Icelandic Horse Clips for Winter, Endurance, or Heat
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A happy working Icelandic Horse should not be breathing so hard that one is concerned about it. So if your friend is concerned about it, there most likely is a problem. Indeed, Icelandic Horses can labor quite hard without excessive breathing. But only if they are able to stay cool.
A too-hot Icelandic Pony can rapidly get quite short of breath, and then distressed.
You do not say where you are located, but if it is not in a quite cold area and the Icelandic has not recently been shaved, I'd strongly suspect that the Icelandic may just have grown a too thick coat for the local climate.
Remember that these horses have over a thousand years of genetics telling them to grow a dense winter coat, with lots of under-fuzz to keep the really well-insulated, that has been perfected for near the arctic circle. Their coats are definitely not designed for the temperate climates into which we generally import them.
There have been many discussions here about the importance of clipping Icelandics to keep them cool enough when in work, after their winter coats come in (which for my guys starts in August or early September). But even if one clips several times in the fall, the coats always seem to get long and dense enough to be stifling for them by the mid-winter, unless you do additional trace clips quite regularly, at least here in Maryland.
I thus find it is extremely helpful to wet down the Icelandics' neck /chest area with cold water before going out for winter rides, and to continually wet that area down with cold water as we are out riding, to keep the icey cool enough when in work.
Their under-fuzz amazingly successfully traps in their heat! This is a great thing if the horse is standing in 50 mph arctic winds in Iceland. But it is a very deleterious thing if they need evaporative cooling on a ride in the mid-Atlantic! This is something that I feel is not nearly enough stressed to many Icelandic buyers.
So I'd suggest that you have your friend get out the clippers and a sponge with cold water, and I'll bet dollars to donuts that the Icelandic Pony's breathing becomes calm and happy when out riding.
The importance of having a clean horse to clip: For much less money than you spend on extra blades, you could get a Dirt Devil hand vacuum (the kind with a rotating brush), which quickly removes the sand/dust that is imbedded down in the dense winter coat and otherwise rapidly dulls clipper blades. A dirty horse will dull the blades of even the most expensive clipper!
Now with the Clipmaster, and well-vacuumed horses, I clip many of them before blades need re-sharpening.. And re-sharpening is only $5, so only about 50 cents per horse clipping.
Question: "Should I, or shouldn't I, clip my horse?"
You have to make the difficult decision of balancing what is best for the
horse and what is convenient for you. Given the heavy haircoat characteristic of
Icelandics, they have to be clipped if they are to be worked really hard. I
do a full body clip within a week of every ride. That means Remington and
Skjoldur are sometimes clipped two or three times a month. The time of the year
doesn't really matter since Icelandics have a heavier coat than Arabs, for
example, even in the summer. Even a quarter inch of hair growth will severely
compromise an Icelandics ability to cool down during hard exercise. Count your
horse's respiration and use a stethoscope or heart monitor to check it's pulse
and you will see what I mean.
I realize from your prior posts that you like to take long rides several days
a week. You will need to choose between taking it easier or clipping. Once
you clip you need to blanket in harsh weather, but that's the price you pay
for riding hard throughout the year.
If you are going to clip, you might as well do the most effective job jor
cooling purposes and clip the whole body. The various partial clips still leave
a lot of sweat to deal with and inhibit cooling.
If you are going to clip a lot, you will probably want to buy your own
clippers. (If you are going to clip only once or twice a year, I would pay somebody
else to do it.) If you are going to buy clippers, you might as well go for
the heavy duty variety which will cut through and Icelandics coat and hold up
over repeated use. After wearing out two sets of the Oster Clipmasters, I now
use the Double KK model with the remote cutting head. With these, the heavy
and hot part, the motor, hangs from your belt. All you have to handle is the
cutting head itself. Accordingly, these are much cooler to the touch for both
the horse and you, much less noisy for both the horse and you. If you use the
extra wide A-5 body clipping blades, they clip as fast or faster than the
Clipmasters and are much easier for changing blades. Both clippers are in the
same price range.
Good luck. I applaud you for thinking about what is best for your horse.
Obviously, you will have to take more precautions to protect your horse in winter
weather than I have to in Central California. Nevertheless, I am convinced
the benefits of clipping for the horse far outweigh the inconvenience for the
Question: "Brand of clippers?"
