Teaching your horse how to clip doesn’t have to be a dramatic task. Learn how to tame the “clipper monster”.
As you read this, we’ll be into the warmer weather, and like everything else, your horse will probably need a good “spring cleaning”. You may also wish to clip excess hair around eyes, nose, ears, bridle path, fetlocks, coronary bands, or even do a trace or full body clip.
Before you can begin, however, you must teach your horse to accept clippers. Approaching a horse with a set of clippers in your hand can be very menacing to him if he’s not used to it – and very dangerous you.
Training vs. Force
It’s important to focus on the “teaching” and “accepting” part of the previous paragraph. By definition, we are eliminating the use of twitches, ear twisting or even sedation as a means to accomplish this task. The goal is to teach the horse to calmly and comfortably accept clipping anywhere on his body.
We’ll begin by developing a lesson plan, breaking down the steps needed to reach our goal into a logical, manageable process. We’ll implement these steps gradually, thereby building the horse’s confidence as we move along. This step-by-step plan will help him succeed, rather than test him to failure.
Preparing for Success
Start at your desk or kitchen table, and make a list of things to rub on your horse’s body, especially his head, which is usually the most challenging part to clip. These items should familiarize him with both the physical contact and noise element (remember clippers buzz!) involved in the clipping procedure. Your list might include the following items:
1. Your hand
5. Candy wrapper
6. Aluminum foil
7. Crumpled newspaper
8. Plastic bag
There are obviously hundreds of different objects you could use, but most horses only require five to ten in order to learn the lesson properly.
After you compile your list, rearrange it sequentially, starting with what you think would be the easiest item for your horse to tolerate, and ending with what would be the most difficult for him (as in the list at left). The first item on your list must always be your hands, because if you can’t even touch his ears (for example) you shouldn’t even be thinking about clipping them! The last item on the list should be the actual clippers.
Approach and Retreat
Your horse should not be tied during these first sessions; just have him outfitted in a halter and either wrap the lead rope around his neck, or let it fall to the ground in front of him. Begin by rubbing your hands all over his head and body. He must be completely comfortable with you rubbing his nose, ears, feet, body, etc. If he resists being touched in a certain spot, use the approach and retreat method until the resistance is eliminated.
Increasing his Comfort Zone
As an example, let’s say your horse doesn’t want you to touch his ears. Rub his head between the eyes with your hand, then move your hand one inch towards his ears and immediately retreat to the area between his eyes. Continue rubbing there, then allow your hand to briefly move two inches upward (closer to his ears). Keep repeating this approach and retreat method until you get closer and closer to his ears. When you think he’s ready, quickly and smoothly move your hand over his entire ear and onto his neck. Remove your hand and pet your horse in his favorite spot. He may not have been comfortable with what just happened, but by the time he figured out that you actually touched his ear, it was already over and done.
It’s important you do not become apprehensive and creep your hand towards his ear, using the same type of body language some people show when they’re about to stick the horse with a needle.
Adding the “Buzz”
Repeat the procedure several times before eventually slowing your hand speed as you rub over his ear. In time, the horse will be comfortable having his ear touched, then cupped, then stroked. Now you can begin to rub your thumb inside the ear and quickly remove it. When he’s comfortable with that, advance the lesson by making verbal buzzing sounds as you rub around and inside his ear with your hand. Repeat this procedure on all body parts that you eventually wish to clip.
Using your Objects
When your horse is completely comfortable with your hand anywhere around his head and body, try all the other items on your list, beginning with number two, then number three, and so on, until all the items have been used and your horse doesn’t mind any of them.
Introducing the Clippers
The next step is to use the actual clippers on your horse – but without turning them on and without the blades. Rub him all over his head with the clippers, while you verbally “buzz”. If your horse is fine with this, try turning the clippers on (still without blades) and desensitize him to both the sound and feel of the vibration. You might want to start this while off to the side of your horse and up by his shoulder. Turn on the clippers, and just begin petting his neck with them. When he’s very comfortable with this, you’ll be ready to insert your blade, turn on your clippers and give him his first haircut.
While this lesson from beginning to end may take multiple sessions, remember to make his first actual clipping session a relatively short one. Just do one small section and when you’re done, pet him and give him a treat on this special occasion as a reward for being so brave. You must always let him know when he does something right. As always, when teaching a horse, rushing never helps – be sure to allow him the time he needs to feel successful every step of the way. In the end, you’ll have a more confident horse, and clipping will take less time overall.
Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard, founders of Two as One Horsemanship, appear at expos and clinics across North America. Their mission is to teach horses and people how to bring out the best in each other. Visit TwoasOneHorsemanship.com or call 845-692-7478 for their horsemanship clinic schedule, DVDs, books, Horsemanship Education Courses, ProTrack™ Trainer Certification Program, and to find a Wind Rider Challenge™ near you.