Horses grow thick coats in winter, which enables them to survive when the temperature falls below freezing. It is not unkind to leave horses outside in winter if they are in an environment that allows them to exercise to keep warm, if there is shelter from wind and rain, and if there is a source of food available. Mongolian horses, for example, dig through the snow and ice to eat the frozen hay preserved below.
In England, horses used for fox-hunting, which begins in the early spring when it’s still below freezing, are frequently clipped as the long hair becomes muddy during the helter-skelter of chasing hounds through boggy fields and icy streams. This mud, being abrasive, often leads to saddle sores and girth galls in Thoroughbreds and Irish hunters. It is only the less valuable and more hardy hill ponies ridden by local children that are left unclipped.
In South Africa, Arabians are often clipped to show at the Gauteng championship in August, although purists have long maintained the hair should be groomed out and horses blanketed. Jumpers and show riders had never had such qualms
and clip all their show horses at least two weeks before the show. Endurance riders have traditionally been prejudiced against clipping, possibly because they prefer the idea of a more natural type of riding and associate clipping with ‘showing’.
Competition driving change
Endurance has, however, become much more competitive over time and it has been realised that every possible thing that increases the comfort and soundness of an endurance horse will improve performance. And body clipping is becoming the norm rather than the exception. During an endurance ride, a horse sweats heavily. Sweat cannot evaporate efficiently from a thick winter coat, so the horse takes a long time to dry.
The patch under the saddle is not shaved, however, as it helps to prevent chafing. Riders are advised to clip endurance horses at least three weeks to a month before a ride as the skin of newly clipped horses can be highly sensitive.
Clipping is done with an electric clipper and it’s advisable to ask an expert to do it for you. The fee is between R250 and R500 and travel costs are usually extra. Some horses hate being clipped. If yours is one of these, you may have to ask your vet to tranquilise it. After clipping, it should be kept blanketed at night and even in the daytime if temperatures are below freezing or there is an icy wind. Clipped horses are more likely to injure themselves and should be kept in paddocks free of wires and thorn-bushes.