Should I clip my horse? This is the question we Icelandic horse owners ask ourselves every year when the days get shorter and the temperatures colder. The critics of shearing say: If we shear our horse, we interfere with the thermoregulation. The supporters say: I want to exercise my horse even in the cold months, but it sweats and is then so wet that the plush coat can no longer provide sufficient warmth.
We say: There is no right or wrong. You have to answer this question individually for you and your horse, taking into account how much coat your horse has, which conditions prevail (windy open stable or cosy paddock box), how your fluffy Icelandic horse is doing in the German winter and what your training looks like in winter. And to make it easier for you to decide whether a horse should be sheared or not, we will take a closer look at the topics of thermoregulation, shearing and blanketing. To understand what it means for our horse to be clipped, we will look at how the horse's thermoregulation works.
Thermoregulation in horses: the interaction of skin, coat, blood vessels and sweat glands
First of all, we have the horse's skin. It is made up of several layers and, not least with the subcutaneous fat, provides an insulating layer. In addition, the skin helps to dissipate body heat and prevent the horse from overheating. There are numerous sensory nerve cells in the horse's skin that perceive different environmental stimuli. Among them are the so-called thermoreceptors, which register cold and heat so that the body can set processes in motion that warm it up or cool it down. If these receptors register that it is cold, for example, the heartbeat slows down and the blood vessels contract. In this way, less blood is pumped to the surface of the body, so less heat is lost. In addition, the hair bellows muscles of the cosy undercoat get the command to stand up the hair. This creates a warming layer that keeps the horse warm in addition to the coat it already has.
The feel-good temperature of horses is 5 degrees
The greasy top coat protects this layer by repelling water. When it is very cold, the metabolism speeds up and thus generates more body heat. For this reason, it is important that horses have more roughage available in cold temperatures. When the horse gets too warm, it cools down by means of the sweat glands present, which produce fluid (sweat), and it can also release up to 20% of its body temperature through the air it breathes.
Wet fur reduces the warming effect
The problem in winter: Heat is mainly generated by the muscles and heat production during training can be up to 60 times higher than during rest. The heat then accumulates under the thick fur. Most Icelandic horses start sweating faster than in summer, where it is generally warm but there is no additional undercoat as an insulating heat cushion. It is not the sweating itself that is the problem.
The problem arises when sweat makes the undercoat wet and the coat sticks together when it dries. Then the warming effect of the coat is lost. This is why it is so important that you put a Cooler Rug on. This not only helps your horse to dry its coat, but also prevents it from freezing and possibly tightening its back muscles. But, and this is important for us to say at this point, you should not give up winter training now! The horses' comfort temperature is around 5 degrees, so winter is basically the best training weather! It is only important that you do not bring your horses back to the windy open stable with soaking wet coats.your horse after training.
In addition, sweating cannot be prevented anyway. After all, quite a few of our Icelandic horses develop such a thick plush that they not only sweat during training, but also in autumn and spring when the daytime temperatures in the sun are high. It is not uncommon for October or March to crack 20 degrees and the horses stand sweating in the pasture or paddock. If your horses are trained to sweat even in cold temperatures, it can be helpful to reach for the clippers. This will protect your horse from a wet coat.
Does my horse need a rug when I clip it?
Not all horse shearing is the same and therefore there is no general answer to this question. Depending on where and how much you shear your horse, it needs a blanket because it cannot protect itself sufficiently from wetness and warmth in the sheared areas. If a horse with a long double mane is shorn at the neck, it still has considerably more protection due to its long hair than a horse with the same shearing but a short mane on one side.
Just in case, it's always you good to have a paddock rug – preferably waterproof and breathable.It also depends on the weather: if it rains for days in winter and there is a cool wind, your horse is more likely to freeze than on dry sunny days. That's why we recommend using the paddock cover depending on the weather. In the end, you simply have to see individually how your horse is doing and whether it needs a blanket or not.
These are the best clipping patterns
How much you shear your horse depends on how much it sweats, how much it works and how quickly it dries or what facilities you have for drying.
The clipping patterns 1 to 5 build on each other. In this way, you can approach the horse's needs and shear more or less. You can also re-shear during the winter and increase the shearing towards spring.
And another request regarding aesthetics: The most beautiful Icelandic horse is still the unshorn horse in its natural winter coat. If you shear it in the service of its health, please take care to give the cut a harmonious shape. Use a cattle marker pen or similar to draw the lines of the shearing first, following the natural contours of the horse's body. A good shearing should always flatter the horse's conformation.
Stress during shearing
For many horses, clipping means stress and they go completely crazy when the clippers start. We have had good experiences with horses that are to be clipped for the first time standing next to the experienced horses at the tether and letting them get used to the noise.
Tip: If you first put your free hand on the spot where you apply the clippers, most horses will quickly get used to it.
It is often the acoustics that stress the horses. If it becomes a continuous sound, it loses its terror. And if the horses know what it's like to be clipped, they often really enjoy it. However, if your horse already panics at spray bottles, it may not be able to handle the diffuse stimuli that the clippers and the spray bottle provide very well. This is where a Equine Occupational Therapist can help you.
Getting the shearing timing right
A shearing is always an intervention in the natural thermoregulation. The earlier the shearing, the sooner the coat can grow back. Therefore, it is advisable to shear the first time at the beginning of autumn, i.e. in September. At this time, you can give the horses relief because there are often still very warm days in September and October. Depending on the thickness of the coat, it can be clipped again in November and, if necessary, in January and March.
Our tip for buying a clipper is to buy a product where the clipper blades can be removed and resharpened. We have found that it is definitely worthwhile to buy a high-quality product, preferably from a company that offers good service. Maybe you can get together as a stable community and buy a clipper together. Then no one person has to bear the entire cost and everyone can benefit. Regular maintenance and care is also important, because horse hair and sand build up with every clipping and make the clipper blades dull in the long run. Setting up a "shearing fund" from which the maintenance costs are paid is particularly practical here and maintains stable peace. At this point we are happy to recommend the company Franz Gattinger for their excellent service and competent advice.