how to clip your recalcitrant horse 101

A tutorial from the trenches!!

I’ve clipped the rather recalcitrant Murray without drugs two years in a row now, which makes me certifiably a professional an expert.  And lezbehonest, if I can train MURRAY to accept being clipped, I can surely do anything.  Right?!

So let’s go in to detail on this process.  Because absolutely honestly, if Murray can learn to accept clipping, pretty much any horse can learn to accept clipping.  (Let’s recap his former objections: pulling back and somersaulting in the cross ties, laying down and refusing to get up, rearing, sitting down, and requiring 2cc of ace and a twitch to get the job done.)


1. Make a battle plan

When I decided I was legitimately going to train Murray to clip I knew that I’d have to fundamentally change his association with the clippers from “no fucking way this is happening” to “okay”.  For Murray this was a combination of pairing the aversive stimulus (sound of clippers, sight of clippers, feel of clippers) with a positive stimulus (carrots! mints! pats and praise aren’t worth shit to him) and flooding.

To start with, I could just turn on the clippers and treat Murray for staying put and approaching the clippers.  But he quickly figured out that he could rapidly approach and run away quickly and I was gullible enough to treat him for that.  So I had to evolve to making sure that the clippers were actually on Murray’s body and he was standing still before he got any treats.  If he didn’t want the clippers on him, then we stepped into the flooding — sometimes, you just gotta get those bad boys on your bad boy, ya know?


2. Practice early and practice often

Murray had a good training history and understood the basics of the training game, and teaching him to tolerate the clippers took 8 weeks of near-daily practice.  This year, I started practicing again about two weeks ago, and probably could have used more practice.

Don’t forget that the clippers themselves aren’t the only weird stimulus that shows up on clipping day.  There’s the show sheen, extension cords, spray coolant, cursing etc.  All of these things are worth practicing with, at least a little bit.

img_20161016_125306The “maybe I can still stop now and wait for his hair to get longer” stage

3. Persist

Don’t expect everything to go perfectly even with weeks of practice.  Unless you decided to clip a really large segment of your horse as practice, you’re going to be clipping in longer stretches than you ever practiced for on your clipping day.  Murray’s response, for the last two years, has been to come out the gate with his mind firmly set that this was bullshit.  So he was extra hateful.  But I just made like we were practicing and started with small sections and kept going.

Murray got worse before he got better, and wiggled and danced and evaded a fair bit until I laid down the law.  Murray is willing to expend a really, really, ridiculously large amount of effort in figuring out new and inventive ways to not do the thing he doesn’t want to do (even though it would all be easier if he just fucking did it).  Sometimes, he just needs a reminder that trying to pull back and run off is straight up unacceptable and so is biting me in the fucking head while I’m clipping his chest.

img_20161016_130720This hair tie helped keep me going

4. Regret your choices — keep going anyway

At some point, you’ll reach the point of no return.  This was actually highly beneficial for me, because it made me more motivated to get Murray to stand the fuck still and actually behave.  I tied up his hair so that I could get a clean mane line, started going for the belly (a curiously not-that-ticklish zone, and oh-so-gratifying to watch the hair fall away from) and Murray generally decided that life was okay.  I still had a pocket full of treats, and gave him one occasionally, but at this point I could get into a good clipping routine and just mash away.

img_20161016_144430Boom goes the dynamite. Murray’s face looks terrifying.

5. Stand back and admire your handiwork!

Honestly, these are the things that responsible breeders and yearling-raisers do to their young horses in order to teach them to tolerate new, terrifying things like clippers.  And yes, many horses are more reasonable than Murray.  But if you’re looking to me for help, your horse is probably not much more reasonable than Murray, is he?!

11 thoughts on “how to clip your recalcitrant horse 101”

  1. This is exactly how B acted and exactly how I handled it! Twinning! This year he stood perfectly still, which was astonishing, so he got lots and lots of treats before, during and after. yay babies! Also, watching stomach hair fall away is literally one of the most satisfying things on the planet.


    1. Yes! There is truly a hump of “this is not a fucking big deal so just get over it and stand still” after which they seem to be like “fine”. But if I just continued to drug him and quit when he was wiggling? No way! He’d be like “That shit is NOT worth it and if I’m bad enough I can just get out of it.”


    1. I aced Murray in the past, and though other people said that one round with ace was enough to “cure” their horses, that just wasn’t my experience. I hope that it goes smoothly for you and Eugene!!


  2. Thanks for the reminder! I have a yearling right now that I’m working on the basics with and though the foot has prevented me from doing anything my first step was establishing that cookies are amaze. Life is so much easier now. But I will have to bring out the clippers just so he will learn to tolerate them.


  3. Ugh, I hate clipping my young horse. She is fine with most of the body clipping, except standing still is occasionally difficult.

    But the ears. The horror. The head flinging.

    The worst we ever got was required a double dose of dorm, a twitch, and holding up a foot.

    Over the years, she’s gotten slightly better. I think, like your plan above, I just need to just get on with it and make sure I am rewarding the good behavior (like when she stands still for .0002 seconds with my hands on her ears with the clippers running), but since it is so dramatic, I have been avoiding it.

    Love the raptor pattern. Despite the drama, my horse was an Andis demo horse at an equine expo last year and ended up with all kinds of fun patterns on her. 🙂


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