Hairy Horse Showing?

With the correct technique, even a wooly beast can be clipped into shape. Here, tips on clipping your horse’s ears:

With the correct technique, even a wooly beast can be clipped into shape. Here, tips on clipping your horse’s ears:

A well-clipped ear takes some time and practice, but completes your show pen look. Journal photo.
A well-clipped ear takes some time and practice, but completes your show pen look. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Margo Ball with Christine Hamilton from The American Quarter Horse Journal

For a lot of people, coming into show season off the winter months means you have to deal with a thicker coat when you clip your horse for those first shows. As a judge, I see a lot of poor clipping jobs on horses with heavier coats that have lines that clearly show where the clipping begins.

But I’ve show-clipped a lot of horses with thicker coats, and you can make them look as neatly clipped as any horse with a summer coat. I’ll show you how with this mare. It’s early in the year, and she hasn’t been kept in a heated barn; we’re going to clip her for the first time this show season.

We’ll start with her ears. A lot of horses are sensitive about their ears, and it can be due to a number of reasons. For one, some people handle their horse’s ears too roughly; you just can’t do that.

People also often use blades that are not sharp so they pull the hair instead of cutting it. Before you begin, make sure your blades are sharp and clean.

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And people will let the blades get too hot to be close to sensitive ears. They usually clip the muzzle and the horse’s face and then go to the ears, but that’s a lot of clipping, and the blades will get hot. That’s why I do the ears first.

All of these activities make the horse uncomfortable, and horses begin to associate the clipping with that. But if you think about the horse, you can alleviate a lot of that discomfort.

Step 1 – Here’s what I use to clip ears early in the season: Regular clippers with size 10 and 40 blades, a smaller set of clippers for inside the ear and a product to lubricate your blades. I use Oster Kool Lube because it also cools your blades if they get hot.

Step 2 – A very fuzzy ear. This time of year, you can’t clip the same as you do in the summer. You don’t want to clip too closely because the hair is too long; instead you want to think about blending the hair.

Step 3 – When I start, I’ll turn the clippers on and let the mare get used to the noise a little first. As you handle the ear, think of supporting the ear with your hand, don’t grab it.

Step 4 – I start with a No. 10, which is the largest blade available. When a horse is coming off the winter with a thicker hair coat, you want to start with the larger blades – you’ll be able to blend the hair better. The key is to make long, sweeping cuts and use a real soft touch. You start with just getting off the extra hair and trimming from the tip around the outside of the ear.

Step 5 – Take care of the longer fuzzy hairs on the back of the ear, too. Stay with your No. 10 blades, and turn your clippers over so you clip with the hair and blend it. I’ll come back later with a smaller blade to touch it up.

Step 6 – Before I clip the inside of the ear, I’ll take some old pantyhose, such as a knee-high, and gently put that in her ear. It keeps the hair from falling in the ear and helps with the noise. It makes it more comfortable for the horse.

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Step 7 – For the inside of the ears, now I put the No. 40 blades on. Again, you want to support the ear with your hand and make long, smooth strokes with the clippers. To get the hair inside, support the ear and gently turn it inside out. Don’t grab.

Step 8 – When I want to get the inside corner, I use my smaller clippers. They are equivalent to No. 40 blades. They are a lot easier to use there. These smaller clippers are especially handy for clipping foals or yearlings because their ears are smaller.

Step 9 – After you get the hair out of the inside of the ear, then touch up a little bit around the outside edge with the No. 40 blades. The key here is a light touch and a lot of blending – turn your clippers over to clip.

Step 10 – The ears are done. Now we can move on to clipping the rest of her face.

Watch the slideshow below for picture-how-to of each step.


21 thoughts on “Hairy Horse Showing?”

