When fall rolls around, riders start dreading the day when their horses’ coats get too thick to dry out in the cool air and they have to dig out the body clippers and get to work.
Body clipping is time-consuming, dirty and noisy. But, for the sake of the horse’s health and appearance, it needs to be done if the horse stays active over the winter. Many people hire a professional groomer for the task. If you’re willing to put up with the mess, however, you can save the price of the clippers over just one or two winters by doing it yourself. Since a good set of body clippers may outlast every other piece of equipment in the barn, it’s a sound investment.
We worked though last winter with a range of body clippers. We found the clippers we’ve seen around barns for decades do a good job, but some newer designs may make the task faster, quieter and cleaner.
True Body Clippers
The clipper/trimmer market can be confusing for those who aren’t professional grooms and familiar with various models. The packaging, tack-shop displays and catalog descriptions don’t make a distinction between the categories of clippers/trimmers, where many are suited for specific tasks. Doing a body clip with a trimmer is like asking a pony to pull a beer wagon, while trimming ears with body clippers is like mounting a toddler on a draft horse.
Professional grooms usually have at least one clipper and one trimmer from each end of the spectrum for winter body coats and for fine trimming year-round. They may even have two more from the middle range for legs and touchups of mid-length hair, and they will have a variety of blade types for all these tools. Yet, many clippers are described as “useful for all types of clipping.”
We feel even the one-horse owner will be most satisfied with having two tools: a true set of heavy-duty body clippers and a true set of trimmers. However, new designs are finally making it possible for some mid-range clippers to stand up to the demands of a winter body clip without taking two hours to finish the job or burning out under the strain.
Even though they’re usually lighter and quieter than the heavy-duty clippers, many still aren’t fine enough to trim muzzles and fetlocks. There are exceptions, as we note here, but you won’t be able to tell which ones they are from the marketing claims without consulting someone with personal experience with a particular tool.
Shop Around For Price
The prices can be as confusing as the marketing. Some catalogs use clippers as loss leaders, since they’re a popular item. We found the familiar variable-speed Oster Clipmaster listed from $161 to $334 in different catalogs and tack shops, the Wahl Stable Pro from $78 to $141, and the Laube two-speed cordless model from $239 to $339.
Once you decide on the models that interest you, check potential sources for the best deal. But note that extras like a carrying case can affect the price, and some outlets even price their clippers without blades. The manufacturers provided the prices we note in our chart.
One of the things you pay for in body clippers is speed, which is noted by the number of double blade strokes per minute. A blade stroke is one motion from left to right or right to left. A double stroke is a complete cycle or RPM. Marketing descriptions often don’t make it clear whether the blade speed is for single or double strokes, making comparisons difficult to do.
While the basic technology within each brand usually doesn’t vary much, the features for each model will differ and so, then, will the price. You’ll pay more for a variable-speed clipper than for a single-speed or two-speed model, more for a cordless clipper than for a model with a cord, and even more if you want a backup battery or cordpack.
Do you really need these features' You can feed hair to the clipper more quickly at higher speeds, but the speed doesn’t affect cutting power, so one mid-range speed will probably suit most people.
A variable-speed clipper is especially useful with a sensitive horse that fusses less with the lower vibration and noise of a slower speed, and a horse that stands still is, of course, easier to clip.
Cordless clippers are a delight. They can be charged and taken on the road where a nearby plug may be hard to find. They’re safer to use around a fidgety horse. And they’re great to take outside to finish a clip job in sunlight, which will show up spots that have been missed.
Most cordless models with a variable-speed option won’t finish clipping an entire horse on one charge if the highest speed is used, but they may at mid-range. To be safe with a cordless model, you’ll need a backup battery or cordpack or at least a good set of corded trimmers.
So, you may be able to do the job just as well with one brand’s single-speed corded model as you can with the variable-speed cordless version because the motor’s likely the same, and you’ll pay a lot less, but the bells and whistles may make the process quicker and easier.
Blades And Tracks
Most heavy-duty clippers come with screw-in 3”-wide blades, which should cut a wider path and thus get the job done more quickly, although they do meet greater resistance than narrower blades. The lighter models usually come with snap-on 2 1/2” blades. You’ll have to decide if you can hold up a heavier model with a wider blade for a shorter period of time, or a lighter model with a narrower blade for a quarter hour longer.
Screw-in blades generally cost less and are a bit trickier to install and adjust than snap-on types. You’ll always want an extra set of blades on hand, because blades inevitably lose their sharpness about three-quarters of the way through the job on the night before a show.
Heavier clippers usually generate more heat and can become uncomfortable to handle (both for the horse and the groom), with air blowers that can send hair back down onto the groom. Lighter models, depending in their design, often run quieter, with less heat and no blower.
Advances in technology, such as torque and range-of-motion, affect the efficiency of clippers and how quickly and cleanly they’ll cut without leaving “tracks.” In addition to working faster, a higher speed usually produces a smoother clip since the top cutter blade doesn’t “rest” as long at the end of each stroke after it passes over the lower comb blade.
Power and speed will slow down under “load,” and when clipping “load” means thick and/or dirty hair and dull blades. Nothing dulls blades faster than dirt on the horse. Each body-clip job should start with a full bath the day before so the horse’s hair will be clean and dry.
The length of the hair also makes a difference. It may be easier to clip the horse once in October before the coat reaches its full length and then again in January than it will be to wait for the full wooly mammoth effect you may face in December.
Maintenance varies, so check the manufacturer’s instructions. Some require oiling between and/or during each use and cleaning or replacing an air-intake screen. You’ll want to sharpen and store the blades after the winter season ends and get the clippers serviced if necessary before storing them. Sharpening and servicing may require that the blades or clippers be sent away.
We got the cleanest and quickest full body clip with the two-part Groomer’s Edge clippers from Double K. The weight and noise from the motor is held on the groomer’s waist belt, and the handset is both light and quiet. At $300 (plus blades), they’re a pricey set, but we think they’re worth it.
We found the Kim Laube cordless clippers to be the most convenient, with an amazing array of options to suit any situation, and they did a beautiful, clean, quiet job. They’re the rare clippers that will work equally well for a body clip or for trimming. We found you can use these clippers anywhere, and you can pull them out of the case for any quick trim or clean-up job with no fuss. You’ll also pay more for the cordless convenience and options, starting at $249 and working up to over $600.
The Laube cordpack model is our Best Buy at $159, producing a beautiful body clip with less handler fatigue and blowing hair than most heavier models.