How to gain trust and confidence for clipping
In the last 4 editions of Pegasus I have shared with you many ideas and strategies to help gain your horses trust and confidence. These ideas are tried and tested and they all come from understanding the innate behaviour of the horse and using this knowledge for safe and effective husbandry & training.
Here is a check list which covers some fundamental information and will help refresh your memory from the previous articles and draw them into this edition.
Horses are prey animals and get emotional when worried or in pain. Emotion runs down their body and into their feet!
- If you make a horse stand when he is scared he will probably exhibit one of the following unwanted behaviours:
- Rear ~ prance ~ head shake
- pull ~ brace ~ not pick feet up/open eye/mouth/clamp tail etc)
- bite ~squash ~ kick ~ strike
- You need to be able to touch your horse all over
- your horse needs to see & smell objects of concern
- Remember that they cannot see objects that are put right under their nose.
Hold it slightly to the side and at least one metre away
- Use approach and retreat
- Keep your body language & your emotions relaxed
- Be aware of your attitude and keep your eyes ‘soft’
- Keep breathing (!)
- Recognise and reward the smallest try
- Keep training sessions short and motivating
- Focus on a positive outcome and not on the primary task
- Set yourself up for success – keep sessions achievable
Learning and utilising the above ways of being around a horse will already have you and your horse in a more confident and trusting relationship and has you in a good place for dealing with more difficult injuries in trickier areas such as eyes and ears and sheaths, underbelly and lower leg/feet.
Preparation for Clipping
We obviously need our horse to be comfortable with being touched all over. If your horse has difficulty being touched around his head or legs then putting noisy vibrating tools into the equation is only going to make matters much worse.
Take the time to de-sensitise your horse all over using the techniques I have discussed in the earlier editions of Pegasus (July through to October).
Once your horse is confident to be touched everywhere on his body you are ready to then de-sensitise him to the clippers and I would suggest your separate the clippers down to the three aspects of possible concern:
If you already have a problem with clipping, by isolating you can find out which one is of concern to your horse and work with it accordingly. Here are some ideas for the horse that has never been clipped and the horse who is scared of being clipped:
Start off with holding the lead, or something similar in shape and colour and let him smell it (see July issue for full technique)
Lead him into the arena and have him get used to the lead following him, it feels to the horse that he is being chased or ‘driven’ by it and his innate need is to get away, more so if he has had a bad experience in the past.
If you are leading him from the near side with your right hand then hold the length of cable in your left hand with your arm straight out to the side of you and ever so slightly behind you so that it is a good distance from your horse, simply walk along until he is comfortable with this and is no longer eyeing it up suspiciously! If this is too scary for him then get a friend to drag it from further away, maybe six or ten foot away from the horse, observe the horses reaction, he will tell you how far away you need to be.
When he is comfortable with this, (it could take between 2 & 6 short training sessions) then do the same thing from the off side. When he is comfortable with this then have someone walk back and forwards in front of him approximately ten feet away, but gauge this to your horses reaction, you might have to retreat further. Slowly walk backwards and forwards until you are three feet away and he can keep his feet still and blink and breath and not be worried.
Lastly, pull the cable behind him so that it leaves one eye and has to re-appear in his other eye, this worries most horses when it is on the ground, so do it from a long way back to begin with, maybe twenty feet or so, again, let the horse tell you his comfort zone. Remember to let him move his head and his feet and turn around if he is worried.
To check to see how your horse is around noise, see how he is with tractors or a radio or any other noise that is around his natural environment, does it bother him? If the answer is no then we can move onto the more specific noise, that of the sound of clippers!
Take up an electric toothbrush first and see how he is with this low level sound which is very similar to that of clippers. Put them on at least twenty feet away so he is not startled by them and slowly head in his direction using approach and retreat (see July Issue).
If the noise starts to bother him at ten or fifteen feet then do not advance any further in this session. You might need to use the driving game strategy where you head off around the arena with him following you, this may take two to four laps before he settles and there is quite a lot involved in this around how to keep yourself safe when leading a scared horse from 12ft or 15ft away (behind you!) so please check with me for further information, or for a recommended behaviourist to help you.
If he can cope with this low level noise and does not need you to retreat around the arena but just some smaller amounts of approach and retreat (see July edition to remind yourself of this technique) then it will not be long before you can touch his neck.
Horses are often able to cope better when touch is introduced. I tend therefore not to spend an over long period with the noise around their whole body, but get my little toothbrush, or something similar, onto their body (mid neck) sooner rather than later, it tends to re-assure them that the noise is not going to be too harmful to them.
Remember to only keep it in this area for a second before retreating, you can turn back and do it again perhaps half a dozen times, just keep checking that your horse is blinking, has a soft lower lip, is looking calm and relaxed and not standing to attention in a (I am just hanging- in stance!!) and also remember that you need to be relaxed as well, make a conscious effort to keep breathing, smiling, blinking and not look like you are just hanging in! how you look and behave has an enormous effect on your horse.
When you are able to touch your horse all over with the electric toothbrush it is time to simply advance to a larger and noisier tool!
From the toothbrush we move up to a small hand clipper. Start the above process all over again, it will take far less time than with the toothbrush with this slightly larger tool. Once you have gone through all the above and your horse is confident then it is time to move on.
It is now time to clip and as you are starting with the little hand held clippers then remember to work below or above the finished line that you ultimately want.
Make sure that the clippers are sharp and well oiled, it is often poorly maintained equipment that causes problems for the horse, clippers that get hot are very uncomfortable and can and do burn. Blunt clippers pull at the skin and cause discomfort. Hold the loose folds around the elbows and other areas nicely and firmly so the skin is always taught, this obviously helps for a smoother clipping experience.
Just clip for a few minutes, give him a breather by stepping right out of his personal space or leave the stable altogether and let him move his feet around. Maybe you can enter again and do a few more minutes, or maybe you are so thrilled with this first clipping session that has not involved sedation that you want to quit on this positive session, you must decide on this, but remember, rewarding the smallest try will always be the right way forward! This is what ultimately gains trust and confidence.
When you can clip the horse with these hand held clippers with him being calm, it is then time to move to the larger clippers that have the lead attached, before turning them on let the horse smell them and let him see the lead moving around on the floor from both sides of his body.
Turn them on from further away and approach quietly. Please be happy with a basic body clip for his first time without sedation, or his first time ever clipped. It is a big ask to clip around the head and the legs all in one go.
You will find that by following these techniques you will have a horse confident to be clipped.
Next month we will be talking trailer loading techniques.
If you would like to meet me in person I will be at the Holistic Hound and Horse Show at Normandy Village Hall, Surrey on Saturday 16th November you can find it on www.facebook.com/HHHS otherwise please visit my website: www.suegardner.co.uk or ring me on 07813 813386 if you would like further advise.