Let's face it, to the human eye, horses look much smarter clipped but do you think horses stand around at a competition or hunt meet going 'OMG, don't look now darling, but Archie hasn't been clipped this winter and looks a real fright, no, don't let him see you looking, we don't want to embarrass him!'
I'd always clipped my horses over winter as they did quite a bit of work including competition and hunting. Like most people I didn't just clip for aesthetic reasons but because I'd been taught that it was healthier for a horse in medium to hard work. But then I met Natural Horse Management expert, Lucinda McAlpine and started to re-think the way I managed my own horses, particularly regarding clipping.
Lucinda believes that the horses coat is a good fitness and stress gauge as a horse will sweat heavily when he is anxious or has done too much for his fitness. A slight dampness to the coat will indicate that he has done enough for the level of fitness he is at and so you can stop before pushing too far. A full coat can also provide an indication of our horses health - recently I took one of our horses to the vet and she immediately picked up on his coat as an indication that his system might be out of balance. And a muddy full coat, according to Lucinda, will reveal areas of muscle tension. If mud brushes off easily then the skin and muscles underneath are healthy but if mud really sticks to the coat then that means the fascia and muscles underneath are tight.
It's amazed me how controversial this no-clipping decision is though - people really are snobby about an unclipped horse, it's the equestrian equivalent of walking around the supermarket in dressing gown and slippers! And when you leave a horse out in winter without ten duvets on, you're often seen as being cruel. It actually does take a leap of faith not to treat horses according to how we feel when the temperatures plummet but it still surprises me that once their coat is established horses, including thoroughbreds, will happily stand out in the snow even if they do have a big barn shelter they can walk into. Give them lots of hay over winter and this acts like an internal radiator. A heavy rug on the other hand flattens a full coat and stops it acting as it should.
The big sticking point I have is whether to clip for hunting from a health point of view. When our young horse went out for the first time this season we didn't clip him as it might not be a regular thing. Anyway, he did sweat a lot, probably a mix of excitement and exertion - he wasn't super fit so only did a few hours. I imagine a lot of the clipped horses still sweated but it's just less noticeable because it evaporates off more quickly. And after galloping when horses stand around for sometimes long periods with the cold wind whipping their exposed flesh, which horse is worse off? Will the unclipped horse with a sweaty coat get a chill or the clipped horse whose muscles cool down too quickly get tight and sore? Our horse was then cooled down gradually with a hack back to the horsebox and overnight in his stable, as he was still slightly damp, we put him in a cooler rug, thatched with straw underneath as our main concern was that he might catch a chill.
The good news is that he certainly looked good the next day and hadn't dropped any weight. BUT I'm still sweating over whether to clip or not to clip if he goes out again! What do you think?