At some stage of horse ownership, you will come across a horse that doesn’t like to be clipped. To us, clipping seems like something very acceptable. We know the clippers aren’t going to hurt 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’ category. The good news is that there is an easy way to teach your horse to accept clipping. Follow these steps and, with practise, you will be able to clip your horse without having to fight him or restrict him in any way. The key is to break the process into steps and 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 ‘desensitising.’ When you’re desensitising 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 behaviour I’m 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 hand 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 be clipped, when the truth is these same people can’t even touch the horse’s ears with their hands. The first step is to get your horse to accept your hands on his face, muzzle, ears and around his eyes and then anywhere else on his body. Once you have accomplished this step completely, move on to Step 2. Don’t 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 the approach and retreat method until there are no off limit spots around your horse’s body.
Now place the clippers in your hand (turned off) and desensitise 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. If your horse won’t stand still for the clippers when they are not even turned on, he won’t stand there when you use them properly. 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. Be patient. This may take a few days, but 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. Desensitise him to the sound and movement first. When clippers are close to his ears, he will probably lift his head and act a little frightened. Leave the clippers up there eight inches from the horse’s ear and wait until the horse relaxes his head. Once he relaxes, 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 anywhere around his body. Pay particular attention to areas where reaction is high – this is usually around the ears. You may have to spend more time here.
Once the horse accepts the clippers around his head while they are turned on but not touching him, it is time to rub them all over his face and nose, around his ears and poll and over the rest of his body, with the clippers turned on (but with the guard in place). This will create a new sensation since the clippers will vibrate against his skin. If the horse gets frightened, just keep rubbing the clippers around the area he is uncomfortable in until he begins to relax. As soon as he does, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember, approach and retreat. In the beginning, work on one area at a time. On his head, start with his muzzle and work your way up to his ears. As he relaxes in each area, you can expand the places you are rubbing until you can do it anywhere.
Once your horse is absolutely perfect with all of the previous steps, you are ready to begin clipping the hair on his body. However, if you are still getting resistance from the horse to any of the steps up to this point, you will only make matters worse by proceeding. Actually clipping the hair is another new feeling, and the horse may react to the sensation. Again, don’t start in a sensitive area. When dealing with the head, start at the muzzle, go under the chin, up the face, around the eyes, then onto the bridle path and poll area. Then you can start to work on the ears.
Continue the approach and retreat method when you are actually clipping, it is a good idea to do a little bit of clipping and then go back and rub the clippers over areas that you have already clipped. Find a starting point, clip a little bit and then rub that spot with the clippers for a few seconds, then clip a tiny bit more, then rub. If he gets suspicious or frightened, going back to rubbing the areas already clipped will help him relax, then turn off the clippers and rub him with your hand to show him you’re not trying to shove it down his throat. If you work on these steps a little bit each day, after a week or so you should be able to clip anywhere on his body with no resistance.