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The Dos and Don'ts of Trimming a Horse

Jennifer specializes in articles about horse training, care, and purchasing.

Fjord horse with its mane trimmed in the traditional manner, showing off the black and white striping

Fjord horse with its mane trimmed in the traditional manner, showing off the black and white striping

Why Trim a Horse?

Horses are trimmed to make them look neater for the show ring and also for the convenience of their owners.

The following areas may be trimmed:

  • Mane
  • Tail
  • Ears
  • Whiskers
  • Face
  • Legs

What is trimmed depends on personal preference and the horse's breed. (For example, it is considered wrong to trim a draft horse's legs.)

What to Trim the Mane With

In general, a horse's mane is not trimmed for overall length. Instead, the mane is thinned or pulled using a pulling comb.

Trimming the mane with scissors tends to cause the mane to bush out. It's also hard to get it even. A trimmed mane may also stand straight up in a mane-hawk. (Some horses have manes that will not lie flat no matter what).

The Bridle Path

However, it is common to clip a small section of the mane behind the ears. This is called a 'bridle path,' and it is done to make it easier to get the bridle on and off.

Some people cut as much as six inches for a bridle path. I personally think this looks really silly, but some swear by it.

Removing the Mane

Finally, removing the mane altogether is sometimes done. This is called 'hogging' in the UK or 'roaching' in the US. Roaching the mane may be done if the horse's mane simply does not look good no matter what you do to it.

Some people also believe that a horse is cooler with a roached mane and take it off for the summer. In the UK, hunting cobs and working cobs traditionally have their manes roached to make their necks look more arched. Colored cobs, however, are always presented with full manes.

The forelock is always removed when roaching 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. Mules are also traditionally roached as they tend to grow a thin, upright 'donkey' type mane.

In some breeds, the mane is supposed to be left 'full.' This is often done with Arabians and is traditional with most of the northern European pony breeds, with standards specifying the maximum size of a bridle path as the only clipping, trimming or thinning of the mane allowed.

Dude string mules with three layered tails

Dude string mules with three layered tails

Trimming the Tail

Again, 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.

Banged Tails

Most riding horses have their tails banged.

To bang the tail:

  • Have a helper lift the tail slightly.
  • Then, put your hand around the tail about four to six inches below the hock and just cut it straight across.
  • The tail should be lifted so that the end of the tail is correct when the horse is being ridden. Horses lift their tails when moving.

Some people prefer to cut the tail in layers up the side, which they think looks more natural.

Pulling the top of the tail is sometimes done, but most people prefer the look of a full tail and braid it for showing.

Other Styles

Some draft horses have their tails shaved all the way up to the dock. This is considered a more humane alternative to docking the tail and is done to prevent the tail from being caught in a harness or agricultural machinery.

Shaving the tail is also traditional with string mules. The term 'shavetail' comes from the fact that a completely shaved tail indicated an untrained mule.

When dealing with large strings, shaving the tail in layers is still sometimes used to indicate the mule's training or job:

  • Completely shaved for untrained
  • One layer for pack
  • Two layers for wrangler only
  • Three layers for dude mules

Trimming the Ears

Trimming a horse's ears is somewhat controversial. Some people believe the ears should never be trimmed. Others will remove the hair from both the outside and inside of the ear.

The traditional method, however, is to hold the horse's ear together and trim off only the untidy, excess hair.

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 hood when turned out. It's much easier not to trim inside the ear in the first place.

Trimming only the excess looks just as neat.

Trimming the Whiskers

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.

Many people, however, trim off their show horse's whiskers. I personally am against the practice, although some slight trimming for neatness is acceptable.

The horse needs them to find its way around its stall in the dark, and they do not look awful with full whiskers. Certainly, if you aren't showing, just leave the whiskers alone.

Trimming the Face

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, similar to what you might use on a dog.

Native ponies should not have their faces trimmed and I would also not trim it off if you have a horse living out all winter as they may appreciate the extra warmth.

If using scissors, always use proper curved trimming scissors on your horse's face, not straight scissors. It's entirely too easy to accidentally stab your poor horse with straight scissors.

Trimming the Legs

All horses grow some feathering around their fetlock. On light horses, this feathering is traditionally removed. It is often very minimal and just looks untidy.

Many people also believe that removing the feather reduces the risk of cracked heels or 'mud fever,' which is chapping of the skin on the back of the fetlock.

My personal observation is that if the horse is a draft horse or pony with plenty of feather, it is best to leave it on as the damp won't reach the skin, but with light horses, it is best to take it off.

Draft horses and pony breeds should not have feathering removed or trimmed in any way. Full feathering is part of the breed standard for these horses.

Some draft horses, ponies, and cobs may have so much feather you can't actually see their hooves.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 jenniferrpovey


jess on November 24, 2018:

when should u trim horses feathers

anon on April 01, 2018:

Although it is ok to trim a horse's tail to make it straight across, PLEASE do NOT cut your horse's tail....It is there to help the horse in numerous ways, included to combat flies. Also-NO CUTTING OF THE WHISKERS. Illegal in Germany....

Jade0215 on July 02, 2012:

You've got a lot of great information here, keep up the good work!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on July 02, 2012:

Very interesting! Back when we had horses, I never trimmed my horse's mane or tail because they were long and red. Sometimes, I'd cut a bride-path, but that was it. My husband's horse which had thoroughbred in him looked much better with a roached mane because it never laid flat. My son's horse was a paint (or pinto) and his mane was long and beautiful, but it parted in the middle, one half on one side, the other half on the other. My son liked it - that was the main thing! Voted up, interesting and useful.

sethpowers from Virginia on July 02, 2012:

Very informative, good job!