It’s that time of year again: layering season! If you’re lucky enough to have an indoor to ride in
this winter, you’ve probably witnessed the annual phenomenon of layerus interruptus, in which
riders hit “pause” on their lesson every ten minutes to peel off yet another layer of outerwear.
By the end of the lesson, they, like Russian nesting dolls, appear one-tenth of their original size,
and jump standards are festooned with hoodies and jackets galore.
What about our horses, though? Winter can leave even them looking more like wooly Tibetan
yaks, and, unlike we riders, our trusty yaks can’t elect to shed their layers when trot sets get
sweaty. Usually a little winter sweat isn’t a big deal, but, when there isn’t enough time for your
yak to dry before you put him up for the night, the extra fluff becomes an issue. Maybe you’re
an adult amateur who rides late in the evening after work. Maybe you’re a junior trying to
squeeze in a decent hack after homework (and before they turn out the barn lights). Either way,
a solution must be found.
You may have heard the objection that clipping horses isn’t natural—that it robs them of their
natural defense against the weather. While this is true, it’s also true that mother nature likely
never anticipated that your gallant steed, who lives outside eight hours a day, would be also be
schooling Prix St. Georges in a heated indoor throughout the otherwise frigid month of
February with a rider who needs to hurry home afterward to feed her family.
Remember, too, that clipping isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. If your horse won’t be hitting
the show ring this winter—if he simply needs to dry more quickly after work--some variation of
hunter or trace clip should do the trick (and still afford him some protection from the
Ready to take the plunge? Here are a few tips to make your first clipping experience a little
Take Your Time, and Pick Your Spot
Set aside two hours for a full body clip, and pick a low-traffic time in a quiet area of the
barn. Feeling rushed is a recipe for frustration. Make sure you have appropriate
blankets, liners, and maybe even a hood before you begin—whatever will be most
appropriate for your freshly shorn yak.
Locate appropriate clippers and a heavy-duty extension cord. My go-to clippers are
Lister Stars, but Andis makes a great 2-speed clipper, too and Oster’s variable speed
Clipmasters are tried-and-true favorites. Better yet: borrow a set of clippers from an
experienced friend. Then borrow the experienced friend. I’ve found that bribery is
useful. Try food, wine, coffee—and definitely a fresh set of clipper blades. You’ll also
want a backless stool, a clean surface for your supplies, and a leather (or breakaway)
halter with a throatlatch snap.
Pre-Clean and Show Sheen
Make sure your yak is as clean as possible before clipping. If you have access to a heated
barn and warm-water wash rack, a bath is ideal. If not, plenty of elbow grease should
produce a satisfactory result. A spritz of Absorbine Show Sheen (or a coat polish of your
choice) will help the clippers work smoothly through the job.
Know Thy Horse
Think carefully about how your horse is likely to react. If he tends to pull back while tied,
have “experienced friend” hold him throughout rather than putting him in the crossties.
It’s smart to begin with areas of the horse’s body that are less reactive before moving to
sensitive areas like the face, muzzle, and ears. Be sure to give your horse some time to
get accustomed to the sound of the clippers and the feeling of their vibration before
beginning the job. Earplugs can be helpful if your horse is sensitive to noise. If you
already know that your horse objects to clipping strenuously, consult with your trainer
about the best ways to minimize stress for him (and for you).
Get to Work
When you’re ready to begin, start your clip low on the horse’s body in a less visible area.
Move against the direction of hair growth, and look out for whorls and cowlicks.
Consider clipping a little longer than you think you might want, at least initially, and use
even pressure to minimize lines. Remember, you can always make a second pass, but
you can’t put back what you’ve taken off.
In areas in which skin is looser (chest, neck), pulling it taut with the heel of your free
hand will give you a better result. Dipping your blades frequently in Blade Wash, and
following with a spray of Oster Kool Lube, will clear out hair and debris, keeping the
blades lubricated and cool as they work. If they get too warm for you to touch, take a
break until they cool down.
Above all, remember: your first clip might not look perfect, and that’s okay! Clipping is a skill—a
knack that a person develops over time. Just as Michael Jordan didn’t become the best there
ever was overnight, neither will you likely be a clipping superstar straight out of the gate. Be
patient with yourself as you hone your new clipping skills, and, pretty soon, your barnmates will
be asking if you’ll shear their yaks, too! (Maybe make sure they offer you a bottle of wine in the
transaction; I’ve always found that a mouthful of freshly clipped winter coat goes perfectly with
a nice Merlot.)
Lea LaCross Fortkamp