This is my favorite time of year. Brisk weather, changing leaves, heartier fall food. In fact, tomorrow in North Carolina the high is only 59 degrees! Perfect riding weather. Of course, with these cooler temperatures come wooly winter coats on our four-legged friends. Several horses I know are already preparing for frigid winter temperatures. So the question comes up: Should I bodyclip my horse? I have seen both sides of this issue argued and firmly believe that the answer is different for everyone.
When I was in high school in western Pennsylvania, I worked at a private dressage farm. None of the horses were ever clipped. It wasn’t because the trainer didn’t show. It wasn’t because the trainer didn’t like clipping. Her argument was that she didn’t like blanketing. She felt that blankets, with their twisting and rubbing, did more harm than good. I couldn’t disagree. I’ve seen my share of shoulder rubs, and maybe some unexplainable muscle soreness. I even know a horse that was crippled from getting his leg stuck in the belly straps of a blanket. That being said, at this dressage farm, the horses were still turned out daily, in the cold, in the snow, with no blankets. Their natural coats would puff out and they were perfectly content. The issue though, came with training. These horses trained all winter, and some of them were doing some tough stuff; they got pretty sweaty. The challenge to keeping your wooly horse wooly, is properly cooling out. We used Irish Knit sheets and wool coolers back then, under supervision. After every workout, horses were handwalked with coolers on until they were cool and completely dry. Sometimes that meant a lot of walking, and trading sweaty wet coolers for fresh dry ones. There is nothing wrong with this process at all, except that it takes time.
And that I believe is why clipping horses has gotten so big. We don’t want to take the time to do all of that. It’s especially difficult to convince people rushing to the barn after work or school in the winter, in the dark, to take the extra hour to cool out a wooly horse. Instead, people will typically not ride as hard in the winter or they will clip their horse. To make the cool down process go faster, we clip off some or all of a horse’s winter coat. With less hair, not only will the horse not sweat as much, but they will cool down and dry faster. Horses still need coolers when they are clipped, in fact we have to replace the hair we remove with blankets as well.
The answer to the question of whether or not to clip your horse comes down to what you plan to do with your horse over the winter, and how much time you realistically want to spend at the barn every time you ride? If you are going to continue training and showing over the winter (which we are fortunate to be able to do in the South), then yes, you may want to clip, especially if you juggle horses with school or a full-time job. If you see yourself only coming out to ride on the weekends over the winter, and you have a little extra time to hang out with your horse and cool them down, then there is no shame in keeping a wooly coat. To break it down further, there is always the option to only take off some of your horses's winter coat.
I agree with both sides. I have clipped a lot of horses as a professional groom, and it is nice to cool down a horse in a few minutes versus an hour. For those of you who are interested in more information or would like to schedule a bodyclip in the area, please feel free to contact me. Enjoy the fall weather while we have it!