Wild horses grow long, protective coats that shed naturally, governed by the change of seasons. Domesticated horses also shed their coats on a seasonal basis if they are pastured outside for most of the year -- this is fine and natural. Leaving a long coat on a horse that is stabled in warm quarters or one that is frequently ridden hard can cause problems, however. For example, a hairy horse will not dry quickly and properly in cold weather.
Before you grab the clippers, know the grooming and clipping best suited for your type of horse.
For example, a horse ridden on a regular basis in a warm climate has different needs from one stabled or pastured where the temperature plummets in winter.
How the horse is used is also a factor. The owner of the show horse must know the correct grooming, clipping and etiquette for proper care of the horse. Show animals need more detailed clipping to be properly prepared for competition.
But no matter why you are trimming, be prepared to spend lots of elbow grease using a curry comb, shedding blade and finishing brush to keep the coat looking healthy and well-groomed.
Once you've selected your clippers-- a variety are available for different jobs -- introduce your horse to them carefully.
A young horse especially needs to be exposed to clippers in a gentle manner. Show it the clippers turned off. Rub its body with them while speaking in a gentle manner. Letting the horse have some favorite grain or hay to munch helps take its mind off the task at hand. Only then should you turn on the clippers, allowing the horse to become accustomed to the sound before clipping.
Clippers on the market today are quieter and less threatening than those of the past. Keeping them well-oiled and the blades sharpened correctly will make the job less traumatic for the horse. Whenever possible, have someone familiar with the horse stand at its head and speak gently to the equine during the clipping process.
Start by forming the bridle path. The amount of mane removed is specific to the breed. A horse with a shorter neck should have less mane removed, and a horse with a long, arched neck would have a longer bridle path.
Begin clipping downward on the mane from a point directly even with the back of the ear. Neaten the edge of the mane for a bridle path by turning the clipper blade at right angles to the mane, and marking a defined edge.
About half an inch to an inch of mane is left on top of the occiput bone -- that is the pointy bone on the top of the horse's head -- in order to braid it with ribbons for the show.
To do the ears, fold the ear in half vertically and hold it firmly with one hand. Pinch the ear shut and use a finishing trimmer to remove the hair from the edges of the ear. Clip from the top edge to the base of the ear.
Remove the hair on the inside of the ear of a show horse, leaving a small "V" of hair at the top inside the ear. The back side of the ear can be clipped by holding the ear flat and clipping against the lay of the coat.
To trim the muzzle, begin with the long hairs, using a quiet finishing trimmer. Work carefully around the nostrils and edges of the mouth. Long hairs are also removed from around the eyes. Clip the underside of the muzzle against the lay of the coat up to the throat, blending off at the cheek muscle.
Be gentle but firm when working around the head. Work slowly and carefully against the grain on the face, using particular caution around the eyes and ears.
Begin work on the legs by lifting the front leg and bracing it with your arm and wrist. Remove the coat just above the coronet, clipping against the lay of the coat. Remove the fetlock hair over the ankle. Clip straggly hairs along the back of the leg, clipping against the lay of the coat, up from the ergot mark on the back of the ankle to the knee.
For the show horse, trim the coronet at the top of hoof, working up into the lay of the coat. Trim with scissors for a neat edge. If the coronet hair is removed, use a hoof dressing several times per week to keep moisture in the hoof. If the horse is not being shown, coronet band hair is best left alone.
Many different types of body clips are used on horses, depending on the climate and stable conditions.
A low trace clip is the trim of choice in the winter--it leaves most of the horse alone except for the areas where it is most likely to sweat. If you're going to do a trace or hunter clip, it helps to use chalk to outline the areas you plan to trim.
This information was adapted with permission from Oster Professional Products, from The Horse: Grooming and Care, by Dorothy Walin. To order the booklet, or for more on Oster's grooming products, call (800) 887-6682.