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.
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.
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.
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?!