Basic horse clipping techniques are well documented, but getting the perfect look isn’t so easy. The secret, says professional clipper Sharon Wareham, is knowing where to draw the line.

“Use a piece of dampened chalk to draw guidelines,” she says. “Don’t use saddle soap, which I’ve seen suggested — it clogs up the blades and leads to overheating and pulled hairs.

“The easiest way to line up a blanket clip over the withers is to use a piece of string and draw inside it; on anything other than ponies, you’ll need to stand on a mounting block so that you’re looking down.

“If you want a full saddle patch, put the saddle on without a numnah and draw around it. Using a numnah as a template will mislead because it lies flat.

“I prefer a ‘lozenge patch’. Draw round the saddle seat but clip across to the front D-rings and take off the hair under the flaps. It looks neater and leaves hair where it’s needed.”

If your problem is unwanted lines on clipped areas, even when using sharp blades, try livery yard manager Steff Beading’s tip.

“Rug up the horse for half an hour before you start, so he’s warm but won’t sweat,” she advises. “Only uncover the area you’re working on. The hair lies flat, avoiding the risk of lines.”

Another easy mistake to make is clipping into the mane hairs.

“Use one hand to hold down the mane on the opposite side, and hold the blades at a slight downward angle,” says Steff.

Rob Murray, a groom in a point-to-point yard, says that stretching the skin, especially round the withers and elbows, means no nicks or left-behind tufts. This helps get a clean-cut finish when fully clipping out a horse’s head.

Don’t always leave the head until last, as horses may have become fed up with the whole business. Sharon Wareham says: “Do an easy bit, such as the shoulder, to start with so the horse is relaxed, then do the head.”

There are many techniques for horses who are nervous of being clipped, but desensitising often works well. Sharon suggests owners accustom their horses to the noise and vibration by holding a pair of small battery-operated dog clippers against the horse, then running them over the body.

Alternatively, try the comfort of company. When show producer Katie Moore prepares to clip an anxious horse, she ties him up in the barn next to an old stager so that he can experience the process without being put under pressure. If he can see the other horse staying relaxed, this will boost his confidence.

Read more about expert advice on clipping horses

This feature was first published in Horse & Hound (21 October ’04)