  1. We were grooming foals at 2 weeks. The more the horse was handled as a foal, the better as an adult.

  2. All the same, I totally understand the need for a clean clipped looking show ring appearance as I groom show dogs. BUT as a horse owner who as shown horses in the past, I still refuse to trim a horses ear anything but ‘blended’ even in the summer. Our horses our outside all day and insects can be horrendous. A bit of ‘showmanship’ is now worth bloody ears to me. Just my opinion. 🙂

  3. Really? That is about the most unnatural looking thing I’ve ever seen (referring to the ear picture at the top)! I understand that your horse should be well groomed for showing, but that doesn’t look like a horse ear at all. Horses have hair on their ears (unlike most humans) and, I believe it’s there for a reason. Trim it up, sure, (and some humans could also gain from this advice) but why is it important to make our horses look like something other than a horse?

  4. I agree with Karen horses need their hair. It is there for a reason. Personally I think it is cruel to remove ear hair and whiskers. Unless you want to show the judge your horse is kept in a heated, bug, free barn year round, and not allowed to be a horse I don’t see the purpose for it! Luckily or maybe thats why I don’t show in disciplines where this is needed.

  5. I think these tips are great, thank you! I understand all the concerns about removing hair but if you really want to show, it’s just something that needs to be done. I ALWAYS have a fly mask with ears on my guy during bug season and I have a roll-on bug repellant just for his ears.

  6. First of all, it is unnatural for you to shave your legs or armpits but you most likely do it. And why do you do it? Because it looks better. If you don’t think horses ears need to be trimmed fine. But its not really necessary for you to comment on an article about trimming horses ears. No one told you you had to read this article or agree with the way she does it. This is done so that the horse looks finished. You want to show in disciplines where you don’t have to do it fine. But in the disciples we show you do have to do it. Most of the horses that are shown like this have owner who takes the fact they have no hair in their ears into consideration when they turn them out. (fly mask with ear covers, night turnouts, timed turnouts ect.) So therefore none of these comments are needed and IN MY OPINION it is rude for you to post these kinds of comments on here. She is offering her advice on the subject that is all. She doesn’t ever say you HAVE to do it her way or that you HAVE to do it at all.

  7. Well said @Shania, but I don’t think they were being rude when expressing their opinions about clipping. It is obvious they don’t show halter horses at the always tough AQHA shows. Like you and others, I can’t imagine going to a show without clipped ears — regardless of time of year. Similarly, I can’t imagine going to a show during the bug season with bite marks or scabs so we take appropriate protective measures to avoid them — masks, repellant, etc. That said, I am almost certain Margo and Christine enjoy it when their collaborations invoke conversation and sometimes dissenting ‘buzz’, even if it is wrong-minded. I love the comments section after an informative article. That is what makes AHD such a good thing! Keep on commenting and, for some of us, clippin’!

  8. That looks absolutely horrible but more importantly how is that going to protect his ears from bugs , ,you obviously are not putting the horse first

  9. Clipping is one of the MANY rules AQHA and ALL other horse associations need to change!! It broke my heart EVERY time my Daughter HAD to clip her horse to show. But if she didn’t, she would never have placed. You may say that the horse looks “finished”. I say that the horse looks mutilated! AQHA PLEASE STOP THESE INSANE Practices!!!

  10. Personally, I think trimming the excess hair on the edges of the ear, and trimming only the hair that sticks out when the ear is closed should be enough clipping for the ears. Especially for horses that are housed outside 24/7. Trimming the long hair on the back of the legs and fetlocks, muzzle and cornery band does make the horse look better.

  11. Mutilated? Seriously? Of all the things to be concerned about in the horse world, you choose CLIPPING? How about this – I keep my horses in shaded, misted, and in fan covered stalls with 2 feet of shavings, and I clean them several times a day. I put up fly misters and insect repellent to keep them comfortable and to protect their valuable coats. They go out in their safe, fenced, fertilized pastures during the most optimum time of the day (or night). They are fed and cared for better than most people’s children. They are a financial and emotional investment. So please be quiet if I want to clip their ears, dye tails, pull manes, or whatever else I choose to do with my property. They are exercised and groomed daily, wormed and vetted regularly. If you choose not to do the same with yours, that is your business. Many people who actually show horses with the intent of WINNING also ENJOY the grooming and fitting, not just the showing. We like to curry, brush, vacuum, clip, braid, and band to our heart’s content. We find a pasture bleached, rough coated, and mane-rubbed horse to be the ones that are often sad and neglected. And we also love to look at our collection of ribbons and buckles that have piled up because of our hard work, dedication, and ATTENTION TO DETAIL.

