Show Clipping- The first impression is the lasting impression.
With a set of
clippers and you can create depth and enhance a horse's natural attributes
by judicious use of the blades: Hair left a bit long here, trimmed short there and blended together can
make ears more elegant, a throatlatch more clean, a jaw line more defined.
You can spot a horse who has been handled by a real professional from a mile away: Not a hint of a whisker remains on his muzzle and his socks are blindingly white. But the biggest clue is that there is no evidence clippers have ever touched this horse. No clipper marks, razor burn, bald spots or jagged patches.
Such artisans are in demand at show barns, and often these clippers finance their own horses by hiring out their skill. Others just take pride in a job well done on their horses and have an inside edge in classes where top turnout is a plus. If you're wealthy enough to hire one of these artisans each time your horse is due for a clipping, and have no interest in developing this skill yourself, skip this article. But if you'd like to cut your showing costs to buy those new boots or save up for a new saddle, read on.
We've assembled some of the finest grooms and trainers around to teach you the craft of show clipping. After all, top show grooming can be easily learned. As most sculptors will tell you, it's not what you take off that counts, it's what you leave on!
Beware the Blade
Before you go anywhere near your horse with a set of clippers, whether you show English or western, you should know your blades. Just keep in mind that the larger the number, the smaller and therefore finer the blade is. Finer blades cut more hair and cut deeper than larger clipper blades. The smallest blade, #40, will take the hair all the way down to the skin, leaving behind just peach fuzz. To blend clipped areas with non-clipped areas, or deeper cuts to superficial ones, use the coarser blades, #10 to #15, because you'll be taking less hair off and therefore have more control. As you clip, gradually use less pressure.
A good groom knows how much clipper pressure to use to help with cosmetic clip jobs, but pressure is the hardest thing for an amateur to learn. When getting those long goat hairs, for instance, or blending, use light pressure and clip with the growth of the hair. This takes fewer hairs off and gives you more control. Full clipper pressure against the grain is used when you want the full effect of the blade, such as when clipping off white socks or using a #40 blade on the ears. Until you become accustomed to varying clipper pressure, however, you'll be better off sticking to a lighter touch because you can always go back and clip more.
Avoid clipper marks at all costs! Nothing shouts beginner like clipper trails, and they can make an elegant horse look like a ragamuffin. Also, pros recommend washing areas to be clipped beforehand, especially socks. This strips the hair of oil and dirt and allows a nice smooth surface so you won't end up with a corduroy horse! Take some time to learn and practice proper pressure long before show time — after all, it's not something you're born knowing!
In hunter circles, horses sport clipped muzzles, ears, throats and chins, relatively small bridle-paths, and legs, including the coronet band, pastern and fetlock areas. During winter, full-body clips are commonly seen.
As the manager of Rainbow Canyon Ranch in Azusa, California, Candice Pipkin oversees several grooms responsible for turning out hunters for A- and B-rated shows, and with more than 40 charges to care for, they must have a method to their madness.
According to Candice, the best tip is to make sure you start out with freshly sharpened blades, which give the cleanest clip and leave behind no sign that clippers were there. She says they prepare weeks in advance for the show season by purchasing new blades and sharpening used ones, and making sure their clippers are in top shape. Anything that doesn't make the grade is repaired — good advice considering there's no worse news for a clipper than discovering dull blades or a burned-out motor the day before a show. Finding a sharpening service available at the last minute is tough, and many people are reluctant to lend out their costly clippers and blades.
"We clip just before or as close to the show day as possible," says Candice. "That's the general rule because we want them to look as clean as possible so they are well turned out on show day. Before we start, we make sure the area we are clipping is spotlessly clean. We use medicated shampoo that is soothing and moisturizing, which helps prevent razor burns and rashes." Shampooing the horse beforehand also helps keep dirt from clogging and dulling the clipper blades. Dull blades drag and pull, leaving tracks behind and irritating the horse's skin — consider how you feel when your hair is pulled.
