LiveryList Focus On… Clipping: Getting It Right First Time

Many horses are clipped over the winter. Fact. Some horses are clipped better than others. Fact. As well as running LiveryList, I have been a qualified Freelance Groom for the past 14 years and have fixed some terrible clips in my time which have supposedly been done in the first place by ‘experienced’ people.

Many owners ask a third party to clip their horse- maybe the yard owner, a groom or a friend, and some will give it a go themselves. However, for some reasons some clips just turn out better than others. Sometimes its the person clipping, sometimes it’s the tools, sometimes it’s just other factors that could have been avoided! Take a look at my tips below to get the best from your horse’s clip and end up with the best possible result.

  • First and foremost… Can they actually clip? Always check the credibility of anyone you ask to clip your horse. It may be an experienced individual, but many horse owners ask ‘freelance’ grooms and they could be a complete stranger. There is no guarantee anyone advertising their clipping services is actually any good at clipping, nor has the necessary experience or competence to clip your horse to the necessary standards. If you are asking a stranger to clip your horse always be sure to seek a recommendation from a friend or fellow horse owner and ask the groom for a reference or photos of one or more of their previous clips. The number of times I’ve been out to new clients who are complete strangers to me, yet let me loose on their horses without even checking my skills honestly astounds me!
  • Make it a yard event… Chances are you’re not the only horse owner on the yard who will need clipping services. If no one on the yard offers to clip and you are booking a groom to come and do it why not see who else needs it to. It will certainly be worth your while as most freelance grooms will offer substantial discounts for multiple clips at the same yard. Even if you’re not normally at the same yard there’s no reason why other horse owners you may know cannot travel to one location for all their horses to be clipped at the same time!
  • Don’t Over-Clip… As smart and easy to maintain as full clips are, make sure you get a clip that is relevant to your horse’s age, type, condition and most important levels of work. For most horses in light to medium work (and you would be surprised what ‘light’ work is classed as!), a trace or blanket clip will suffice. A hunter clip or completely full clip is really only suitable for horses in very heavy work such as regular hunting and competing. Remember as well, the more hair off, the harder it will be for your horse to stay warm, and if they are too cold and over-clipped their hair will grow back faster and you’ll end up having to clip them numerous times over the winter as well as needing numerous layers of rugs!
  • Consider your horse’s tolerance levels… When you give a horse their first ever clip it is important to keep it short and sweet. This builds their confidence as its quite alarming to have this buzzy thing around your bits and pieces when you’ve no understanding what they are. Perhaps just a bit off the neck and belly will suffice. You can always go back a few days later to take off a bit more and give them a gradual introduction to the world of clipping. Especially for young horses that may not have been clipped many times less is definitely more. Its no good deciding to give a 4-year-old a full clip, legs and all if they’ll lose tolerance after half an hour as this will only give them a bad feeling about being clipped in the future. Similarly, although it may look smarter to have a horses legs clipped, would your horse actually like it? Many horses do not actually like the sensation of having their legs clipped and they are very tricky areas to clip with a high risk of injury if the horse is becoming agitated. There is nothing worse than having to leave a partly clipped horse because the horse owner does not understand the tolerance levels of their horse.
  • Be honest… There’s nothing worse than booking someone to clip your horse and saying they are ‘good as gold’ if it was a pain the previous time and you’re just crossing your fingers hoping it had a change of heart. People offering clipping services would rather you were honest about a horses behaviour during clipping as this will make it a safer and nicer experience for all. If you are unsure how your horse reacts to clipping- especially if its new to you or being clipped for the first time- make sure you cater for this and explain to the person clipping. Most will be understanding and be happy to work at the horse’s pace. Avoid anyone who does not seem confident dealing with an agitated horse as this can only increase the horse’s agitation just making the situation worse. If needs be to arrange for the horse to be sedated by a vet or have an over-the-counter sedative to hand.
  • Don’t get carried away with being ‘Pretty’… Its become a bit of a ‘thing’ to have all manner of patterns and designs clipped into horses. As nice as this looks it can add considerable time to the duration of a clip. Same as above keep it simple and know the tolerance levels of your horse. Also, plan in advance what pattern you will use. It is quick and easy to make a stencil and then mark out any pattern on the horse with chalk or a suitable marker pen which you can follow with the clippers.
