Horses are trimmed to make them look neater, often for the show ring, and also for the convenience of their owners.
What areas can be trimmed?
The following areas may be trimmed:
What's trimmed depends completely on personal preference and the horse's breed, along with living conditions.
All horses have some sort of extra hair on their fetlocks, typically on the back of the fetlock. This hair grows longer than the rest of your horse's leg hair. Some horses only grow a few extra long pieces that hang down towards the heel. Other horses, like some draft and native breeds, are covered with feathers front to back and sometimes well up the cannon bone. With some breeds, it's sometimes hard to see the hoof or to even feel the lower tendons and ligaments!
On light horses, this feathering is traditionally removed as it’s often very minimal and just looks untidy.
So, what to do with horses that have feather: to trim or not to trim? As with everything with horses, it’s a decision that needs to take into account breed, living situation etc.
If you do decide to trim the lower legs of your horse, there a few options:
- Go nuts and clip the entire lower leg so it’s nice and crisp and clear. This makes it super easy to keep clean, and see any injuries that might occur;
- Just trim the fetlock area with scissors and comb, or use clippers for speed, safety and convenience. If you go for the clipper route, be sure to clip lightly and with the direction of hair growth to get the long, shaggy bits off. The Dragon Clipper by Clipperman is perfect for tidying fetlocks as it's cable-free, eliminating the risk of tripping over or treading on the cord.
Don't worry about any faint clipper marks, they disappear within days. Use a blade that leaves the hair a bit longer if you want protection from the sun or to hide any mistakes!
What to use to trim the mane
In general, a horse's mane is not trimmed. Instead, the mane is thinned or pulled using a pulling comb. The Solo Comb is a handy tool for thinning manes and is fun to use!
Trimming the mane with scissors tends to cause the mane to appear thicker. It's also hard to get it even, and gives an unnatural "stepped" edge to the mane.
The Bridle Path
However, it’s common to trim a small section of the mane behind the ears. This is called a “Bridle Path” and it’s done to make it easier to get the bridle on and off.
Removing the mane
Sometimes the mane is removed altogether. This is called “hogging” and may be done if the horse's mane simply does not look good no matter what you do to it, or if it is more convenient in the management of the horse.
Some people also believe that a horse is cooler with a hogged mane and take it off for the summer. Hunting and working cobs traditionally have their manes hogged to make their necks look more arched. Coloured cobs, however, are usually presented with full manes.
The forelock is always removed when hogging cobs but may or may not be left on with other breeds. Some people believe removing the forelock leaves the horse's eyes more vulnerable to insects.
As with manes, some breeds are supposed to be shown with a full tail. However, it is normal even in such breeds to trim the tail just enough to keep it from dragging on the ground and getting dirty.
Banging a tail means to cut it off bluntly at the bottom. Traditionally, horse's tails were banged to avoid them becoming soiled and straggly at the bottom. Not all horses should have their tails banged, e.g. Welsh ponies and cobs should have manes and tails left as natural as possible.
If you’re heading for the competition arena, check the grooming requirements of your discipline before proceeding. Also, if your horse's tail is on the short side, banging may only make it look shorter. If you’re a pleasure rider, and not out competing, there’s no need to bang your horse’s tail unless, of course, you like the look.
Banging a tail properly is not just a matter of chopping it off at the bottom. Before you begin, pay attention to how high your horse carries its tail while it is trotting as this will determine how much you need to cut off. Some horses carry their tails quite high, while others keep their tails flatter. You want the cut to be parallel to the ground while the horse is moving. The banged tail should end about 4” (10cm) to 5” (12cm) below the hocks. Any shorter may detract from the look of the tail.
Better to leave the tail too long, than cut it too short. Remember, you can always take a little more off, but you can't put it back!
To bang the tail:
- Step 1 - brush the tail smooth. Don't wet it. Grooming sprays and detanglers may make it harder to keep the scissors steady for a straight, clean cut because they make the hair more slippery
- Step 2 - have a helper lift the tail slightly, or a really good tip is to put a plastic bottle under the base of your horse's tail, so it's more or less in the position it would be if the horse were moving
- Step 3 - Grasp the bottom-most portion of the tail and hold it in a tight bundle. Cut straight across the tail hairs. When the tail is dropped and the plastic bottle is removed, the cut ends of the tail will be at a slight angle to the ground. The cut will now be square to the ground when the horse is moving.
As your horse’s tail grows, it will need to be trimmed again. How often will depend on how quickly the hairs grow. Keep a pair of scissors safely stored in your grooming kit to remove strays when necessary, like this pair from Lincoln, that come with a handy storage pouch.
Width of the tail at the top
As well as cutting the length, pulling or shaving the top of the tail is sometimes warranted. The tail should look symmetrical and be trimmed far enough down the dock to allow the shape to fan out naturally into the length of the tail. You can trim with scissors, clippers or a thinning/pulling comb.
Before you set to work, look at the shape of your horse’s quarters, and watch how he carries his tail. This will enable you to judge correctly how far down the dock you are going to need to trim in order to achieve the desired effect.
Simply trim the wild hairs by holding the scissors vertically alongside the dock to tidy up the tail. If you use clippers, have a really good idea how and where you want them to go. A good suggestion is to start on the very underside of the tail, and not too far down. If you need to clip more, you can.
The before and after photos below show what a trimmed tail should look like.
Some horses have really bushy tails and require some thinning to improve their appearance. This is done with a dedicated tool called a Thinning Rake which comes in different grades.
Check out our wide range of thinning rakes and combs here.
Trimming a horse's ears can be controversial. Some people believe the ears should never be trimmed, whilst others will remove the hair from both the outside and inside of the ear.
The traditional method, however, is to gently but firmly hold the horse's ear and trim off only the untidy, excess hair in and around the ear.
Trimming inside the ear removes the horse's protection from flies and can increase the risk of ear mites. A horse with trimmed ears should wear a fly mask with ears when turned out.
Trimming only the excess hair around the ears makes the horse look very neat.
Horses have whiskers on their muzzle and around their eyes. Although not as long or sensitive as a cat's whiskers, they do serve a purpose. So, it’s worth bearing this in mind before trimming.
Riders that show their horses do tend to trim off their horse's whiskers, whilst others just trim lightly for neatness.
In actual fact, they don’t look that bad if they’re not trimmed. So, if you aren't showing, it might be best just to leave the whiskers alone.
Some horses grow shaggy hairs under their chin and jaw. For showing, it is often advisable to trim this long hair off, which makes the horse's head look more refined.
This hair may be trimmed with scissors, or with a small set of clippers or trimmers, like the Wahl BravMini, whose tiny head can reach the most awkward of places..
If using scissors, always use proper curved trimming scissors on your horse's face, not straight scissors as it's really easy to accidentally stab your poor horse with straight scissors.
If your horse lives out in the winter, it's probably best not trim off any facial hair as he may appreciate the extra warmth.
Do you have any tips for trimming? Why not share them in the comments section below?
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