Bridle Path Pointers. "We think most bridle paths are too long, so when we get a new horse in for training we will let the old bridle path grow in," says Candice. How do they avoid the seemingly inevitable Mohawk effect as they wait? "We braid the hairs down as they grow to help manage them. Before we clip a new bridle path (no more than half an inch long, or just enough room for the bridle to lay flat) we'll do a few braids at the top of the neck in front of where we want to clip to make sure the new bridle path will look right."
Candice recommends standing on a stool or bucket so you can look down on your work as you go. If you can't see what you're clipping it's easy to accidentally lop off too much, or worse, hack off a bit of forelock. Rainbow Canyon uses a #30- or #40-size blade to clip bridle paths, ears and muzzles because, as we learned earlier, the smaller blades get the closest cut on those tiny hairs. They use a #10 blade for everything else.
Ear Tip-Offs. Candice and her crew clip the inside of the horse's ears bare at the beginning of the
season and from then on they'll just clip the outside edge to prevent any inner hairs that do grow from tufting out. She suggests you put cotton in your horse's ears before clipping, which will help muffle the clipper's noise and keep hair from dropping inside the ear.
For horses who really hate having their ears clipped, Candice suggests going slow and clipping the ears over a period of time, rather than all on one day If the horse is really adamant about having hairy ears, she says that they coordinate the vet's visits with an ear-trimming session. The vet can administer a tranquilizer to help get the job done safely without harming the horse or endangering the handler.
White Advice. Ever wonder how to get those socks and blazes whiter than white at shows — without showing the pink skin underneath? Rainbow Canyon's approach: For blazes and socks, fit the clippers with a #10 blade and clip against the growth of the hair with a steady pressure. Don't clip outside the lines of the blaze or socks, and only clip off the white hair. Don't blend into the dark hairs, either, which will just make them look chopped. Right before the show, liberally dust powdered white chalk, cornstarch or baby powder onto the area and rub in slightly with your hand. Warning: Don't use a blade smaller than #10, or you will see pink skin!
The method of clipping the rest of the horse (muzzles, legs and so on) is standard throughout the horse industry, regardless of riding discipline. However, Dana Rullo offers some great tips on clipping these parts of the horse and some extra tips on sculpting ears and trimming perfect bridle paths for western stock breeds.
Western Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas and Pintos show with clipped ears, bridle paths, muzzles and jaw areas, eyebrows, legs, coronet bands and the backs of the cannon and pastern. They do not, however, body clip in the winter. Ears on horses in western show divisions are completely "hair bare" inside.
Dana Rullo of Woodridge Farms in Olivenhain, California, is a one-woman operation. But she still has the time to find, train and turn out horses for her amateur clients who compete in A-rated shows all over the country. A big job for one woman? Yes, but possible if she stays organized. It's also a must that her horses are calm about the clipping process. "I work mostly by myself and since I only have two arms, I have to be able to hold and clip the horse myself," she says.
Inside Edge on Ears. Dana recommends cleaning the ears with a damp rag before clipping, then rubbing them afterward with alcohol (be sure it doesn't drip down the inside of the ear). Not only does this bring out the shine on dark skin, but it also acts as an insect repellent.
Getting that clean, close shave is difficult if your horse jumps around. Dana explains her take on
clipping reluctant horses. "The biggest problem people have with ears is that they wait a day before the show to clip," she says. "They are stressed and the horse is stressed, they grab a horse's nose and slap a twitch on and start clipping. The next thing you know, you have a horse that flips out every time you try to clip his ears. Clipping is part of my weekly grooming so the horses are relaxed about it."
This way, not only is it a snap to clip the few long hairs that might sprout the day before the show, it also minimizes pre-show tension. To accustom a nervous horse to clipping, Dana gently holds one ear to calm him while she introduces the other to the clippers.
"I set the clipper on the back of his ear, turn it on and let the horse feel the vibration. If there's some long hairs there, you can nip those off as you wait for him to relax. Then I move down to the outside base of the ear and I make short, smooth strokes. If the horse starts to tense up, I move the clipper to the back of his ear again. The main point to this lesson is that you are clipping the ears months before you go to a horse show. If you don't get every single hair it's not a big deal. What you want is to have a positive experience."
