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Grooming For Glamour - Clipping

By Jeffrey Rolo

Most horse owners don't think twice when it comes to clipping their horse, but if they truly understood what happens when they clip a horse perhaps they would be a little more cautious.

Clipping your horse is not the same thing as you going for a haircut, because whereas humans do not need their hair (at most it can provide some protection from the sun/elements), your horse does need most of the unsightly hair that we commonly clip. For this reason I will generally not clip a horse unless I'm preparing him for show.

Before covering the commonly clipped areas a note of caution – if your horse has not been clipped often then chances are high he will be very uncomfortable with the buzzing sound clippers emit. This is especially true when you try to clip around the horse's face; to them it would be comparable to someone clicking a pair of scissors inches away from our eyes and nose. We sure as heck would try to recoil away from the invader that has potential to permanently blind us, so don't get angry at your horse when he has the same response.

If you have developed a bond of trust with your horse he will eventually allow you to clip him, but take it slow and always be on the lookout for a reflex swing of the head. I prefer to turn the clippers on and let my horse examine them with his nose (clippers facing me, of course). Let him snort at it and feel it out with his whiskers since often that will make him far more comfortable when the clippers do approach his sensitive areas.

Along the lower rear-side of each leg (the fetlock) lies a patch of long hair that usually points away from the hoof when fully grown. These areas of hair are commonly referred to as horse feathers, and while I'll be the first to admit they aren't necessarily the most aesthetic to look at, horse feathers do serve a purpose! Horse feathers provide a bit of extra protection to the lower fetlock/hoof area and more importantly it helps direct water running down the horse's leg away from the actual hooves.

Around the muzzle and above the eyebrows you will find horse whiskers, another area that is commonly clipped off by owners (particularly those who show horses). These whiskers are not just present for the heck of it – they also serve a purpose! Like a cat's whiskers, horse whiskers are particularly sensitive to touch, so horses use them to help detect dangers or obstructions that their eyes might miss.

When you clip a horse's whiskers you impair their sense of touch. Imagine how you would feel if you were stretching your arms out in a dark room to detect unseen obstructions… and then someone tied your arms down such that you had to walk blindly into the furniture and walls! Although not quite that dramatic, we're doing something along that lines to a horse by clipping their whiskers.

Another common clipping area is the bridle path, a spot just behind the horse's ears where the top bridle or halter strap rests. There is no harm in cutting a path here since it is purely cosmetic, but I don't bother shaving off any portions of the mane on my horses. Since they don't permanently live in a halter or bridle, it's just not necessary for me.

Horse owners will often clip the fuzzy hair within a horse's ears, but once again while it may not be visually appealing that hair is there for a reason! It assists in keeping bugs and flies out of the horse's ears, and unlike humans a horse cannot just swat at a fly near or inside our ear. You leave them defenseless in that area, so take that into consideration the next time you want to completely shave away the fuzz due to its unsightly appearance.

Nature is wonderfully efficient, and I believe in allowing horses to remain as close to their natural state and habitat as possible. Clipping your horse is in direct defiance of nature's design and thus can cause your horse some discomfort. Due to this I don't recommend clipping a horse except for special circumstances. It doesn't hurt a horse physically, but removing natural senses and protections just isn't kind.

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