From the hearts of the people and their horses

From Bruce & Link  
Ben & Link


Ben & Link's story ::

When we first got Link, Ben was a tiny little lad of 18 months and Deborah was still breast feeding him. Link would stand with his forehead head flat on Deborah’s chest with his eyes closed and rock back and forward – at that time it was so rare that he relaxed and showed trust that it seemed almost magical to us. Link loves Ben and really looks after him – in fact Ben is riding Link a lot these days because Bramble has been in and out of laminitis all year



































































































































































Bruce and Link share their experience of clipping.

Link has always been scared of being clipped, and in the first year I had him he was sedated by the vet for clipping and for shoeing. Heavens knows what has happened to this horse in the past, but he was terrified of everything. He grows a big woolly coat over the winter time and even hacking out gets him really sweaty so I feel a clip is essential to keep him comfortable.

Sedation meant he was clipped, but it really moved us no further forward to solving the real problem which was his terror of the clippers and almost everything else. In the late summer of 2004 Link was one of the horses used by Monty Roberts in his demonstrations at Gleneagles and I was privileged to pick up some tips on preparing a horse for clipping from Monty himself. With great amusement, Monty described Link as  “hairy jello” because he was quivering with fear!

The first things to change when clipping a nervous horse are really your own attitudes towards timescales and acceptable clips! Pat Parelli says “take the time it takes this time, and it will take less time next time”.

  1. It may take up to 2 weeks or more!
  2. The clip may not be professional quality – so accept that you’ll get the clip that he is brave enough to let you make
  3. Think of it as an opportunity for you both to learn, trust and grow closer, not as a battle of wills.
  4. The aim is for your horse to learn to accept being clipped, not to get the horse clipped.
  5. Accept that he’ll look quite hilarious with odd bits clipped here and there whilst you are doing this.

The Friendly Game

Make friends. Spend time in the stable simply rubbing your horse all over and playing approach and retreat on the tickly bits that he’s not that keen on letting you touch. Discover the bits he loves having rubbed and tickled – this will be very useful as reward later on. My lad loves to have the little dimples under the root of his tail stroked, he has a knotty muscle on his neck that he adores being “tiger clawed” and he loves the soft skin over his eyelids being stroked. Move your hands slowly and deliberately, like you are moving through oil. Finish off with long sweeps of your hands over his neck, back and down his loins.

Mummy Pony’s tail

This is what my 9 year old daughter calls this game, and it’s borrowed from Pat Parelli’s friendly game. Take a lead rope or a doubled up lunge line and run it all over your horse. Then flop the line over his back and draw it off. Work all over his body like this – and see if you can get into a nice rhythm. Give lots of praise and frequently stop for rubs and cuddles. If you have a Parelli carrot stick and rope then this is the best equipment.

Now Play the friendly game again !

Plastic Bags

Find a stick about 4 feet long, two carrier bags and some plaiting bands. Tie the carrier bags on with the elastic bands to the end of the stick by the handles. Now fold the bags back and tie them again so that they make a crinkly end to the stick.

In the school, or field, with a head collar and 12 foot lead rope, play some friendly game then some Mummy Pony’s tail and then you can show your horse the bags on the end of the stick. If he moves his feet and shies away keep at exactly the same distance until he stops moving and then reward him by taking the crinkly stick away. Rub his forehead, tell him he has been good and then step back to the same place. Bring the crinkly stick back to in front of him and repeat until he is happy to stand.

Next, run the crinkly stick in his shoulder where he can see it. Use the same principle of letting him move around but then reward him for standing still by taking the crinkly stick away.

This is approach and retreat, and I found that for it to work, I really needed to pay attention to timing

  1. Take away the stick as soon as his feet stay still – this is reward
  2. Don’t keep at it when he’s stood still – give him his reward
  3. You’re not asking him to be BIG BRAVE, you’re really only asking him to be a little bit brave! Frequently reward him with head rubs and smiles. Make it a game!
  4. Look for signs of relaxation and emotional release – yawning, lowering his head, sleepy eyes, sighing, leg resting and so on.
  5. Stop the session as soon as you feel that you are no longer making progress, or you feel that he’s stopped paying attention, the first sessions should be no longer than 15 minutes.
  6. Go for a mosey round the farm with him, find nice things to eat, spend time in each other’s company. Reward!

Important: With approach and retreat, the secret is to just keep the crinkly stick there for a single seconds longer each time he stands still before giving him a reward by removing it. If you are consistent, then this builds trust and confidence and he knows you will play fair. If you have held the crinkly stick for long enough that he starts fidgeting again then you have proven to him that you cannot be trusted. Timing is everything.

