CLIP­PING & BLAN­KET­ING In­sights from Top Grooms

Alan Davies and Car­men Thie­mann share their sys­tems for keep­ing horses com­fort­able.

Dressage Today - - Bookexcerpt - By Karen Brit­tle

T he days are get­ting shorter and your horse’s coat is get­ting longer. You’ve pulled sheets and blan­kets out of stor­age and are ready for the first cold nights. You find your­self study­ing the weather 10 days out: Is it time to clip yet? If so, what type of clip? And then, which blan­ket? Of course, you’re con­cerned about your horse’s op­ti­mal com­fort at rest and at work as well as how to main­tain his healthy skin and gen­eral well-be­ing once he’s been clipped. Here, top in­ter­na­tional horse-care ex­perts Alan Davies, in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ing groom for Bri­tish Olympians Carl Hester and Char­lotte Du­jardin, and Car­men Thie­mann, who over­sees care for all of Ger­man Olympian In­grid Klimke’s horses, share their in­sights on clip­ping and blan­ket­ing.

Clip­ping: It De­pends on the In­di­vid­ual

Davies has been a pro­fes­sional groom for his en­tire adult life and has been with Hester, Du­jardin and their horses since 2011. He has been rec­og­nized by Team Great Bri­tain as Groom of the Year in 2015 and by Horse & Hound magazine as 2016 Groom of the

Year. When it comes to pro­vid­ing ex­cep­tional care and, in par­tic­u­lar, to clip­ping and blan­ket­ing, Davies em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of tai­lor­ing his ap­proach to each horse as an in­di­vid­ual.

Ac­cord­ing to Davies, “When and how of­ten to clip varies greatly from horse to horse. We have horses in our barn who may not need to be clipped at all if we start blan­ket­ing early enough in the au­tumn, as they grow and main­tain a beau­ti­ful thin coat be­neath the blan­kets. Vale­gro, on the other hand, is a hairy horse—last win­ter I clipped him seven times.”

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Davies be­gins to clip horses some­time in Septem­ber, which is in ac­cor­dance with Eng- land’s cli­mate and the in­ten­tion that the horses will com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally through­out the win­ter sea­son.

In her book Train­ing Horses the In­grid Klimke Way, Klimke writes: “Ev­ery barn needs a good soul who is there for the horses, look­ing after them, keep­ing them in sight, feel­ing for them.” She is re­fer­ring to Thie­mann, who has over­seen the man­age­ment of Klimke’s horses for more than two decades and was dis­tin­guished with the FEI’s 2013 Best Groom Award. Klimke and Thie­mann are known for their holis­tic, horse-friendly ap­proach to equine man­age­ment. For ex­am­ple, all of Klimke’s horses, even world-class com­peti­tors, are turned out to pas­ture on a daily ba­sis and all re­ceive reg­u­lar at­ten­tion from an acupunc­tur­ist as well as their con­ven­tional vet­eri­nar­ian. Thie­mann’s ap­proach to clip­ping and blan­ket­ing re­flects this holis­tic phi­los­o­phy. “I first clip horses dur­ing the fall when they be­gin to get their long and thick win­ter coat,” she says. “When ex­actly I do the first clip de­pends on how quickly the horse be­gins to sweat while work­ing and also how long the coat is. Only very sel­dom and re­luc­tantly do I ever clip a horse dur­ing the sum­mer—do­ing so dis­rupts the horse’s nat­u­ral meta­bolic pro­cesses and re­ally throws horses out of whack in terms of their nat­u­ral abil­ity to reg­u­late tem­per­a­ture and hair growth.”

For Thie­mann, the type of clip de­pends on the horse’s work­load, turnout

sched­ule and whether or not the horse will be show­ing. Thie­mann ex­plains, “At our sta­ble, the horses are still turned out daily all win­ter long. I have to think about this when it comes to clip­ping and blan­ket­ing be­cause they will need more pro­tec­tion and warmth on their backs and in the kid­ney area in or­der to be com­fort­able and main­tain well­ness when turned out.” There­fore, for young horses and horses who do not com­pete much, Thie­mann prefers a blan­ket-clip pat­tern, which keeps the horse cool at work but also pro­vides hair cov­er­age along his com­plete topline for turnout.

