Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shave and A Haircut: Teaching Your Horse to Stand for Clipping

By Darlene M.

If you have been around horses for any length of time, you have probably encountered a horse that will not tolerate being clipped. Perhaps the horse believes those noisy, tingly clippers to be a horse-eating monster or perhaps the world's largest horsefly. Regardless, he's going to have none of it! Further attempts of clipping a horse that is fearful can be dangerous for you and him.

If you have a horse that is not comfortable with your hand touching his ears, face, legs, etc., you've got a horse that will not tolerate clippers. You want your horse to be comfortable and relaxed as you clip him; worry free and without a care. But how do you get there? As with many other training methods, you need to desensitize your horse to the sight, sound, and feel of the clippers.

The following steps will enable you to accomplish clipping your horse safely:

1. If your horse does not like his ears, head, muzzle, face, eyes or legs touched, you must first get him to accept your hands on him before you will ever be able to get him to accept the clippers. Once you have him accepting your touch without any resistance, you can then introduce the clippers.

2. With the clippers turned off, let your horse see, smell, and touch them. Wave them around in front of his face. Let him get used to seeing them in your hand. Rub them on his neck and then move up to his head, around the jaw and then move them up to his ears, eyes, and muzzle. Take the clippers down to his legs. Starting at the elbow, rub them down the leg to the fetlock.

Once he stands calmly as you rub the clippers over his body as they are turned off, you can then move on to the next step.

3. Stand by your horse's head and turn the clippers on. Let him get used to the sound. Turn them off and on. Wave the humming clippers around in front of his face to let him see the movement and hear the clippers as they move from one position to the next. If he reaches out to inspect them, let him; but make sure he doesn't put his nose on the blade end.

Move the clippers toward his ears, letting him hear the sound close up. He may lift his head higher to move away from the sound, but when he drops his head turn off the clippers and pat him, speak softly to him to reward him. It may take you a while to get him used to having the clippers around his ears, but continue the method of turning off the clippers and rewarding him with a pat each time he lowers his head.

4. Once he is comfortable with the turned on clippers being moved around in front of his face and the reverberating sound of them in his ears, it is time to touch him with them as they are turned on. This will be a whole new experience, because now he will be able to feel the vibration as well as hear them. Again, I start at the neck and lay the clipper body, not the blade, against his skin. You will get a reaction. Use the above reward method when your horse relaxes a little. From the neck, I move to the jaw, and down to the muzzle, up the other jaw to the ear, where you will have the biggest reaction from your horse. He will definitely raise his head high, but when he drops it even a little, turn off the clippers and pat him.

Do the same thing with his legs. Again, starting at the elbow and working your way down to the fetlock, lay the body of the clippers against his leg and work your way down. Once he stands still, reward him by turning the clippers off.

5. Now it is time to introduce the clipper blade to your horse. Always start with the muzzle, chin, underside of the jaw, poll (bridle path), and finish up with the ears. Clip a little with the blade. If your horse reacts to the feeling of the blade, revert to desensitizing him again with just the feel of the vibrating clippers.

For the legs, turn the clippers on and start from the elbow move the clipper body down to the fetlock. Once there, initiate the blade on the feathers of the fetlock. If there is any reaction from your horse, move the body of the clippers back up the leg and then return to the fetlock.

Patient consistency will allow you desensitize and train your horse to stand while being clipped. You will, most likely, need to repeat these steps several times before your horse is fully comfortable with the clipping process. However, your efforts will be worth it once you see how nice your horse looks with his new shave and a haircut.

Happy trails!

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