The brand is Double K. The model I would suggest is the 401 belt model, so
you can hang the motor unit on your waist. You can get different lengths for
the power cable to the clipper head, up to 20 ft. long. I think the basic 7 ft
length is fine if you are hanging the motor off your waist. This set up is
nice since the part you actually hold in your hand and touch the horse with,
the clipper head, is light in weight, cool running and relatively noiseless
since the motor unit is separate. It was somebody else on this list or its
predecessor who told me to try these instead of my Clipmasters.
You can do a search through just about any internet search engine and you
will find at least half a dozen websites which sell the Double K's. WWW.pfwh.com
is one example. They are under $300 discounted. They use the A-5 clipper
blades which are really easy to put on and off. I like the extra wide body
clipping blades for clipping the body and then switch to the regular width for
clipping the face.
I don't really have any secrets for clipping. I like to wash the horse the
day before I clip. I use one of those cheap plastic horsebrushes you can
attach to a hose. This way the water shoots in right next to the skin and rinses
away the dirt. This removes a lot more dirt than just a soapy sponge. Less
dirt, the longer your blades will last. I always make sure the horse is totally
dry before I clip, since water dulls blades also.
I like to clip the body in one session and save the head and cleaning up
around the legs for a second session. This is more for the sake of my lack of
patience than it is for any problem with the horse. After spending an hour or so
clipping the body, I'm generally not in the best mood to spend time being as
careful and gentle around the horse's face as I should be. So I chill out a
few hours and try again for the more delicate work around the ears and eyes
when I'm a little fresher and less frustrated.
Raven mentions clicker training a horse which has never been clipped before.
This is a good idea. The belt I use for hanging the clipper motor is
actually a small fanny pack. I turn it around so that the bag part hangs in front of
me. I fill it with sweet feed so that I can reward the horse now and then.
This is a good place to put the clicker if you use one.
Before I even clip a horse which hasn't been clipped before I tie it up
nearby while I'm clipping another horse. This way the inexperienced horse get to
see and hear some of the commotion without feeling directly threatened by it.
Later I just show the clippers to the new horse and rub them against its body
without turning the clippers on just so the horse gets to see, smell and feel
them. After doing this a few times over a couple of days, I turn the clippers
on without actually doing any clipping just so the horse gets used to the
noise. Spending a few days doing this kind of thing may seem like a waste of
time, but its really only a small investment of time for the sake of making the
horse comfortable with the whole idea.
When I actually start to clip my younger horses, I tie up Remington nearby.
They always feel more confident around him and usually won't mess around in
his presence. I clip them only for a few minutes and then turn the clippers off
and hand over a little treat from the fanny pack. As the horse gets used to
things I keep the clippers on for longer and longer intervals.
Once I am done, I praise the horse profusely and put it away. Make sure the
inexperienced horse has a few days to feel its new skin before you even think
of saddling it and riding it. After I clean up the hair and the rest of the
mess, I go in the house and make sure I get rewarded somehow because clipping
even the most experienced horse is such a pain in the rear.
Hope this helps.
Question: "How to train the horse to clippers?"
A couple of suggestions based on what has worked for me:
1) Tie your horse and let him watch while you or someone clips another horse
which is used to being clipped. He'll realize horses don't die from being
clipped. He'll also get used to the noise.
2) Tie up another horse nearby, preferably old and calm and unworried about
clippers, while you clip your horse. The other horse will keep him company
and make him feel less stressed. I could rent Remington out for a high rate
just as a babysitter for doing this kind of thing. Works like a charm.
3) Keep the clipper turned off. Show it to your horse. Let him smell it.
Rub him with it. Reward him. Put him back in the pasture or stall. Do
this several different times before you start to clip or even turn on the
4) Use a clicker and some treats. Great way to distract him, reduce his
anxiety and reward him when he does something good, like just standing there
unstressed and calm when you show him the clippers. Clicker training is great
for this kind of thing and there are several books and articles about it.
5) Don't force anything because it only makes things worse. Be happy with
small victories and slow progress and your horse will pick up on your lack of
anxiety and feel better about it all himself.
