Along with the annual clipping season, I’ve been doing a lot of tidying up of manes and tails. It seems that when owners think about removing their horse’s hairy coat they also decide that the mane is too long, or the tail too thick.
The winter tidy up begins with clipping. How much hair you take off depends on your horses workload, how hot they get during exercise, whether they live in or out, and the rugs you have available.
I clipped a horse the other week, well did a bib clip, because her owner was concerned that the mare will drop weight if too much hair is taken off. The bib clip will help reduce how warm the mare gets when working, but won’t mean that she needs a lot of extra rugging. If her owner feels that the mare needs a bigger clip then next year she can have a low chaser clip. It’s best to take the least hair off that’s necessary because it’s hard to put condition back on a horse during winter, and to warm a cold horse back up.
Once the clip style is decided you can also choose the height of the clip: so a chaser clip can be low or high, and a blanket clip can run low near to the stifle, or higher towards the hip bone.
I’ve got three types of clipper blades: fine, which I use for most horses, especially the fine coated ones; normal, which are usually suited best for native or cob coats; the coarse blades are for hogging manes and removing feathers.
Onto the manes. I find that different horses suit different length manes, and sometimes you have to play around with them until you find the length that suits them. There are different techniques to tidying up manes though, so I thought I’d run through the tools I use.
First up, is the classic show jumper straight cut mane. They have a very blunt cut, done with scissors, and the manes look like they’ve been straightened! If I’m honest, I don’t like the blunt cut very much. But then again I don’t know that many horses with straight manes, which would suit this style.
Next up is the traditional pulling comb method. For this you need a metal pulling comb, and you comb through the mane, then back comb the shorter hairs. Wrapping the long hairs around the comb, give a quick, sharp downward tug, pulling them out at the roots. This technique leaves a natural, softer line, and also thins the mane. However, sensitive horses (like Otis!) don’t like their mane being pulled out. It’s best to pull manes after exercise, when the pores are open. Which is why the next couple of tools have been invented.
I can remember using the pulling comb and scissors on some thinner manes when we were younger, but it takes some deftness to get a natural looking finish. Which is why the solo comb is much better!
The solo comb is a tough, plastic comb with a handle. You comb the mane through and back comb it to leave the longest hairs. Then you squeeze the handle and a blade cuts those longest hairs. Which gives you the same effect as the pulling comb but without thinning the mane. The horses are usually happier with this technique and stand quieter. Below is a before and after photo of a horse who’s mane was done with a solo comb.
Another tool I like to use is a rake. It’s like a comb, coming with different widths between the teeth, and the teeth are sharp and hooked. It sounds torturous, but all it means is that as you comb the mane it cuts hairs so thinning it quite dramatically. I like using the rake on very thick manes and tails. Flip the mane onto the wrong side, and brush it through with the rake to take out the thickness. Then when you right the mane the longest hairs are on top so it still lies flat. You can then reduce the length with a solo comb. Below you can see the improvement in this incredibly thick mane, which totally hid his shoulders while he was being worked – testing that you can feel your trot diagonals and canter leads!
Along with shortening the length of the mane, and thinning it out, cutting a bridle path is also really useful for helping the bridle sit comfortably. The forelock also needs trimming into a “V” shape – you’ve all seen Dwayne Dwibley from Red Dwarf. With thick fore locks I lightly rake the sides so that the forelock doesn’t look too bushy and then carefully use the comb to shape it. Thin forelocks are often harder to get right because the wrong angle with the scissors can make it look blunt and choppy.
I like tails to be left quite natural. I thin them by using the rake on the sides of the dock. The centre of the tail needs to be left long to avoid the bog-brush look. With tails that aren’t so thick I use the pulling comb and scissors to tidy up the sides of the dock. The art is in neatening to top of the tail so that it looks natural and grows out subtly. After all, you don’t want to be trimming the tail on a weekly basis! At the bottom, I cut the length of the tail at the mid-cannon bone. Then when the horse is carrying themselves the bottom of the tail is still below the hock. With natives and cob types you want to cut the tail and then use the scissors at ninety degrees so that the bottom of the tail doesn’t look bluntly cut, and more natural.
Finally, it’s the turn of the feathers. Even if a horse is keeping his feathers then the back of the knee and cannon bone can often be neatened up to highlight the contours of the leg. For those horses who don’t have feathers, they usually have tufts around the ergots, so you just use the scissors and pulling comb to tidy up the area giving soft lines, instead of the hacked look – like a child who’s cut their own fringe.
There is nothing better than the satisfaction of a horse who has been freshly clipped and trimmed up.