If you show your horse, you'll need to clip his muzzle, ears and legs so that he looks good in competition. Depending on the time of year, you'll also need to clip his body. If you ride a lot in the winter, consider clipping your horse so that he doesn't become sweaty and overheated when you ride. He'll require blanketing him to keep him warm. Not all horses are keen on clippers, so be prepared.
Horses are prey animals. If they're frightened, their "fight or flight" reflex kicks in, with most horses opting for the latter choice. Getting a horse used to clippers doesn't differ much from getting them accustomed to other potentially scary, noisy items. Start slowly and make sure you're safe when desensitizing your horse to clippers. If you really have no idea how your horse might react the first time, consider wearing your riding helmet. That way, if your horse flips out your head is somewhat protected. Before attempting to body clip your horse, bathe him first and let him dry.
The best place to clip a horse is a well-lit area with solid walls and safe footing. If that's not available at your facility, choose a quiet place with little horse or human traffic. If you don't know if a horse has ever been clipped before, start by letting him sniff the clippers but don't turn them on. Move the clippers along his body while they are still off. If he's fine with that, turn the clippers on low volume and gauge his reaction. If there's no problem, praise him.
If your horse is fine with the clipper noise, the next step is holding the clippers on his body while they are turned on. You aren't actually clipping, just holding the vibrating clippers on a particular spot. Praise him when he accepts the vibration, then move the clippers to different parts of the body, repeating the praise process. If he does become upset, wait until he calms down and then start again, always ending on a good note. It can take quite a few sessions with a frightened horse, but you should eventually get there. Once your horse is visibly relaxed around the clippers, you can start actually clipping him.
Tranquilizing the Horse
If you're desperate and absolutely must clip your horse, contact your vet to see if she can tranquilize your animal prior to clipping. While drugging your horse is a last resort, it might mean you can get the job done without either of you getting hurt. It's also possible that once your horse is in a relaxed state and realizes the clippers aren't hurting, he might behave better the next time. Talk to your vet about the medication beforehand. If you are competing, your vet can tell you how long it takes for a medication to completely leave the body, so that you aren't breaking any regulations during competition.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.