If I am going to enter a horse in an endurance ride, I always give it a full
body clip no more than a week before the ride. Even a little bit of hair
growth can really effect the horse's ability to dissipate heat if working hard.
I have a recent experience with Remington which which I thought I would share
because it illustrates this so well.
I clipped him on October 8 before I took him to the Grand Canyon for rides on
October 14 and 15. Four weeks later I rode him as the point rider for a
local competitive trail ride on an original land grant cattle ranch. Riding
point means I ride out in front of the open class riders and make sure all the
gates are unlocked and that the ribbons used to mark the trail haven't been
knocked down by the cattle. We have to ride at a decent speed to make sure we
stay ahead of everybody and have time to get off and repair trail markers if
necessary. It is good we did at this ride because the cattle had obliterated
two miles of trail markers and the sign marking a critical turn.
We rode about 30 miles. The trail had some significant climbing. It was
cool and foggy in the morning. Fog is one form of high humidity which makes
it hard for the horse to cool itself by sweating. Later it got pretty warm
when the sun came out, maybe approaching 80 degrees. We finished early in the
I hadn't clipped Remington since before taking him out to the Grand Canyon
and it showed. He had grown another half inch or so of hair in the four weeks
since then. He got a little sluggish and was breathing harder than usual.
Once we got back to camp, he probably huffed and puffed for twenty minutes or
so while I gave him a bucket bath before started breathing normally. This is
unusual for him. I would have pulled him at an endurance ride if he was
that hot during a ride. He just had too much coat for the work. I clipped him
the next day because I was taking him to an endurance ride the next weekend.
A week later I did a hundred mile ride on him in the desert. The weather
was cooler and the terrain flatter. Still there was a lot of sand which tires
a horse out. Also, one hundred miles is one hundred miles and a horse can
overheat as the day wears on if you push even a little too hard. It was cold
in the morning then much warmer during the day as the sun came out. It got
cold and incredibily windy (supposedly 40-50 mph with gusts of 70 mph) when the
sun went down.
Rem was the only horse I saw with a full body clip. One mule we were riding
just got too hot and sweaty and quit at fifty miles. Only about two thirds
of the hundred milers finished. Remington did really well.
The pulse criteria at the first vet check was 56 beats per minute, meaning
your horse had to reach that point within 30 minutes of coming into the vet
check or it would be disqualified. Only once the horse reached criteria would
its mandatory hold period start. Remington came in to the first vet check at
40 bpm. The pulse criteria at every other vet check was 60 bpm. Rem came in
at 48 bpm at all of them except for one where he came in at 52 bpm.
Part of this was due to me riding him carefully by mixing up the gaits in the
sand. We mostly trotted but also cantered about 30% of the course and
walked another 30%. But I also think a lot of it had to do with how well he was
able to move without his fur coat. The vet check who examined him at 90 miles
told me later that he looked like he hadn't gone anywhere yet. The ride
manager told me he came in from the 90 mile mark to the finish faster than any
other hundred mile horse. He dragged me back to the trailer to get to his hay
after we vetted through at the finish. He was the only horse in the world
with 10,000 miles of competition to complete a one hundred mile ride this year.
He sure looked better after going 100 miles in the endurance ride than he
did from the 30 mile ride the week before.
The point of all this is that clipping off even just four weeks of hair
growth can really make a difference. The most common question I get is from
people who have an Icelandic which is full of energy but just wants to quit after a
45 minutes or so of moderately hard riding. From watching my own horses
when they are unclipped, this is consistent with the horse pooping out from
overheating. I can't even ride my horses hard enough to seriously condition them
unless I clip them first. I hate to see a horse huffing and puffing from
being asked to work hard with all that fur. On the rare occasion we ride with
other Icelandics, I always watch for signs of overstress (heavy panting,
squirting loose poop, stops on the trail) in other people's horses after just a few
minutes of riding because I don't want somebody else's horse to become ill.
So think about clipping and re-clipping if you are going to work your horse
at all hard. It will be happier if you do.
You really can get a better clip if they are clean. They all got a
bath first and a light spray with Show Sheen, to make the clipper blades
slide easily. I have the big old Oster Clipmasters. They are heavy, but
once you get the hang of it, you can really clip them quickly.