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How To Clip a Horse Ear

The Horse-friendly Way

Neat-looking ears are a must for any horse owner, who takes pride in their horse’s appearance.

Ear clipping is part of grooming your horse if you want a neat and turned-out look. When showing, a neatly trimmed ear contributes to the overall impression.

Clipped Ears – The Rider’s Perspective

As proud horse owners and riders, we care about our own appearance and the appearance of our horse. When showing, we need to present ourselves and our horse as attractively as possible to gain favor in the judge’s eye. Trimming ears has become a part of that overall groomed appearance. But is it really ‘the thing to do’? Clipping the inside of a horse’s ear may look neat, but is it good for the horse?

Clipped Ears – the horse’s perspective

The many fine hairs inside your horse’s ear serve a purpose. They keep debris, dust, and insects from entering the sensitive ear cavity. Nature provided a perfect barrier against intruders that can not only bother, but also injure the horse and cause irritation or infections. Furthermore, the soft hairs on the inside of your horse’s ears are also sensory hairs, which provide feedback to the horse from their environment. Those little hairs are therefore not an unsightly nuisance, they are useful protection and sensory organs that your horse needs and should not go without.

Neat & Functional – Clipped Ears that “Work”

How can we meet the rider’s need for a neat appearance and the horse’s need for protection? It’s quite easy:

  • Gently squeeze the horse’s ear together so that the ear is closed and the edges line up (see image).
  • Trim off any hair that grows beyond the edge, creating a neat, clean edge. You can use a small clipper or scissors (if you horse stands nice and still).
  • Trim off any hair that grows on the bottom of the ear or protrudes beyond the ear line.

The result: A neatly trimmed ear, a tidy and groomed appearance – and the horse keeps what he needs: his hairy protection against dirt, dust, and insects.

For horse show grooming: If you fear that trimming the edges of your horse’s ears is not polished enough for the show ring, think about having your horse wear an ear hood. Especially in dressage and show jumping, you will appreciate the neat and attractive appearance of a horse bonnet.

What to Look Out For When Clipping Your Horse’s Ears

Horses new to ear clipping: Get your horse used to the clippers slowly, using a ‘drive by’ approach. Move casually around the ear with the running clipper without touching the horse. Once the horse is at ease with the sound, clip a little and keep moving. Repeat until the horse is completely calm using the clippers.

Horses that are sensitive in the ear area: There can be several reasons for ear sensitivity, such as skin irritation inside the ear, tight muscles in the poll area, a negative ‘ear twitching’ experience in the past, discomfort from ill-fitting bridles, and more. Whatever the underlying cause, try to address the immediate situation – ear clipping – by making this a positive experience (while you investigate possible areas of improvements, such as a different bridle, etc.). Start by gently massaging the horse’s ears before or after riding and during every grooming session. Soon, the horse will associate positive experiences around having his ears touched and will be more agreeable when you show up with your clippers.

Tools to trim your horse’s ear: Use only clippers with sharp blades and sharp scissors. Dull clipper blades or dull scissors will not only make this an unpleasant experience for you, but also for your horse since dull blades pull on the hair and cause discomfort. If using a clipper, clean and lubricate the blade after each use or for each new horse.

Protect the horse’s ear canal: While trimming gently place a cotton ball into the base of the horse’s ear. You can remove it after you are done trimming. This cotton ball will keep trimmed hair from falling into the ear canal, where it can cause irritation.

Enjoy your horse!


Stefanie Reinhold

British Horse Society – Sensory Hairs

Merck Veterinary Manual – Inner Structure of the Horse’s Ear

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