At a Good Clip

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Our equine disciplines really do differentiate themselves by the way they clip. Even if you know your own clipping rules inside and out, we think you’ll enjoy learning what “the other guys” are doing when they groom equine hair for show ring success.

Make Them Notice

The hunter/jumper divisions, which can seem so complex in their rules, seem to be the simplest when it comes to clipping.

“In hunters, no prize is given, but the more professional, the better cared-for a horse looks, the more we’ll notice,” says Debbie Sands, trainer, hunter/jumper judge and steward, of Encinitas, Calif. “It makes a better first impression to the judge. As for jumpers, you don’t really have to clip, but they should look neater.”

She likes to see ears clipped, preferring an “inside job” but acknowledges that horses living outside need Nature’s protection. In that case, fold the ear closed and clip excess on the edges, advises Sands, who likes a two-inch bridle path only. Eyelashes are better left alone, but whiskers should be removed. For legs, “take big clippers to remove the feathers.”

In the Arabian disciplines, “very specific rules exist in the USEF rulebook (Chapter AR) about what you can and can’t do,” says Jill Frieders of Rochester, Minn., chair of the USEF Arabian Horse Division Committee.

It’s important to differentiate between the main and the sport horse rings, she says. In the former, you’ll see divisions such as English and Western Pleasure, Halter and Hunter Pleasure, while in the arena allocated to sport horses, dressage and over-fences classes are held.

In the sport horse genre, “don’t expect to see an extreme clip job,” says Frieders. “Judges who judge in sport horse are not Arabian judges. They are judges of their disciplines, so their eye expects to see horses clipped less than for the main show ring.” For Arabians in dressage, for example, “you’d never clip ears out completely. Judges would think that’s bizarre, but showing English Pleasure in the main ring, you clip the ear out all the way.” If you didn’t, Frieders says, “it would be like showing a horse with hairy armpits.”

In the main Arabian ring, Frieders predicts that you’ll usually see a bridle path “longer than in other breeds or disciplines. It’s what shows off the neck best.” Hair is removed from outside edges and inside of ears, and from the muzzle, plus guard hairs around eyes come off, but eyelashes stay. Legs are closely clipped up to the knees.

“This is an art,” explains Frieders, who adds that she once owned a book that illustrated in exacting detail how to clip for the Arabian main ring: “It was like a Clip by Numbers.” Taking it a step further, horses are often clipped with a half moon shape over the eyes, to make them look bigger; a diamond shape may be clipped into the forehead for added aesthetics.

Like American Idol

In spite of the nuances, a lot of similarities exist between disciplines. If the horse has a nice, sleek summer coat, “you don’t need to do much,” says Jayne Ayers, member of USEF’s Dressage committee, and international dressage and sport horse breeding judge of Hearthstone Farm, Inc. in Dousman, Wisc. Trim up the fetlocks, leaving no extra hair hanging off, and possibly do the coronet bands. “Just present a neat, tidy appearance overall,” recommends this veteran competition judge and trainer.

Did you know it’s not traditional to clip chin whiskers? “Most do clip the goat hairs under the horse’s chin,” she says. “Very few people clip ears all the way out—especially for a horse turned out part of the day—but I do like to see neat-looking ears.” Again, it’s fine to clip hair “level with edges of ears, but never clip around the eyes. The horse really does need those for protection,” recommends Ayers. Yes, the European influence, i.e., more hair, less clipping on the face, has made its way westward, “but we are always far more concerned with performance.” Providing a neat, workmanlike, well-nourished appearance is paramount; fashion or style is not so important, she concludes.

Dressage may have horses come to letter “A” with a few button braids or many, or even a roached, or clipped, mane. “It can all change the shape of the horse’s neck, which is important to the assessment of the horse,” Ayers says.

Clipping is part of the look, and you’re about to perform, as if you were on a show like “American Idol,” says Ayers. “A well-turned-out horse and rider always tells the judge ‘This pair knows what they are doing.’”

