By Lindsey Forkun, www.LFEquestrian.com
- Are you dreading bringing out the clippers and facing your horse? Are you thinking you might need to tranquilize your horse to clip him?
Don’t worry – here are some easy steps and tips to make clipping just as easy as brushing your horse.
1) Desensitize: Before you start with the clippers, you need to get your horse used to the noise of clippers, and the feeling of something vibrating on their skin.
- Give a Massage: It’s easy to pick up a battery operated massager. You can pick one up for $10 at many stores. This is a great tool to start with because there is no cord to get tangled in, it is quieter than clippers, and it will feel nice to the horse. Start by turning the massager on when standing at a distance from your horse. Watch you horse’s reaction. If your horse is okay with it, you can start touching and then rubbing him with the massager. Rub all over the horse.
- Clipper Noise: Next you can turn on the clippers, but don’t use them yet. Just get your horse used to the noise of the clippers. Move the clippers all around your horse – but don’t touch the horse with them yet.
- Clipper Noise with Massage: Now that your horse is okay with the noise and okay with the massage, try having the loud clippers on, but touch the horse with the massager.
2) Get Started: Most horses are most comfortable if you start clipping their shoulder or barrel area. This is also the safest area for you to start because if the horse panics it is unlikely you will get kicked or run over when standing at the horse’s side.
3) Reward: Whenever we work with our horses, it is important to remember what motivates your horse. If you reward your horse with something after being clipped, or during being clipped, you will make it clipping something your horse enjoys. Rewards can be scratches, rest breaks, treats, grazing, or anything else your horse enjoys.
Now that you know what steps to follow, it is important to learn how to teach your horse that standing still and relaxed is the ‘right answer’.
Horses learn that something is ‘right’ because we stop bugging them. Think about it – you stop pulling back when your horse stops, you stop squeezing after your horse goes, you stop pushing when your horse moves over in the aisle – we teach our horse’s that if they are right, we will back off and stop bugging them.
When you start desensitizing or clipping your horse, watch your horse for any sign of nervousness. This could be head straight up and tense, pooping in the aisle, snorting, or trying to get away.
If this happens you need to be patient. Stay in the same spot and wait for your horse to relax. Once the horse relaxes you need to back off and stop bugging the horse. This will reward the horse for relaxing, and it will teach the horse that it is okay to relax because you will back off and reward them.
If you don’t back off when your horse relaxes, then you will teach your horse that it is wrong to relax – because instead of backing off, you add even more pressure… just like if the horse doesn’t go forward with a squeeze from your legs you might add a kick.
After your horse has relaxed and you have backed off, wait a moment. How long you wait will depend on how nervous your horse was – if the horse was totally nervous and took several minutes to relax, then wait several minutes before you start again. If the horse was tense for a couple seconds, then only wait a few seconds.
Keep this up the entire time while you clip and desensitize:
1) Start desensitizing/ clipping until you notice the horse being tense
2) Wait in the exact same spot until your horse relaxes
3) Back off (reward)
4) Start desensitizing/ clipping again
Remember that when you back off to reward your horse, you only have to back off enough to show the horse that they are being rewarded. This means that if your horse totally freaked out by having the clippers turned on, then after the horse settles, you will turn the clippers off. If your horse got nervous when you moved from clipping their shoulder to their neck, then you would back off by moving the clippers back to their shoulder area.
If you teach your horse using these steps, then your horse won’t get really panicked because when you first see the horse getting tense, you will wait, and then back off – NOT press further which could cause the horse to really get upset and do things like striking, kicking, or trying to run away.
Clipping is something that can be really easy if you take the time to get your horse used to the idea. Make it easy with these simple steps!
Lindsey Forkun is dedicated to promoting positive partnerships through humane natural horsemanship for all equine disciplines. Free online advice, articles, and videos. Offering natural horsemanship products and services, learn more at www.LFEquestrian.com