Tuesdays with Tony
While I was doing my weekend reading, I came across an article about clipping horses. We usually talk about full body clipping and when it’s time to clip, how to clip, and what parts to clip. However, this time I wanted to talk to you about how clipping might affect your horse, and the pros and cons of clipping.
Did you know that in some countries in Europe it is actually illegal to clip your horse’s muzzle? Personally, I think it should be illegal everywhere. I cannot imagine getting around without my whiskers. They help me so much when I am out exploring in dark places. They keep me from bumping into walls at night and they help me judge distances. If you have ever been to the clinic, you have probably met Teenie Cat, my boss. Teenie is completely blind, she relies solely on her whiskers to get around the clinic.
Your horse’s whiskers serve a similar purpose to cat whiskers. Your horse’s whiskers on his muzzle and around his eyes allow him to recognize space and judge distance. They also help him to find every single piece of grain he may drop. If you’ve ever watched a horse drink water you may have noticed that the first thing to touch the water is their whiskers. This is so they know exactly how deep they need to submerge their mouths to drink. Whiskers help your horse distinguish a blade of grass from a leaf. They allow them to explore new surroundings and familiarize themselves with potential hazards.
If I have learned anything during in my time here at the clinic, it is that horses like to injure their eyes, A LOT! And they have whiskers that surround their eyes, yet they somehow still manage to injure themselves. Can you imagine if they didn’t have those whiskers? I don’t even want to think about the damage they could cause.
Now imagine trimming or clipping your horse’s whiskers, then taking him to a new place and expecting him not to get injured. That is just a recipe for disaster. I can understand why it has become illegal in some places. You want your horse to eat and drink normally but then you clip off his whiskers and expect him to find his feed and water as usual. That would be like my minions clipping my whiskers and expecting me to navigate my surroundings as usual. I’d be running into walls, misjudging my steps, and not noticing things in the grass that could poke me in the eye. So, maybe don’t take your horse’s whiskers away either. I promise you, no judge can tell your horse isn’t freshly shaved.
Boy oh boy, do we see a plethora of ear problems this time of year. Those bugs just wreak havoc on your poor horse’s ears. Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones who has not had to deal with ear problems with your horse. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. Your once sweet, adorable, well-behaved horse suddenly won’t let you put his halter or bridle on. You’ve had your horse for years and this has never been a problem, so why now? Or maybe your horse’s ear is sitting sideways on his head and seems to be broken. Worse yet, you notice that your horse’s ear is swollen shut.
The Florida summers and Florida bugs are ruthless. My docs have had several reports of ticks being found in horse’s ears. The gnats are even worse if your horse is allergic. You may have noticed your horse scratching his ears like a dog or rubbing on a tree. All this trauma to his ears can lead to the development of a hematoma, or abscess of his ears. The only natural protection your horse’s ears have against the environment and bugs is the hair in their ears. In my ever-so-humble opinion, you should not clip your horse’s ears. Maybe you don’t clip your horse’s ears, but you may still notice that they have itchy ears. Can you imagine how much worse the damage could be if you clipped away the ear hair and exposed the sensitive skin to the elements?
Perhaps you feel you must clip your horse’s ears. Maybe the show you’re going to requires it, or maybe your horse has an injury. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself clipping your horse’s ears, remember that in doing so your horse become more vulnerable to bug irritation and environmental irritants. Please provide protection for them in the form of a fly mask with ears attached or a fly bonnet while riding. Around here, we also love the EquiShield product called IBH Salve. A little dab of that in both ears and the bugs will stay away for days. Believe you me, you do not want to deal with a horse who has an ear hematoma or abscess. Those things are nasty and take FOREVER to heal. Save yourself the time and hassle of clipping all while protecting your horse’s ears from the outside world and just don’t do it.
Similar to your horse’s ears, your horse has natural protection on his legs in the form of hair. Hair on your horse’s legs is going to protect them from trauma, from bugs, and from foliage with thorns or other chemicals that may sting your horse, like Stinging Nettle. Some horses have long feathers on their lower legs which can also prove to be a challenge in Florida. The hot, humid, rainy weather is just a recipe for bacteria to proliferate in those long feathers. This makes the debate of to clip or not to clip a little gray.
For horses who spend the majority of their time outside, leaving a little extra on top is preferable. However, you may decide to clip your horses legs if your horse is in a situation where he is getting his legs washed often, is allowed ample time to dry and spends the most of his time stalled. A nice, tidy trim is never a wrong answer. Keeping long leg feathers trimmed nice and neatly will help allow your horse’s legs to dry and help prevent bacterial infections.
If your horse already has short hair, I recommend just trimming the long hairs around the coronary band and fetlock while leaving the remainder of the leg alone. Every time you clip your horse’s legs you are risking micro trauma to the skin which can lead to further problems, such as cellulitis. If you haven’t yet, go read my blog on cellulitis. It’s not a pretty thing. Clipping or not clipping your horse’s legs is up to you. Neither answer is right or wrong, it’s ultimately what’s best for your horse.
Body clipping could be a separate blog in and of itself, so we will touch on it lightly here, but keep an eye out for tips and tricks for body clipping in the near future. By this time of year, your horse should be completely shed out and have a nice thin hair coat. If not, call my docs, and they will assess your horse and try to determine why he is not shedding completely. If your horse has not shed completely, I highly recommend a full body clip. It is way too hot this time of year to have a winter coat on. Yes, for the most part your horse’s coat acts as an insulator from the extreme heat, the sun, bugs, etc. However, too much coat is dangerous and puts your horse at risk for overheating. If your horse is having difficulty sweating, you may also want to consider getting some of that extra hair off. Reducing a thick hair coat will allow your horse to dissipate the heat easier and reduces the risk of overheating. A haircut to help with heat reduction does not have to be pretty, it just has to be functional. Getting the hair off your horse’s neck, chest and underside alone can sometimes be enough and still allows them to have some coat present for protection.
No matter what side of the fence you are on when it comes to clipping, I recommend you chat with my docs about what is best for your horse and the situation they are in before you clip them. Remember, clipping is not without its consequences, especially the whiskers, so think before you clip!
Until next week,
P.S. You know, my humans have a great podcast where you can learn just about everything you ever wanted to know about your horse, and then some. Make sure to check it out here. They are also busy filiming this or that and interfering with my nap times, and you can find those videos on our YourTube page here.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!