How to gain your horses confidence by understanding his innate behaviour….. Part 2

In my first article that was published last month in the July edition of Pegasus I spoke about the importance of de-sensitising our horses to objects and how we would go about this by using the following innate horse behaviour:

* Observing from a distance

* Using Approach and Retreat

* Standing back and smelling before touching

Using this innate horse behaviour means that we are speaking their language, it makes more sense to them and therefore helps them become trusting and confident.

I also spoke about the importance of being able to touch your horse all over his body before you tried to get him used to other situations and obstacles, whether in-hand or ridden.

Using the above techniques I discussed the way you would help a horse get confident about being touched all over, and gave examples of how you would help a horse who was head-shy. Please refer back to the July issue for these techniques as they are the foundation to great horsemanship.

In this article I am going to talk about preparation for the vet.

There are many things to take into account, but it is always about preparation. If you are prepared then you can be calmer and more confident on the day and this always rubs off on your horse.

Lets start with Clipping. Often our horses have to endure being clipped when they have had an accident. They are already scared and in pain and now they have to cope with a noisy vibrating object that sometimes has a snake following it ! Many horses have already experienced unpleasant associations with being clipped and these memories come flooding back at a higher rate when they are traumatised.

I believe that if we have our horses prepared for most eventualities, if they do happen, we are in a much better position to keep ourselves and our horse calm and happy to allow the invasive but necessary veterinary treatment.

So how do we prepare our horse for the clippers, whether he is new to them or whether he is really scared of them the technique is the same.


prep for clipping 1Either with an electric toothbrush, a vibrating body brush or a very small hand held clipper

1. Hold them (turned off!) at least 3 feet away from his nose and slightly off centre and let him smell them for as long as he needs to (see part 1 for full details)

2. Once he has stopped smelling, turn and walk away, up and down the arena fence

3. There is a time when it feels right to re-introduce them to him before he gets bored of walking the fence line. If he is not bothered then we approach the middle of his neck and stroke his neck with them, again, it is the timing that is important, we want to use approach and retreat again in a similar fashion to the de-sensitising, we want it to be our idea to stop stroking him with them and walk away again.

4. This might be the end of his first session for the day. 10 minutes is long enough. If he has been un-phased by this because it is the noise or the wire on the ground that bothers him more than the clippers, then you can move on during this session and start simulating the sound of clippers with your own voice.

5. The next session will take half of this time, if not less, so we are able to move on and touch our horse all over with this now familiar object. We can then introduce sound, if we have not already – and our own voice is perfect, (you might want to practise your clipping sounds in the privacy of your own home first! And make sure you can start low and build the sound in layers until it replicates the sound of the clippers you wish to use.

6. The next step is to turn them on. I do this when I have started walking (step 2) and when I know he is at least 4 foot behind me.

7. Follow step 3 but leave out letting him smell them when they are on!

Again, our timing needs to be good! When to quit is so important, we tend to leave it too long, so if you are not sure, retreat sooner rather than later! Be happy that he can accept the hand held clipper close to his neck and retreat and walk away, be happy that he has them on his skin, take them off and walk away. By using this approach and retreat it is amazing how quickly they will then accept the clipping without concern.

8. When your horse is happy to have these clippers all over his body then is the time to move up to a larger clipper… or…. Start clipping with the small clippers, this obviously depends on the thickness of the hair and time of year you are preparing.

Some other important points for you are: 

Prep for clipping 2Remember to keep breathing, keep relaxed and keep your voice low and your movements smooth. Remember to let the horse move if he starts to get worried, moving his feet released emotion.

Remember to take the pressure off the horse by using the retreat part of approach and retreat! You will need to make a judgement call on this. Sometimes I have to retreat out of the stable, sometimes I turn them off and step back a couple of feet.

You want to see your horse looking relaxed, if he has got tight in the jaw (lower lip pulled back) and is hardly blinking he is not relaxed. Sometimes it is good to take them for a walk and let them have a little grazing or give them a treat. Walking releases emotion and chewing can also have the same affect.

Remember to quit when you are ahead! Allow sufficient training time, it usually takes me 4 sessions of approximately 40 minutes, allow yourself maybe 10 sessions of 15 minutes.

Next month we will talk about preparing your horse for ointments and dressings.

Please be aware that these articles can only give so much information, so much of it depends on the many variable scenarios, please consider getting out a professional to help you, at least to get started.

I do hope that you have discovered something worth trying in my article and am happy to speak with you if you have any questions.

Sue Gardner 07813 813386


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