Should I Clip My Horse?
I live in the Northeast, where we can have some very cold weather. I ride through the winter and wonder if it’s worth clipping my horse so he doesn’t take so long to dry off after I’m done riding. But I worry that he’ll be cold when he’s turned out. Is it worth clipping him?
SARAH RALSTON, VMD, PHD, DACVN
Name withheld by request The coat of a horse serves several valuable functions. In summer, the short, fine hairs protect from sunburn and abrasions and provide some protection from biting bugs. The short, fine hair coat also allows effective evaporation of sweat, aiding in thermoregulation in hot weather. Under natural conditions, horses start to shed their summer coats and grow out the longer, coarser winter coats as the days start getting shorter in mid- to late fall. This is controlled in large measure by the photoperiod, not temperature. Blanketing your horse starting in the fall will not necessarily reduce his natural hair growth. Keeping the photoperiod longer (lights on in the barn for 12 hours throughout the late fall/winter season) may also reduce the hair growth and will enhance shedding in the spring. Exceptions to this are aged horses (usually 20 years and older) with untreated
pituitary dysfunction (equine Cushings) who fail to shed their winter coats in summer and do need to be body-clipped to be comfortable in the hot months.
The longer winter coats trap the warmer air close to the skin, keeping the horse warm in the cold weather, reducing his energy needs. Each hair follicle has a tiny muscle associated with it that allows the horse to fluff up his coat in cold weather, increasing the insulation qualities. It allows horses adapted to cold weather to comfortably endure temperatures well below freezing, even if the wind is blowing, as long as they are dry. Horses with their natural hair coats can easily tolerate temperatures well below freezing as long as they have some sort of shelter from wind and precipitation. Even in snow storms horses with natural winter hair coats prefer to be outside. It has been documented that blanketing unclipped horses in cold weather