any suggestions?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Grace, Thanks for your question! Since your mare is still going to be on full turnout, we’d recommend erring on the side of caution and leaving her with more of her own natural protection, especially since it sounds like she’s never been blanketed before. Opting for a high trace clip will eliminate that pesky side hair while still leaving her with a full coat over the top of her neck, back and hindquarters, and full coverage on her legs. Keep in mind that your mare will not only have less hair than she’s used to during the winter, she’s also the oldest she’s ever been during the winter, and that may mean she’s not able to keep warm quite as well as she used to. Lucky for you and your mare, Louisiana doesn’t have the worst winter weather around, so you’ll probably get by just fine through most of the winter with light and medium turnout blankets (keep in mind, we always recommend waterproof or turnout blankets when a horse is outside). The weight of the blanket will depend on the weather, and we’ve created an approximate temperature guide that you can use for a reference point (since your mare will have a high trace clip, you should consider her “clipped” for the purposes of this chart):

      45° F – Not clipped: no blanket; Clipped: light weight blanket
      35° F – Not clipped: light weight blanket; Clipped: medium weight blanket
      25° F – Not clipped: medium weight blanket; Clipped: heavy weight blanket
      15° F – Not clipped: heavy weight blanket + hood; Clipped: heavy weight blanket, liner + hood
      Below 10°F, Heavy weight blanket, liner + hood for all; add polar fleece for clipped

      Don’t forget to factor in wind chill and remember that these are just approximations and your mare is an individual. You should constantly check under her blankets to see if she’s sweaty and feel the tips of her ears if you think she might be too cold – they’re a good indicator of how she’s feeling. And keep up the good work on making sure she’s always cool and dry after riding and before you put on her blankets. For more blanketing tips, checkout out our Blanketing 101 blog: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2010/10/blanketing-101/

      If you have any more questions about your horse’s clipping or blanketing needs, feel free to call 1-888-752-5171 or email CustomerCare@SmartPak.com – our experts are always happy to help!

  3. Lynn says:

    I am confused and need some help on several things when clipping.
    My horse gets a very thick coat in the winter even living in South Carolina. Since he lives outside year round, and only do light work during the winter months, I do not clip him until spring when I start riding more and he gets sweaty. Then do a full body clip on him (and blanket when we get those few cooler nights).
    This spring when I clipped him I had a judge make a comment to me about “taking too much off”. I own a Lister Star clipper, have always used an A2F blade (which came on it) and cut against the grain of the fur. I have read it cuts closer and smoother than than any other blade except a surgical blade, and it depth is .06. So how does that number relate to the way other blades are listed with numbers (like 10, 15, etc.)? I have been told a 40 is classified as a surgical cut, and a 10 is used more for thicker hair like a bridle path.
    So using an A2F blade, is that too much for a body clip? What depth or blade should be used?
    Thanks!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Lynn, thanks for your question! The A2F blade is on the shorter side for a full body clip, but it’s certainly not too short to use – it’s all a question of personal preference (sounds like this judge doesn’t prefer a close clip!). The A2F blade is designed to leave 1.4mm of hair, similar to a 15 blade (which, as you probably know, cuts shorter than a 10, but not nearly as close as a 40). If you like the close, smooth clip you’ve gotten with the Lister Star clippers, stick with them! They’re 100% suitable for the job. However, if you’d like to give a longer clip a try, consider the Andis T-84 blades or the Oster Clipmaster, both of which will clip the hair to a more moderate (but still close) 2.4mm length. Whatever clippers you decide to go with, you may want to consider clipping your horse a little further in advance of your first show. That “freshly shorn” look may be cute, but it’s not very classic or elegant, which is generally what we’re all going for in the show ring. Good luck!

  4. Lauren says:

    very good article, except for one thing.
    40 is NOT ideal for showing! 40 is a surgical length that will leave your horse literally bald! never use this unless the horse is getting an incision or IV drip (in which case your vet would do the clipping). Otherwise very informative!

  5. lindsay says:

    We have a mare that only sweats alot under the saddle. Im thinking about clipping just that saddle area would that work? A picture would be great too!
    Thank you

  6. kaylee says:

    Hi. i live in southern california where it doesn’t get very cold in the winter time. i have a pony who is starting to grow his winter cat very early and it is very long so i have been thinking about full body clipping him and putting him in a blanket. since i live in a warm climate do you think that would work for him? I do lots of work and he gets very sweaty so the less hair the better!
    thanks
    kaylee

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Kaylee, body clipping is a smart way to help regulate your horse’s body temperature when you’re working out during winter months – especially if your pony tends to sweat a lot!

      However, since you’re going to be removing your pony’s natural line of defense against the cold, you’ll definitely want to compensate by blanketing him throughout the winter, as needed.

