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There are three main reasons people choose to clip their horses, competition, comfort and practicality.
The main reason practicality is to help horses perform to the best of their ability during the cooler months when their coats grow long. Horses cool down through sweating and when asked to work they may loose vital energy through overheating and sweating, clipping helps to cool the horse while he works. Another reason for clipping is to avoid having to hose off a sweaty horse and putting them away while wet, this is mainly an issue for those who ride at night, having a short coat means the horse will dry quicker.
Many people clip their horses for competition, especially show horses. Clipping a horse for competion not only improves the presentaion of the horse but may improve performance as they will not sweat up so much and lose energy.
Then there are those who really have no option and must clip for the comfort of the horse. Ponies especially are predisposed to cushings, a condition which, among other things, causes the ponies coat to grow continually throughout the year, horses can also have cushings. For the comfort of the pony they will generally require up to four clips a year, especially for summer. These ponies can not regulate their body temperature properly and therefore are more easily managed through appropriate rugging.
Clips vary so much from a belly clip to a full clip, which clip do you need? Every horse is different, but as a general rule you only really need to take off where the horse is sweating. A trail horse working once or twice a week may suit a belly/strip clip or trace clip depending on how much they sweat. HRCAV/Pony club horses working three days maybe four do well with a blanket clip, especially if they are standing around on rally days waiting their turn!
Body clip are generally for horses and ponies being worked at least four days a week, eventers and dressage horses mostly are done with a body clip. Leaving a saddle patch is optional, I don't for my own horse but 60% of customers do choose to leave a saddle patch.
A full clip is everything off, leaving a completely naked horse! This clip is generally done on show horses at the end of the season and performance horses early on in the season. Mostly horses requiring a full clip are in full competition work. Although many people also like to clip out to avoid the winter moult!
I must add that all horses and owners are different and not all fit in to a certain category.
The ultimate time to clip is as the coat starts to shift around August, however this is not always optimal for the performance horse. My advise to anyone who asks is to clip when the horse is getting to hot and sweaty for the work being asked of them. Many horses require clipping as early as April as the coats are coming through but the weather is still so lovely, these horses will often be clipped again in June/July.
My busiest month for performance horses and ponies is May, many of those clipped in May do not need a second clip.
Another frequently asked question is 'which rugs does my horse need after clipping?'. Again every horse is different, of my own horses non wear the same outfit when clipped! A good starting point is to only add what you have taken away. Working on the base of a horse wearing a cotton and unlined set, a trace clip might only require a lined canvas and light neck rug, for a blanket clip I would add a fleece neck rug and perhaps an extra cotton or moleskin rug. And for a full or body clip wool rugs are perfect with a lined canvas or synthetic rug or combo, along with a fleece neck rug.
I prefer wool rugs to fleece or doona rugs as they breath better, in turn they expel excess heat better than fleece or synthetic and hold in the warmth. Doona rugs are great for the stable but once a top rug is added they lost their effect as doonas are made to trap the warmth in the fill, by putting a rug on top it flattens the fill and does not allow as much warmth. As for the neck fleece is perfect on it's own, it is waterproof to an extent and will not be layered so will not trap heat.