For horses who do com­pete reg­u­larly through­out the win­ter, Thie­mann does a full-body clip, leav­ing only a patch of hair in the shape of a sad­dle in the sad­dle area.

Davies says he prefers a full-body clip for horses school­ing and com­pet­ing through­out the win­ter. Re­mov­ing all the hair sim­ply makes it eas­ier to main­tain clean­li­ness and keep the horse com- fort­able be­fore, dur­ing and after work. Hester’s and Du­jardin’s horses get turned out daily in most weather, so choos­ing the right blan­kets be­comes cru­cial once the horses are clipped. Davies also men­tions that Hester’s sta­ble is de­signed with a tra­di­tional court­yard, so each stall has a win­dow that al­lows the horses to look out into the area. The stalls also have a win­dow at the back that is opened dur­ing the day, which in­creases ventilation and of­fers the horses an al­ter­nate view. Be­cause of the open de­sign, the horses are ex­posed to and en­joy a lot of fresh air even when they are in­side.

The flip side of this is that horses who have been body-clipped will need to reg­u­late their own tem­per­a­ture against the el­e­ments 24 hours a day, so Davies needs to blan­ket ac­cord­ingly.

Davies ex­plains the im­por­tance of sound groom­ing pro­to­cols be­fore and after clip­ping both to en­sure the horse feels good and to sup­port skin health and coat re­growth. Ac­cord­ing to Davies, “I want the horse to be as clean as pos­si­ble be­fore the clip—that just makes it eas­ier to ex­e­cute. After the horse is clipped, I go over his whole body with a hot cloth, mix­ing a lit­tle an­ti­sep­tic into the wa­ter to re­duce the like­li­hood of skin ir­ri­ta­tions. I then go over the horse with a very soft brush.”

Even when a horse has a full-body clip, Davies is an ad­vo­cate for daily groom­ing that in­cludes a rub­ber curry comb, “flicky” [hard] brush and a soft body brush. He calls him­self “old­fash­ioned” in that way but ex­plains: “I still like to use the curry comb to mas­sage them and rub the skin—I think it helps the coat grow through nat­u­rally and helps stop the skin from get­ting too dead. Reg­u­lar groom­ing pre­vents the coat from grow­ing in dull and it gives the horses a nice dis­trac­tion as well. I end with a good, old hot cloth run over the whole body.”

When it comes to clip­ping legs, faces and ears, Davies and Thie­mann both

strive to match com­mon-sense con­sid­er­a­tions with the aes­thetic re­quire­ments of the com­pet­i­tive dres­sage arena. Thie­mann says, “I al­ways shave the pasterns be­cause they stay cleaner that way. Also, horses can eas­ily de­velop scratches [a fun­gal in­fec­tion] un­der a long coat in the pastern area, es­pe­cially if they are reg­u­larly turned out on wet grass.” Thie­mann prefers to clip horses’ heads and ears, but only ex­ter­nally, so the horse ap­pears tidy and does not sweat as much un­der the bri­dle.

Ger­many has passed leg­is­la­tion that bans the shav­ing of the in­side of horses’ ears as well as the long hairs on the muz­zle and around the eyes. The ba­sis for the law is that horses need this hair (tech­ni­cally called vib­ris­sae) in or­der for them to have op­ti­mal spa­tial aware­ness and dis­cre­tion about what they in­gest and for in­sect pro­tec­tion. There­fore, com­peti­tors at eques­trian com­pe­ti­tions in Ger­many can be fined if these hairs are clipped, a pol­icy that Thie­mann ad­heres to and sup­ports be­cause she be­lieves the fa­cial hair does have an im­por­tant func­tion for horses and leav­ing it in place pro­motes over­all well-be­ing.

