Q: When I try to clip my horse’s ears, he tosses his head and won’t let me near them. How can I desensitize him?
For the next step, I use a battery-operated pocket fan. Some people use a hair dryer on the cool setting, but then you have to deal with a cord. Blow the air at your horse’s ears so he gets used to motion in that area, as well as motor noise.
When you’re ready to move on to the clippers, how you hold the ear is very important. I hold the whole ear so that my hand acts as a shock-absorber to dampen the vibration. If the horse tries to throw his head up, I keep my thumb at the base of the ear so he will passively bang into it. If I need extra control, I will take hold of the skin behind the ear. I don’t want to inflict pain; I’ve found that by taking the skin only (not the ear cartilage), I have the little bit of control that I’m asking for and the horse usually listens.
Use a step ladder or bale of hay to get to the ear instead of reaching up for it. When you go at a horse with your arms up, it’s an aggressive/predatory posture.
Unless it’s been requested, I don’t use anything shorter than a No. 15 blade; a No. 40 surgical blade can leave sensitive micro-nicks. If clipping the insides of the ears isn’t required for your shows, it’s best to leave the hair inside unclipped for protection from insects and/or cold.
I’m not against using a lip twitch, especially for the first time or two. I can get the job done in two to three minutes, and the horse will realize it’s a lot less stressful. Never cross-tie a horse in a twitch though. If he’s not territorial, try working in a stall.
Dana Boyd-Miller has been a professional body clipper since 1997.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!