Ayers’ observation on turn-out is shared by all our experts here. AQHA, APHA and NSBA judge Gigi Bailey, a respected trainer based in Green Bay, Wisc., agrees that the same premise holds true in Western disciplines. “My motto is: ‘A winner is a hundred little things.’ The nicest horse in the world, badly presented, is not going to win,” Bailey says.“I clip all of my performance horses as I would clip a

champion halter horse,” Bailey notes. Details: Clip all white on legs with #10 blade, against the hair, leaving no clip or trace marks: If a leg isn’t white, use that #10 up the back of legs, starting at the back of the coronet band, and up the ankle. Clipping as you go, turn part way up the canon bone, then blend in. On legs, use a #40 surgical blade for the coronet band.” Oh, and don’t forget to remove chestnuts!

For the face, she recommends a #40 blade for the bridle path, maybe three inches in length, which also works well on the ears. As for the hair inside, Bailey says do remove all the hair, as well as on the edge. The #40 also does eyebrows, whiskers and bottom of jaw line, while the #10 whisks away long hair on the side of the jaw. “Go with the hair, instead of against, then blend so it comes off more naturally, and doesn’t look so body-clipped,” says Bailey, who encourages tails to grow long. She always recommends a tail bag and lots of conditioner on tail-bone hair.

Always Touching Up

Trainer, judge and co-chair of the USEF Saddlebred Horse Committee, Tim Lockard says that the intricacies of saddle seat-style clipping could, in fact, fill several volumes. We’ll conserve space here and hit the high points with our expert, who’s also a member of the American Saddlebred Horse Association board of directors.

As background, saddle seat was developed as a style of riding “gaited” horses in order to show them off to their greatest advantage. Gaited horses include such breeds as American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, and Rocky or Kentucky Mountain Horses. Arabians and Morgans can also be ridden in the saddle seat style.

“Clipping has evolved from a utilitarian type of process,” says Lockard. “A lot of what is done for clipping has nothing to do with the performance of the horse, but everything to do with implying a beautiful presentation and show style.”

“Understated” is key when clipping here. “The whole idea is that after clipping, it doesn’t look like you clipped,” explains Lockard. “You don’t want it to jump out at you, so no lines around muzzle or ears, please.”

The saddle seat genre includes one three-gaited division that must roach the mane; in some saddle seat equitation divisions, horses show with a roached mane and tail, although, Lockard says, tails are not roached as often as before.

Ears in the three-gaited divisions are a special project, often enhanced with a diamond design on the tip. “It takes practice,” says Lockard, who cites two outside points on top and two on bottom. Aesthetics play a role, since “depending on the horse’s conformation, you can give him nicer ears. If they’re deformed, you’ll shape them up.”

It’s all part of the distinctive look that characterizes English-style presentations in this genre. “Ears almost ‘hook’ together, back in towards the center, which is accentuated by clipping,” Lockard says.

Diamonds are a three-gaited horse’s best friend, it seems, as “diamond points on the legs—an argyle pattern—are used. We’re one of the few disciplines that do,” Lockard says.

Those white socks call for a tight #40 blade trim, while colored legs take a #10. “Continue way on up past the fetlock—on a hind leg, at least to the hock, and feather it all together for a refined image that makes legs appear tighter,” he advises.

Front legs need a clip all the way up the back to the elbow, feathered in at the knee cap, like a woman’s layered haircut, says Lockard. Tight clipping merges into normal hair length so “you see it flow back together.”

A Saddlebred bridle path “uses the length of the ear as a gauge: no further.” Again, the jowl line requires a trim against the neck. No nostril hairs wanted here, to interfere with a nose flared wide open “that looks very powerful,” he says, but he leaves well enough alone when it comes to eyelashes and feelers: “Horses stay a lot brighter.”

“We clip a lot in this business, at home and at shows. It’s an integral part of our disciplines. Walk down the aisle at a Saddlebred show, and you’ll surely hear a set of clippers going. We’re always touching up.”