  12. Seems to me that many people are much more interested in their personal glory in the show ring than caring for their horse’s welfare…..if the horses had any choice in the matter, what do you think they would choose…clip or no clip….for that matter, show or no show?????

  13. Again, using clippers is horse abuse?! Showing horses is horse abuse?! Well, then why even train them, ride them, geld them, give them shots, float teeth, confine them to pastures? That’s what the horse would choose. That’s just nonsense. Why even join AQHA and subscribe to articles about caring for, training, or showing your horse? Just set yours free and let it run wild and fend for itself. Geesh. Make sure you also aren’t teaching your dogs and children manners, or bathing your dog, or requiring your children to bathe and trim fingernails or hair. I’m SURE if given the choice, that would be theirs.

  14. I just love reading all these comments. They are making me laugh. I say live and let live. Everyone should treat their horses with kindness and enjoy them. We all love our horses or we would not have them.

  15. Everyone has an opinion. It’s our right. Being a professional body clipper, I have to agree with what my clients want for their horses. The show horses that I clip are probably better cared for than we sometimes care for ourselves! The majority of the horses that I clip, are not opposed to the type of grooming that I do. Be patient, gentle, and understanding with them. That’s what they want.

  16. Wow…does anyone who is apposed to clipping stop to think that the grooming process is a BONDING process as well. Do I like the naked ear look, no, but I will share this…my daughter got her first horse – a little stallion, who ABSOLUTELY HATED HER…once gelded we had hoped that would change…but no…she was devestated. Do you want to know what saved their relationship? Daily grooming, gentle words, light touches and a change in how she walked around her horse. Now, he actually greets her in the field and will give her kisses. Bathing and clipping him teaches him TRUST…he trusts his girl is NOT going to hurt him. Clipping certain very hairy type horses also assists in making them more comfortable in the heat. So, stop the hating…everyone take care of THEIR horse and assist others that need help and spend your time dealing with life issues that warrant this type of passion…like starving animals, animals needlessly dieing, OVER BREEDING…naked ears just don’t make the 100 most tragic issues in life!

  17. We breed and raise Foundation Quarter Horses. Our horses are registered with both AQHA and NFQHA. NFQHA prohibits shaving the inside of ears, although we may neaten up the outside of the ear by folding it and trimming. I really do wonder if an AQHA judge would refuse to place a horse with unshaven ears over one with shaved ears. AQHA, would you please weigh in on this issue?

  18. Well, in 2011 I placed fifth in SMS at the region show, winning first and second in the AQHA classes… out of a class of 15 or so. In 2012, I won the NA showmanship (22 horses), 3rd in the AQHA classes under those judges. Placed 4th in the Am SMS. You know what I didn’t do? Skin my horses’ ears from the inside out. Our championship pictures from both years clearly show a horse who has a little fuzz in her ears. I do trim the outside, but refuse to make her go bare. I’ll let my placings and clip job speak for themselves.

  19. I have a very pretty reining horse mare and like to show her in halter as she has good conformation. Although she does not win she is usually placed because her conformation is correct and she would even be placed in an interbreed class against warmbloods. BUT the reining people like reining horses to look like working horses , long manes and unshaven ears. Which I do not mind at all as it is not unattractive and I think we are allowed to groom out all the winter hair and polish her coat until she shines. However, how much would a judge discriminate against a clean, well groomed, well conformed horse with a full mane, no bridle path and unclipped, but beautifully shaped, ears?

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