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Shaving off fear goes beyond clippers

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - January 5th, 2012 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: I gave my friend a pair of clippers for Christmas. He was happy to get them until he tried to clip his horse and the horse freaked out. Now he wants me to clip his horse for him. Do you have any pointers before I get started?
Austin, age 10, Norco

HEY SON: This is a great question as well as a great opportunity because most people assume that if a horse doesn’t clip, it’s because they’re afraid of the clippers. In reality, he may be afraid of everything, including the clippers, so you must first figure out where your beginning is.

A good place to start would be to simply rub your hands all over the area that you wish to clip. If he flinches or shies away from your hand (like away from his eyes, muzzle, bridle path or ears), you don’t stand a chance in adding the challenges of the clippers to the mix. Just like anything else, it’s all about the preparation, and you are going to have to do some training. If the body part you are looking to clip happens to be an area that threatens you, do your desensitizing with an extension of your hand. An extension of your hand is anything that puts distance between you and your horse — it could be a rope that you continue to work on or around the horse until it is fully accepted, or a cane, a walking stick or even a whip, as long as the horse does not have a preconceived notion because of a bad experience.

Remember, the whole idea is to touch the horse all over until he is okay with it and all the while keeping you safe. If you sense that the horse will become aggressive toward you, (1) tie him up to a long rope that will slip and give if he pulls hard enough, and (2) get a longer stick. The idea here is to keep the horse away from you while you get him used to the exercise. You can also run the rope around the post of a corral and back to you to redirect him away from you when you pull. This will also help to keep him off of you.

Once you are able to work the horse to a point where he seems calm and accepting to the extension of your hand — and then just your hand — we can proceed to add sound and movement to the exercise. The best way to do this is to add a rag or plastic to the end of your stick. This will either make it better or make it worse before it gets better, if you do not stop or back off until he accepts, licks and chews. If it gets worse and you are not exactly sure how to handle it, STOP — minimize your loss and get professional help, or ask your dad.

Remember if your horse won’t accept the challenges you are exposing him to, he will more than likely not accept being shaved with your clippers. It is not impossible that if you slowly and carefully attempt to approach your horse with the clippers in hand, he might appear to be okay with it just before he strikes, breaking all the bones in your hand. That is why it is imperative that you do not skip any steps before putting the clippers in your hand.

If you feel your horse is ready to move on to the clippers, this is what I suggest you do first: Attach the clippers to the end of the long stick you were working with. Secure them by wrapping electrical tape around them. I prefer to use cordless clippers for this step but it is okay if they have a cord. Just make sure you have an extension cord. The clippers should be attached to the stick upside down and backwards so you can rub them all around your horse without the chance of accidently hurting him or shaving wanted hair. This is a necessary step in case the horse becomes nervous or defensive towards you. The thing to remember is, you are not trying to spook your horse; you are trying to get him to trust you and any extension of you. So, it’s a good idea to approach him slowly at whatever pace settles him before challenging him beyond his comfort zone. Do not put the clippers in your hand unless you feel your horse trusts you with them.

Austin, this is one of those times where, if not careful, things could go south in a flash.

Trust your instincts and think safe before getting started instead of just hoping to get lucky.

Your dad,

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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