Tips on Clipping Parts of the Horse

Grooming expert Gretchen Canova Gabor offers advice on how to clip various areas of your horse.
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Grooming expert Gretchen Canova Gabor offers advice on how to clip various areas of your horse.

Face and Head

Have someone hold and soothe your horse during clipping, if necessary. | Photo by Linda Macklin

Have someone hold and soothe your horse during clipping, if necessary. | Photo by Linda Macklin

  • Have someone with you to hold your horse and help soothe, if necessary. Always start on the side keeping one hand over the nose. This will give you more control, but you do not need to press down hard. Most horses will allow you to use larger body clippers on the side of the face but most of the time you will need to switch to a smaller clipper for the rest of the face. Clipping hair too close will create lines on the face.
  • Forelock: cover the whole forelock with a finger or your hand to make sure that you do not cut the forelock by accident if the horse moves its head suddenly.
  • Eyes: you may need to cover the eye with your hand to avoid scaring the horse and to avoid clipping eyelashes by accident. Make sure that you gently touch the clippers down near the eyes to help reduce the chance of the horse moving away from the clippers as you clip.
  • Bridle path: select the hair that you want to clip before you begin clipping. If the horse's mane is very thick you may need to braid the forelock and a portion of the mane that may be in the way to avoid cutting too much hair. Always start clipping a thinner bridle path and then if needed, clip wider. The bridle path should only be two fingers wide.

Mane
If you are new to clipping, start on the underside of the mane first. This will give you a chance to cover up any crooked lines or accidental clips of the mane. You may want to clip in short sections near the mane until you feel more confident with the control of the clippers. When you feel you can maintain a straight line, start clipping longer sections near the mane.

  • Use one hand to hold the mane down while clipping near the mane, especially if the horse twitches near the withers. This will give more control.
  • If the horse twitches near the withers I will put firm pressure down with one hand on the mane and clip with the other to lessen the vibration of the clippers on the horse's skin. This also lessens the twitching of the skin.
  • The base of the mane near the withers is always hard to decipher when you have a fuzzy horse. Pre-select hair before you begin clipping.
  • Make sure you carry the weight of the clippers around the mane. If you press down hard and the horse jerks away, you increase the chance of cutting off portions of the mane.
  • For getting a perfectly straight line you may have to hold the mane down firmly and clip excess hair vertically with the clippers.

Belly Near the Stifles
To make it easier to clip this sensitive area, you will need to stretch the skin out flat. Otherwise you may cut the skin accidentally because it is too loose. I always have a hand pressing with medium pressure to flatten the skin as well as to reduce the clipper vibration in this ticklish area. If you are having a hard time, you may need to have someone hold up one of the horse's legs while you quickly finish.

Chest
Be aware of the cowlicks that abound in the chest area and make sure you clip going against the direction of hair growth. You will need to pull the skin flat to make clipping easier and avoid cutting the skin by accident.

Cowlick on the Flank Area
The flank cowlick will be easier to clip if you do the sides first creating crescent-shape clip markings, then finish the cowlick by clipping down vertically.

Legs
When clipping the legs I always place myself so I can see the horse's face out of the corner of my eye. If the horse raises his head, I back off.

  • Make sure you have your forearm or hand with consistent pressure above the hock or above the knee when you are clipping on or near the legs. This allows you to feel the muscle tighten before the horse moves. Sometimes this pressure can be soothing to the horse as well.
  • Many horses are better if you pick up their leg to clip along the tendons. You can also clip in short sections diagonally to clip the hair along the lower legs. If you pick up a leg, make sure you hold its weight in your quads and not in your lower bag to avoid injury to your back if the horse suddenly pulls his leg out of your hands. Never put your fingers over the end of the horse's hoof when you pick it up. If the horse jerks his foot down quickly, he may step on your fingers. Always hold the leg near the fetlock or along the coronary band for better support.
  • Do not press down hard and be sure to watch the corner of the clipper blades on the lower legs to avoid breaking the skin by accident.
  • Make sure all coronet hair is clipped evenly to make a better appearance when the hooves are oiled at the show.

Top of the Tail
To help create the "V" above the tail, use one finger to draw a line going against the direction of the hair from the center of the dock along the center line of the horse's rump. Then create an upside down "V" by drawing a line up from each corner of the dock to this center line of the rump.

Always start by clipping a larger "V," then you can make it smaller. The left side of the "V" is always harder to clip. The size of the "V" varies with the size of the horse or pony. Imagine creating a triangle with two 45-degree angles at the bottom.

After Clipping
Run a warm towel over the horse's entire body to remove dander, dirt and excess cut hair. This also will help to reduce some of the lines. Reward your horse with treats or a chance to graze. Clipping usually requires that your horse stand still for up to two hours or more. He will want to move or go in the stall to roll.

Gretchen Canova Gabor has always had horses in her life. From a young age she was braiding at shows and picking up tips from show grooms. When she was 13, she rode Silver Star to the small pony championship at the then-AHSA Pony Finals. She has been involved with the Goucher College equestrian program since 1995, and served as the associate director from 1998-2002. She left to complete her undergraduate degree and begin a master's degree in elementary teaching and special education. She continues to help Goucher with showing and braiding.