Focusing on the clippers
Getting Familiar with the Clippers
By Marie Gulliford

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the area you will be working in. Look to see where the outlets are. Plug in your clippers and see how far they will go. Find out just what space you will be able to work in comfortably. Practice as if the horse were present. This is important so you can tell where the cord will go. You will also have to be able to move the clipper about some. It helps if you can turn the clipper over in your hand with out having to look at it, or use your other hand to turn it. Familiarize yourself with the on/off switch. Try to turn it on and off with the hand you use to hold the clipper. Being able to do these things with the clippers will make it easier for you if you need to move in a hurry. Another thing to remember is that the clipper blade will heat up. Check it often to be sure it isn't so hot that it hurts your horse.

This is an area of training where negative reinforcement plays a role. You can pair it with positive reinforcement for faster results. The question of what to do with your horse is one only you can answer. I normally work with the horse on a lead rope. It is not necessary. It is helpful if the horse does not have an acre of space. I show the horse the clippers. I let the horse sniff the clippers.

Targeting. They are not yet turned on.
I do not train the horse to target the clippers. Clippers can be dangerous for the horse to lip or bite. Most horses will sniff the clippers. I then pat the horse with the clippers in my hand. This will cause the cord to flop about since the clippers are not plugged in. If your horse is already dancing this is what you need to work on. Click and reward for any signs of calmness. As soon as you click move the clippers and cord away from your horse (negative reinforcement).

Continue until your horse is calm with the clippers and cord flopping all around. If your horse is still standing quietly you can plug in the clippers and turn them on well away from the horse. Let your horse hear them for 30 seconds to a minute. Talk nice soothing talk to your horse. If your horse is calm, time for the next step. If your horse is nervous turn the clippers on and off repeatedly until your horse ignores the noise. (this is called flooding or desensitization) Click and reward your horse for ignoring the noise of the clippers. (positive reinforcement) Now walk towards your horse with the clippers running in your hand. Your hand should be at your side. Do not approach your horse with the clippers outstretched towards her/him. Repeat the patting of the horse as you did before, but now the clippers are running.

Allowing himself to be touched by clippers.
You are not clipping the horse. BR If your horse is still quite nervous pat the horse with your hand between the clipper and the horse. If your horse is a bit more tolerant, pat the horse with the side of the clipper. Click and reward for tolerance and calm demeanor. One of the rewards you can give is to turn off the clipper for a brief time. I usually turn off the clipper for 5-15 seconds as a reward. (more use of negative reinforcement) Now that your horse is calm about the clipper running nearby it is time to actually do some clipping!!!

Start with the clippers rocked back, the tip of the blade pointing up and away from the skin of the horse, make a swipe without cutting. Now lower the blade a tiny bit, just enough so that some hair gets cut but not right to the skin. This is so that if your horse moves you won't jab him/her with the clipper. The horse may move because the sound will change as you start cutting hair. The feeling of the clipper will also change. I clip about two inches then turn off the clippers and reward the horse. If I have properly prepared the horse the next step of placing the clippers so the blade is parallel to the skin and clipping a 4 inch swath goes really easy.

From there I reward randomly. Sometimes I stop clipping and pat the horse after 10 seconds, sometimes after 30 seconds. The first clipping I don't clip for more than a minute without stopping. If the horse starts to move away I follow the motion until the horse stops moving. At that point I turn off the clipper. It is important for you to be very observant about how nervous your horse is. There is no need to push the horse to the point of fleeing away from you. If your horse moves away maintain the distance you were working at until the horse stops moving, then back away from the horse.
Well, let's turn them on.
Oops, sounds kinda scary!

Don't let those things get me!"
Keep training at that distance until the horse no longer moves away. Quit for the day. Do more another day. Be persistent and calm in your approach. Clip with even, smooth strokes. If you have not used clippers practice getting a smooth stroke on furniture before you use them on the horse. The key to acclimating your horse to clippers quickly, is to turn them off and/or move them away from the horse when the horse is being good. If you remove them when the horse is acting fearful you will reinforce that behavior. You can stop clipping and just keep the clippers near where you were clipping until the horse calms a bit, at which point you turn off the clippers.

Feeling the vibration through the lead rope.
All this sounds like it might take a long time. If you really focus on rewarding good behavior frequently in the early stages, progress should happen fast. I normally can have a horse who has no experience with the clipper standing for clipping in 15-30 minutes. Horses that have previous bad experiences with the clipper may take an hour or more depending on how fearful the horse is.

Marie Gulliford

This article is reproduced with with the permission of ClickRyder. To learn more about Clicker Training, please visit their website - click here
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Updated: October 2005.