Do this for a few nights until he’s quite happy for you to rub the crinkly stick all over. Always finish off each session with some friendly game.

Now, take the elastic band off so the bags can move and fill with air. Don’t try to touch him with them at this stage, but simply bring them from behind you to the ground in front of him. Use the same approach and retreat method. Take them away when his feet are still and he’s looking at them. Give lots of rubs, encouragement and smiles.

Work up to touching him on the shoulder, across the back and round the legs. Don’t try to touch his chest or neck – this may take some time for him to allow you to do that.

Remember to take time! Stop immediately his attention is gone. You may notice that there will be a point at which the times he is prepared to stand still are no longer growing, but are getting shorter again – if this happens you should have stopped a few minutes ago!

Do this for a few nights until you feel that he has got the game and is playing along with you. Make it fun! Always finish with friendly game.

You may now want to put a carrier bag on the ground with some carrots and apples in it, and have a good laugh a the simple fact that a horse is NEVER really scared of a carrier bag with food inside!. Put several “sweetie bags” round the school and let him explore them at liberty! Make it a game, learning should be fun.

The Hair Drier

Hair driers make a similar noise to clippers, and can be used to move the hair around without actually touching the horse. There are no clipper blades to jab him with or blunt through running dry.

Start with friendly game. Then simply show him the hair drier and wait until he nudges and investigates it. Again play approach and retreat letting him get used to the new appliance in his stable.

You can now move on to rubbing him all over with the hair drier – no need to switch it on yet. You may notice he is more afraid of the cable than the appliance, if so you can always play more mummy pony’s tail to get him used to things round his legs..

Stand back and switch it on, let him hear it but don’t point it at him yet. Again play approach and retreat until he allows you to blow the hair up on his shoulder.

It may take several nights for you to be able to give him a proper blow dry. Take time over this and be careful not to singe him! Use approach and retreat on the areas where he is anxious, and remember to stop when the going is good.

Your horse may touch the hair drier with his nose. If he does this you may want to turn it into a game by switching it off. He’ll learn that this is a way for him to say “I’ve had enough for now, can I have a break please”. It’s fun to play, and really rewarding to see him work out that he can do it.

Don’t be tempted to use curlers in his mane – it just won’t look right.


Use the same approach as for the hair drier. At first simply show them to your horse and get him used to the silent clippers being rubbed all over him. Then switch them on and let him get used to the noise. By now you will be an expert at approach and retreat and will know when to reward him by taking the clippers away and giving him a break.

Don’t feel you have to clip any hair on the first night – simply rubbing them all over when they are running is enough. KNOW WHEN TO STOP! If you go too far too fast then you’re back to square 1 – in the school with the crinkly stick and work back up again to rebuild his confidence.

Make sure your clipper blades are sharp, properly tensioned so they do not tug the hair, and that they are protected by a residual current breaker (metal shoes and mains cables just don’t bear thinking about!). Wear a hat if you need it.

On the next evening, try removing some hair around the shoulder. The new sensation of hair being cut may be frightening for him. Again use approach and retreat, and know when to stop for the evening - 15 minutes is long enough for the first few nights.

Be realistic about the quality of clip that you will get. There may be areas where he simply says “no” and the question is too big for today. Come back to it again using approach and retreat and eventually it won’t be an issue.


  • Play lots of friendly game, before during and after.
  • Timing is everything – so pay attention! It’s hard work for you as the owner to really stay on the ball.
  • Don’t ask too much at once.
  • Don’t let your ambition to clip your horse take over. This is about teaching him to trust you, so put his needs first.
  • Be happy with his achievement and let him know you are happy and he is pleasing you!
  • Know when to stop for the day.

You can always do a bit more tomorrow. When your horse is fidgeting and you are fretting about getting the clip finished then you are already way over his and your limit.

If you even think the word “twitch” then you should have stopped a long time ago! Don’t let him down by resorting to this. If anyone recommends it then that’s more of a reflection on their horsemanship than anything else. You don’t need a twitch to clip – you need patience.

Stop! Play some friendly game and come back to it tomorrow.

  • Make clipping an excuse to spend quality time in each other’s company and build up trust and closeness – the clipping itself is incidental.
  • Don’t care what other people think or say – this is about you and your horse learning together.

And lastly - a stripey horse is a real talking point!

Bruce and Link




Copyright © 2007 Isobel Hogton