  • Be prepared… Safety should always be the first consideration when clipping, even if it’s your own horse. Make sure you are clipping somewhere bright and light. The horse should be tied securely (but with a quick release knot) and if you don’t feel they will stand still get someone to hold them instead. Although a haynet may seem a  good idea it can actually make the horse shake its head and its whole body wobble a lot which is not ideal for achieving straight lines! Do not clip somewhere where the horse feels trapped or where the person clipping could easily become trapped or kicked if in a confined space. If the horse gets agitated in on its own make sure it is clipped in sight of other horses to reduce any stress. Ideally, it can be useful to have someone else to help- or at least someone available on the yard- in case you need assistance with holding the horse or the clipping process (such as holding their legs up to clip their armpits!). If they need to be sedated, make sure you arrange the person clipping to come at the suitable time to allow it to take effect rather than giving it when they arrive and needing to wait 30 minutes for it to take effect!
  • Don’t present a wet and grubby horse… There is nothing worse arriving to clip a horse to find it still in the field, wet or muddy. When you’ve booked for the horse to be clipped (and even if you are clipping it yourself) make sure they have been in long enough to dry right down to the skin- especially areas like the belly and behind the ears- and that they are free from mud. This will not only make clipping easier for you, but reduces the risk of pulling the horse’s hairs, and also blunt the blades of your clippers. It’s also worth giving your horse a  good groom beforehand not only to remove excess grease from the coat but also to check them over for any signs of injury that you may need to warn the person clipping.
  • Talking of Blades… Make sure you have sharp blades. From a set of well-sharpened blades, you can achieve 3-4 clips on clean horses with fairly fine coats. Yet newly sharpened blades could be eradicated in half an hour on a damp and greasy coat. Always carry a set of spare sharpened blades, as well as the necessary tools for blade replacement and any minor fixes you may have. You also want to ensure that your clippers are serviced annually to reduce the likelihood of any breakdown, especially if you use them a lot!
  • Safety first… If using a third party to clip they should have in mind the necessary precautions to prevent any harm to themselves or your horse. Ideally, clippers (and any extension leads used) should be PAT tested annually for electrical safety and have a sticker displayed on them stating as such. Although many professional grooms use cordless clippers, due to not needing to worry about battery life many still use those connected to the mains. If this is the case, most importantly they should be using a circuit breaker between the clippers and the electrical connection to reduce the risk of electrocution if anything should happen such as the horse stepping on and breaking the electrical lead.
  • Don’t let them leave with a half-finished clip! My biggest piece of advice if you’re getting someone else to clip is to check and check again once they claim to have finished. Once the clip is ‘done’ take the horse into a different position with different light – outside is always good, especially if you have clipped in a barn or stable and check over for any bits that have been missed. Get the horse to stand square, stand directly in front of and behind them to check any levels are the same and lines are straight. Don’t be afraid to pick up any bits you don’t feel are good enough- it’s your horse and they are offering a clipping service to you that you should be satisfied with!
  • Twice is better… and aftercare too… Clipping will result in lines in a coat for a day or so… that’s just how it is. But I find a second run over the coat always results in a better finish and helps you level up any bits that may have been missed. Once you’ve finished the first initial clip, run the clippers over the complete coat again- it won’t get rid of the clipping lines completely but you’ll be surprised how much hair the clippers still take off and it just gives a generally smoother finish. Finally, a good way to finish a clip is to run a hot flannel over the coat, then give a good brush off after with a soft brush like a body brush. The worst thing you can do after a clip is to leave them all hairy, chuck a rug on them and turn them out to be al itchy for the rest of the day!
  • And what if something goes wrong? What would happen if your horse were to be cut by the person clipping and needed veterinary treatment to fix any injuries? Even with an experienced person clipping, horses are unpredictable and some things are just unavoidable. For that reason, anyone employed by you to clip should have the necessary insurance to cover such issues should they arise. If a yard owner is clipping the horse, or a professional groom they should have the necessary ‘Care and Custody’ insurance cover which covers any injuries through the course of their business. It’s always worth checking this before booking and asking them to bring along proof of their insurance.
  • Is it actually better to clip yourself? If you’ve several horses and have them clipped at least twice a year it may be cheaper and easier to invest in your own clippers and do them yourself! Clipping is tricky but once you understand how the horse’s body is put together and where the lines need to be it’s actually quite easy. You can get a good quality set of heavy duty clippers for around £300 – £400, and blades are around £30 a set depending upon brand. Anything cheaper than that is just likely to not be up to the job. Generally, the only ongoing cost is an annual maintenance visit, PAT testing and blade sharpening. There’s also the opportunity to clip other horses on your yard if you are good enough.


This information as provided above is intended to provide guidance and areas for consideration for those intending to enter into such arrangements, and is best advice to our knowledge at the time of publication following extensive research. Anyone proposing to enter into agreements, processes or actions based upon the information contained herein are advised to carry out their own due diligence to ensure the information above remains current and factual. 

© Livery List 2020

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