How to clip difficult or afraid horses
Late autumn brings the annual fun of clipping your horse. If you are lucky, you’ll have an amenable equine who views being clipped on a par with a spa massage - unfortunately this is not always the case. Frightened horses tend to react in two main ways, either throwing themselves around and through people in a wild and uncontrolled manner – or alternatively standing ‘frozen’ and shaking.
The first thing to consider is your own and any helpers safety. Ensure you have hard hats, steel toecap boots and those holding ropes have gloves. Prepare your horse carefully – ensure coat is clean, any dirt will ‘snag’ in the clippers and if the horse is sweaty the hair will become entangled. Use regular sprays of clipper oil on your clippers, and brush clipped hair away regularly as this will cause clippers to overheat. Keep checking clippers to ensure they don’t get too warm – remember the ‘baby's bath’ elbow law, anything hotter than that will burn a horse’s delicate skin.
Leave them to cool if necessary. Many people advocate doping frightened horses, but that merely wins the battle for that occasion – fine if you aren’t keeping the horse, but not really an acceptable result. In my experience the best answer is to ‘desensitize’ the horse – most useful is to clip a steady horse with the frightened horse is standing nearby. Bring them steadily closer with a feed-bucket if necessary to ensure that they associate the noise of clipping with something positive.
Once they are happier with the sound of the clippers, turn them on and off a few times, as often the start up is what concerns horses. After this is acceptable to them I recommend a break, maybe leave them overnight to think about things. Try again with the clippers the following day and judge their reaction. Initially they will probably tense, but you are looking for a relaxation and acceptance. Time spent at this stage will save you a lot of time later on. Once they are looking relaxed about things and maybe picking at a haynet, move the clippers towards them, switching on and off again waiting for the reaction to reduce.
Eventually you should be able to stroke them whilst starting and stopping the clippers. If at any stage the horse becomes distressed, move back a stage and try again. When you can get close to the horse, put the clippers on top of your hand on their neck whilst stroking him, then try without your hand, supporting them with a calming hand on their neck at the same time.
You may well find they are fine to continue clipping. I suggest with a first clip that you keep to a simple tracer or bib clip, as the key areas of tension tend to be under the belly and around the ears area. Once they have accepted this, after a few days you can always extend the clip if you need to, again taking it a stage at a time.