Why you should care
Because with a Michelangelo behind the shears, a horse can turn into a dragon or leopard. Or a Pink Floyd album cover.
When most people see Jillian Scott’s horses, they do a double take. Is that really a zebra in North Lanarkshire, Scotland? Nope, it’s part of Scott’s art — but the canvas she uses isn’t paper or linen; it’s the living bodies of horses. Shaving designs into the horses’ hair, from giraffes to dragons to Batman: This is the realm of creative clipping.
And some of the designs are crazy. For customers, Scott has shaved everything from a skeleton to the Minion from Despicable Me on a horse’s rear — a type of clip called a “bum patch” that’s increasingly popular with people who don’t want to commit to a full creative groom — to a One Direction logo onto a pony. But her favorite design is her leopard print. A horse groomer for 10 years, Scott, 27, started experimenting last year: She took out her clippers and carved a zebra pattern into her horse, a job that took around six hours, with breaks to consult images on her phone to make sure she had the pattern right. The same clip now takes her 45 minutes. Her work started getting her local attention — some positive, some not so friendly. “Some people don’t like new things,” she shrugged. She charges $63 for a “regular” clip and $78 for a creative clip.
Twenty-year-old Greta has transformed horses into everything from a giraffe to a winged dragon to a Pink Floyd album cover.
Scott isn’t the only groomer using horse hair as an artistic medium. Melody Hames, 28, a graphic design student at the University of Salford, Manchester who works at JMC Equestrian, wanted to combine clipping with her art. After sketching her designs on paper, she clips freehand — with no stencils. Her most impressive creation: a detailed castle etched into the side of Freddy, her 4-year-old horse. It took nine hours.
But earning a living doing creative clipping is a challenge. Twenty-year-old Greta Alexandra Oskolkov-Schneider, a rising star in the Wellington, New Zealand, grooming scene, transforms horses into everything from giraffes to a winged dragon to a Batman bum patch. She’s even re-created a Pink Floyd album cover, complete with bricks and walls. But there’s just not enough business, “so it’s more like a hobby to me,” she says. She’ll keep clipping horses, but she starts hairdressing school in the fall. “I’ll still be in the haircutting thing, and will learn human hair,” she said.
Netherlands-based Maysoon Rashid also isn’t sure she could sustain it full-time, as much as she loves how playful she can be with the clippers. When she left the stable where she learned to clip horses to pursue her studies in human physiotherapy (she plans to study equine physiotherapy next), she had time to experiment on her own horse. She’s even clipped a Facebook “Like” button onto a horse’s side.
Some horse clippers can maintain a business. Scott runs Peatside Equi Custom Clipping and works full-time training and clipping horses. But it’s not cheap: The costs of tools and blades add up. Scott estimated $1,600; Hames said $2,200 and Oskolkov-Schneider approximated $2,400.
But some say neigh to horse clipping, calling it cruel. Hames’ response: “Anyone with sense knows it’s only a haircut and not doing any harm.” Scott has also experienced negativity, with some saying she’s “messing with the horse’s temperature regulation,” which she thinks is absurd. Clips are fun, she says, but a lot are also practical: “A traditional clip has half the horse exposed to cool air and half stays warm, while my leopard and zebra clips keep the horse at an even temperature.”
Kristin Simon, cruelty casework manager at PETA, thinks that the horse groomers are being selfish. “Turning a beneficial treatment into a useless decoration is just human vanity,” she told OZY. She objects to animals being forced to stand for hours during the process. “Everyone should put their horses’ comfort and well-being as a priority, and not some kind of designs.” Simon is also concerned that amateur groomers might attempt this without understanding how to do so safely, which could lead to accidentally nicking the horse with clippers, or burning a horse with overheated clippers.
For the clippers who’ve trained professionally, it’s an opportunity to channel their horsey love into a creative outlet. But as with any artistic expression, could it ever become mainstream? Could there be a Crufts version of equine art? Scott thinks it will, as more people see and want to try it out. For now, “They have clipping competitions on Facebook — we just need them in real life.”