Blan­ket­ing: Lay­ers Are Key

Ac­cord­ing to Davies, prop­erly blan­ket­ing horses through­out a long win­ter sea­son, es­pe­cially those who may travel to com­pete in a dif­fer­ent cli­mate, is a mat­ter of “con­stant check­ing and recheck­ing.” Gen­er­ally speak­ing, signs that a horse is overblan­keted or get­ting too warm in­clude the pres­ence of damp­ness/sweat un­der the blan­ket or the horse’s skin feel­ing very cold un­der the bot­tom­layer blan­ket (as if he may have started sweat­ing un­der­neath and then dried again). In con­trast, signs that a horse is un­der­blan­keted and get­ting cold in­clude pro­longed shiv­er­ing, changes in his ac­tiv­ity level (i.e., un­usual rest­less­ness or lethargy) or, over time, changes in his body con­di­tion. If one slides a hand un­der the bot­tom-layer blan­ket, the horse’s coat should feel warm to the touch and com­pletely dry. Thie­mann adds: “When a horse is too cold, his en­tire coat will stand up on end. His mus­cles will ap­pear tense and the whole horse will ap­pear cramped in the way he’s standing.”

Thie­mann says she can­not iden­tify a spe­cific tem­per­a­ture at which blan­ket­ing be­comes rel­e­vant as this varies greatly from horse to horse. She ex­plains, “Some horses run warm and never need as heavy a blan­ket. Oth­ers may grow a coat faster and re­quire a thicker blan­ket to pre­vent it from com­ing in so fast.” She says horses in Klimke’s barn use all types of blan­kets: sta­ble blan­kets of ev­ery weight, anti-sweat sheets, rain sheets for turnout. Yes, she’s a fan of neck cov­ers for horses who have been freshly clipped, both with their reg­u­lar blan­kets and an­ti­sweat cool­ers.

Davies gen­er­ally starts out with horses wear­ing a cot­ton sheet, then adds a mid­weight blan­ket on top and, fur­ther into the win­ter, a heavy-weight rug. He is a pro­po­nent of lay­er­ing and will add lay­ers as needed be­tween the cot­ton sheet and the top rug. Some blan­ket brands come with a lay­er­ing/liner sys­tem, but it is also pos­si­ble to cre­ate lay­ers with other pieces, such as a fleece dress sheet. Davies ex­plains that some horses can tol­er­ate more blan­ket­ing than oth­ers and that it is im­por­tant to avoid horses get­ting too hot un­der the blan­kets, which can cause a chill, lead to ill­ness and/or cause skin ir­ri­ta­tions and rashes. No, he is not “a huge fan” of neck cov­ers be­cause they cause mane rubs. Davies ex­plains, “In the depth of win­ter, we’ll get out the neck cov­ers, but I don’t like to keep them on all the time be­cause they tend to rub the mane in places. In dres­sage, the beau­ti­fully plaited mane is such a huge part of turnout, so if we can avoid us­ing the neck cov­ers and still keep the horse com­fort­able, we do.”

Among the horses un­der Davies’ care, “Vale­gro ends up with a cot­ton sheet, woolen blan­ket and top rug. Uthopia is much finer, so he’d get more blan­kets than Vale­gro. In con­trast, Nip Tuck has been used to liv­ing out most of his life. When he was a young horse, he used to live out all the time and, as a re­sult, he’s a bit hardier. He’s a hot horse and doesn’t need that many blan­kets. You have to know your horse, see them as an in­di­vid­ual and know what’s best for them.”

Thie­mann agrees that know­ing one’s horses well is key to a cus­tom­ized ap­proach to clip­ping and blan­ket­ing. She says, “In Ger­many, we of­ten speak of lis­ten­ing closely to our horses un­der sad­dle. It’s a term that im­plies the rider can hear what the horse is telling her, even though it may be just a word­less whis­per. I think the same con­cept ap­plies to horse care—grooms, rid­ers and own­ers need to lis­ten closely to un­der­stand what the horse needs at any given point.”

Car­men Thie­mann (pic­tured) and In­grid Klimke are known for their holis­tic, horse-friendly ap­proach to equine man­age­ment.

Alan Davies (left), the in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ing groom for Bri­tish Olympians Carl Hester and Char­lotte Du­jardin, pic­tured here with Vale­gro

Clip­ping and blan­ket­ing needs vary greatly from horse to horse. Ex­perts like Alan Davies and Car­men Thie­mann un­der­stand what his body is telling you.

For Thie­mann, the type of clip de­pends on the horse’s work­load, turnout sched­ule and whether or not the horse will be show­ing.

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