      Southern California has pretty mild winters, so you’ll probably get by just fine through most of the winter with light and maybe medium turnout blankets (keep in mind, we always recommend waterproof or turnout blankets when a horse or pony is outside). The weight of the blanket will depend on the weather, and we’ve created an approximate temperature guide that you can use for a reference point:

      45° F – Not clipped: no blanket; Clipped: light weight blanket
      35° F – Not clipped: light weight blanket; Clipped: medium weight blanket
      25° F – Not clipped: medium weight blanket; Clipped: heavy weight blanket
      15° F – Not clipped: heavy weight blanket + hood; Clipped: heavy weight blanket, liner + hood
      Below 10°F, Heavy weight blanket, liner + hood for all; add polar fleece for clipped

      Don’t forget to factor in wind chill and remember that these are just approximations and your pony is an individual. You should constantly check under his blankets to see if he’s sweaty and feel the tips of his ears if you think he might be too cold – they’re a good indicator of how he’s feeling.

      If you’d like more blanketing tips, checkout out our Blanketing 101 blog: http://bit.ly/1boOWUw

      If you have any more questions about your pony’s clipping or blanketing needs, feel free to call 1-888-752-5171 or email CustomerCare@SmartPak.com – our experts are always happy to help! Have a great ride! – SmartPaker Sarah

  7. Laikyn Hawk says:

    I’m clipping my quarter Horse for the first time this winter. I have a few questions though. What type of blanket should I get? I have a regular medium weight blanket for him. Do I need to get a neck cover if I’m going to full body clip him? My horse, Disco, and I compete in many hunter shows, he is worked between 3-5 days a week jumping up to 3′ twice a week. He is put though a lot of work. So is a full body clips necessary? What temperatures do his blankets need to be on? Like a light weight, medium or heavy?

    • Laikyn Hawk says:

      Oh and I live in south Carolina but it’s been 45 degrees during the day down to 20 at night

      • SmartPak SmartPak says:

        Hi Laikyn, Thanks for your question! Since you and Disco are going to be working hard this winter, body clipping is a smart choice. If you left Disco with a full coat, he’d get really sweaty while you were working, and would be difficult to cool down properly, which can be troublesome.

        Since this will be your first year blanketing Disco, you’ll need to pay close attention to how he’s feeling in his new “clothes,” to see what works best for him. There are some general guidelines we can give you, designed for clipped horses, but it’s important to keep in mind that these are averages and they’ll vary from horse to horse and climate to climate:
        45° F – light weight blanket
        35° F – medium weight blanket
        25° F – heavy weight blanket
        15° F – heavy weight blanket, liner + hood
        Below 10°F, Heavy weight blanket, liner, polar fleece + hood
        Don’t forget to factor in wind chill and remember that these are just approximations and Disco is an individual. You should constantly check under his blankets to see if he’s sweaty and feel the tips of his ears if you think he might be too cold – they’re a good indicator of how he’s feeling. For more blanketing tips, checkout out our Blanketing 101 blog: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2010/10/blanketing-101/

        You can also get some great advice on cooling out a hot horse from our resident grooming expert, Emma Ford, in her Ask the Groom series: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/2013/06/cooling-out-a-hot-horse/

        If you have any more questions about your horse’s blanketing needs or want some advice when choosing transitional blankets to get him from winter to spring, feel free to call 1-888-752-5171 or email CustomerCare@SmartPak.com – our experts are always happy to help! – SmartPaker Sarah

  8. Avery Wiersema says:

    Hello, I live in Michigan, USA, and show almost every weekend. I know I would like my horse body clipped this year, but I have no experience in clipping and do not want to mess up. I also don’t know what time of year would be the right time to clip him, and I cannot afford to buy my own clippers. I own heavy winter blankets, waterproof sheets, and stable rugs, so getting cold is not a problem. How expensive would it be to simply ask someone to clip my horse for me? What time of year should I clip?
    Thanks!

  9. SmartPak SmartPak says:

    Hi Avery, thanks for your question! Professional clipping jobs vary by location and expertise of the clipper. In many barns, there are one or two riders who have body clippers and are willing to help out a fellow horse owner for a modest fee. Alternately, you can find a professional groom who will charge a more substantial fee, but will do a reliably great job (always look for someone with references!). The type of clip will also affect the price (trace clips are cheaper than full body clips, for example). Generally speaking, you should be prepared for prices anywhere from about $75 to $175.
    As for what time of year to clip, our grooming genius, eventer Emma Ford, wrote a great blog with a lot of helpful advice: http://blog.smartpakequine.com/?p=23260
    I hope this information is helpful! If you want to get more opinions about body clipping, I suggest you head over to the SmartPak Forum, where smart riders from across the country get together to share horse health advice: https://forums.smartpakequine.com/
    Good luck, and happy New Year! – SmartPaker Sarah

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