Horses grow thick coats in winter to help protect them against wet and cold weather. They grow these coats in response to the lessening sunlight, so your horse is certain to grow a thicker coat whatever climate he lives in – even in South Africa the amount of sunlight will decrease in winter. This thick coat is great for keeping the horse warm naturally, but can be difficult and even unhealthy if the horse is worked regularly to the point of heavy sweating. This happens commonly in a warmer climate such as ours. Sweat in the coat creates a thick film that mats the hair and slows the drying process dramatically. The thick coat can’t keep a horse warm if it is matted or wet, so this leaves the horse vulnerable to being cold, even under a blanket.

That’s why many owners opt for clipping. If you don’t ride your horse much or only hack him leisurely, you won’t need to clip him, but some form of clipping may be necessary for any horse who is in a steady programme of regular work in winter. For horses in lower work, a partial clip will almost certainly be sufficient, but for horses in heavy work, a full-body clip is likely to be required.

Natural defences

As mentioned above, the winter coat is a valuable natural defence for horses against the cold. If, as an owner, you make the decision that your horse needs clipping in order for him to continue with his work regime, you take on the responsibility of managing his body temperature for the following months.

Full-body clipping definitely necessitates blanketing to make up for the loss of the horse’s natural protection. The horse will need different weights of blankets and maybe even an exercise rug, depending on the amount of hair that is removed from his body. Thick rugs are losing popularity and instead many are recommending that you use several thinner rugs and remove or add as the temperature dictates.

Did you know?

You must check a clipped horse more frequently in a hot climate than in a cold one, to see if he is in need of more or fewer blankets. In cold climates horses must be checked at least once a day to ensure their blanketing is sufficient, whereas in warmer climates horses must be checked at least twice in the evening, as there is a real risk of overheating, which can lead to sweating, dehydration and ultimately colic.


There are different types of body clips you can do, depending on your horse’s exercise routine and lifestyle. Ask yourself:

  • Is your horse stabled?
  • How long is he turned out during the day?
  • How much and how hard does he work?
  • How easily does he sweat?
  • Do you have the correct blanketing available?

Before you clip

Clipping can be a scary experience for a horse who has never been clipped before. The vibration of the clippers can upset him, especially when you clip over more sensitive areas such as the face and legs. If you are clipping for the first time, be prepared for any negative reactions. You may need to get a vet out to sedate the horse. A horse who moves around too much during a clip can be dangerous and can also make for a very untidy clip.

Consider when to clip as well. Some people like to clip as soon as the winter coat starts to grow, while others wait until later in the season.

It’s important to keep in mind that you interfere with the growth of the natural winter coat when you clip, so your horse might not grow a thick winter coat in the next winter season and you will need to accommodate for this accordingly.

Types of clip

Full clip

A full clip means removing the entire winter coat, including on the legs, head and ears. Your horse will then have no protection from the cold, so careful stable management will be required on a day-to-day basis. This clip is suitable for horses in hard work and minimal turnout.

Hunter clip

This clip removes most of the coat, but leaves the saddle area and the legs as is. This is ideal for horses in medium to hard work and daily turnout, because it keeps the back and legs warm. You can choose not to clip the head. As with the full clip, you will need to make sure the horse is adequately blanketed when need be.

Blanket clip

The blanket clip means removing hair from everywhere except the back (from the withers to the hindquarter) and the legs. Again, you have the option not to clip the head. This clip is ideal for horses in medium work and daily turnout. It allows the horse some extra warmth, but without excessive sweating during work.

Chaser clip

This clip is similar to the blanket clip, but you leave winter coat on the top of the neck as well. It is also ideal for horses in medium work and daily turnout.

Bib clip

This clip only removes a small amount of hair from the neck and chest area. The bib clip is ideal for horses in light work and can also be used on horses who are turned out throughout winter, as long as they have a proper blanket and access to shelter.

Did you know?

Full clips and hunter clips are popular in South Africa since our winters are mild in comparison to other regions in the world, and since most of our competition horses are stabled.

Deciding not to clip

If your horse does not have a heavy workload over winter, clipping is unnecessary. It can, however, be frustrating to look at that dull winter coat for the next few months. Putting shine on a winter coat is not impossible, though; it just takes a little bit more elbow grease than in summer. Just as our skin dries out in winter, so too can our horses’ skin, and while supplements like oil can help, nothing beats good basic care.


Good, vigorous grooming helps promote good blood flow to the skin, massages the muscles and helps to lay the coat flat. It is also essential for removing any dirt that can create pressure or sores under the blankets. It should be noted that it is not appropriate to EVER use metal curry combs directly on a horse’s skin – even with the thicker winter coat. A horse has very sensitive skin and a metal curry comb used directly on the skin is too aggressive and is likely to cause pain. A good grooming with a rubber curry comb is more than sufficient. It massages the muscles and increases the oil content of the skin and coat.

Vigorous use of a body brush also helps to remove surface dirt and sweat. A useful trick at the end of grooming is to use a sheepskin or other fabric grooming mitt to ‘polish’ your horse off after his grooming session.

Over time this all helps to build up the natural oils in the coat and give it a healthy shine.

Did you know?

Interestingly, sweat has a wonderful way of promoting a shiny coat, provided the sweat marks themselves are properly groomed out to prevent any discomfort under rugs and blankets. To prevent horses bleaching, even in winter, sweat marks can be wiped with a slightly damp cloth before cooling the horse off and grooming him dry.