At some stage of horse ownership, you will probably come across a horse that doesn’t like to be clipped.
Whether it’s around the head and face or the legs, a lot of horses are frightened of clippers. To us, clipping seems like something very acceptable. We know the clippers aren’t going to hurt the horse, but the horse doesn’t. Remember: horses are prey animals; they perceive anything new as potentially life threatening. Until you prove to them otherwise, they are not going to willingly accept anything in the “Unknown Object” category. The good news is that there is an easy way to teach your horse to accept clipping. Follow these steps and with practice you will be able to clip your horse without having to fight with him or restrict him in any way. The key is to break the process into steps and to teach the horse that the noise and the feel of the vibrating clippers are not going to hurt him. The smaller the steps, the easier it is for him to understand.
The name given to this process is “Desensitizing.” When you’re desensitizing your horse, the goal is to maintain the pressure until he stands still, relaxes, and pays no attention to what you’re doing, at which point you should retreat. This is the behavior I am looking for when I clip my horse — for him to stand relaxed and not worry about the clippers.
Can you rub your hand all over your horse’s face and ears? Can you wave them around his eyes? If your horse has any resistance to your bare hands on his face and head, you can hardly expect him to stand still for clippers. You would be amazed at how many people wonder why their horse won’t accept being clipped, when the truth is these same people can’t even touch the horse’s ears with their hands. Step 1, then, is to get your horse to accept your hands on his face, muzzle, ears and around his eyes. Once you have accomplished this step COMPLETELY, move on to Step 2. DO NOT move on if there is ANY resistance from the horse, no matter how long it takes.
If you find an “Oh no! Don’t touch me there!” spot on your horse, continue to rub him in that same area until he stands still and relaxes. When that happens, retreat and rub him somewhere else on his face or body that he is comfortable with. Then approach the sensitive area again. Continue using this method, called Approach and Retreat, until there are no off-limit spots around your horse’s head.
Now I want to be able to take the clippers in my hand – turned OFF – and desensitize the horse to having the clippers around him. Let him smell the clippers. Then rub them over his face and wave them around his eyes and ears. Remember if your horse won’t stand still for the clippers when they are not even turned on, what makes you think that he will stand there when you do turn them on? Using the Approach and Retreat Method, make sure that he will tolerate the feeling of the clippers on all parts of his face, eyes and ears – especially inside the ears.
BE PATIENT. If this takes a few days, go ahead and spend that time – it will save you time in the long run if you take the time now to do this step right. As before, make sure that the horse is showing no resistance to this step before you move on.
Remove the blade and turn the clippers on to let the horse get used to the noise. Without touching him, wave the clippers around the end of his nose, his eyes and his ears. Don’t touch him with the clippers yet. Desensitize him to the sound and movement first. When the clippers are close to his ears, he will probably lift his head and act a little frightened. Leave the clippers up there 7-8 inches from his ear and wait until the horse relaxes his head. Once he relaxes, turn the clippers off and rub him. Use my Approach and Retreat Method: approach with the clippers and every time the horse relaxes and lowers his head, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember: you are not trying to touch him right now with the clippers on – all you are doing is getting him to stand still with the clippers on and moving around his head. Pay particular attention to areas where reaction is high – this is usually around the ears. You may have to spend more time here. Initially, it might take a couple of minutes before he relaxes his head when he hears the clippers near his ears. However, once he does, turn the clippers off and rub him. Repeat this procedure until there is little, if any, reaction from your horse to the clippers, turned on, anywhere around his head.