To finish the job, she switches to a smaller, battery-operated clipper that's no more than an inch wide. "It puts the great finishing touches on the inside of his ear." Then she gently turns the horse's ear inside out to get to the hairs way down inside the base.
Artists Tip: For black ears and horses such as duns, who have black points, leave a tuft of hair on the inside tip of the ear. This not only enhances the black edges, but it also makes the ears appear more dramatic. If a horse has shorter, "teddy bear" ears, make an artificial tip for him by clipping down to the skin all through the ear and leaving a 1-inch "tip" on the end. This will elongate common ears.
Blazing and Bridle paths. Since you won't be body clipping, completely shaving the blaze down close to the skin to enhance the whiteness is not an option for your western horse as it is for the hunter. To compensate and make these areas appear brighter white, Dana suggests using a bot or shedding block to thin out the hair on the edges of the blaze. This makes the edges more distinct, highlighting the contrast between light and dark hairs, and voila! The white appears lighter.
The rule of thumb for western bridle paths is that they are to be no longer than the length of the horse's ear. In other words, bend your horse's ear backward and clip no farther than where the tip of the ear reaches. But generally, those horses that are shown in both English and western classes should sport shorter bridle paths. In addition, Dana says to make sure that you are careful about where you trim the bridle path in relation to the forelock. Start the bridle path one finger-width behind the poll or just in front of where the bridle's crownpiece rests for best results.
A Clean, Close Shave. To prep the muzzle before shaving, Dana suggests cleaning the area with a damp rag and then following behind with an alcohol-dampened rag, which is great for cleaning off the green gunk that always seems to accumulate around the horse's mouth. This allows the blade to clip close to the skin.
Use #30 or #40 blades to get those tiny little hairs off — you want to trim off as much hair as possible. Turn your clippers upside down, shave against the whiskers, and use a slight pressure as you follow the contours of your horse's muzzle. Use your other hand to stretch the skin taut around the base of the whiskers so you don't catch any skin in the clippers.
When clipping the nostrils, use the #30- or #40-size blade, going against the grain of the hair, and make sure you clip the inside area, too. Don't skip the tiny hairs growing in the folded edge in the top corner! You'll need to use your other hand again to stretch the skin and "unfold" the bend, and you may have to reposition the clippers to get a good clip.
When you're ready to clip the jaw line and chin, switch to a #10 blade. For these areas, clip with the growth of the hair so you don't clip too much off and end up with skin showing through. Your goal is basically to get those long goat whiskers off. For the "eyebrows," the long hairs above your horse's upper eyelid, cup your palm over his eye and pull the skin down gently and slightly as you clip upward. Be very careful that you don't clip off the eyelashes. For the long hairs below your horse's eye, pull the skin up and clip downward.
White socks and stockings on legs can be handled the same as described for the hunter, then blending them up into the unclipped upper legs. Using a #10 blade for the legs, rest your horse's knee on your leg and begin to clip the long goat or feather hairs growing on the back of the cannon. Clip in the same direction as the hair growth, blending lightly as you go. Then clip up the back of the pastern, against the grain of the hair, and finally the coronet band, also against the grain. Be sure to blend by varying the depth of your cuts to match. You shouldn't clip upper legs because the color will be different than the rest of the body.
The importance of great clipping:
Why be so fixated about clipping? After all, showing is a test of your horsemanship, not a beauty
pageant, right? Dana answers, "If your clip job isn't perfect it doesn't necessarily cause you to lose the class, but it certainly won't let you win." To stand out in a sea of competitors requires not just a top performance but also attention to the smallest details. Clipping is just one aspect of a well-turned out horse and rider, but it's one you can easily control to your advantage. "Your horse's face is the first thing the judge sees when you walk in the ring," adds Dana. "The judge wants to see someone who has taken the time and has a look that says, 'I want first place.'"
The first impression is the lasting impression.
This article is reprinted from Practical Horseman.
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