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Clipping nerves and equine anxiety

Dear Franklin,

I'm not sure this is the right email to email you to, but I would be grateful if you could help me. A few weeks ago we tried to get my 5 yr old gelding clipped. We had our doubts though as he is nervous. He has a beautiful nature though. In the end we decided not to go ahead with the clip as got very destressed. He now is very nervous about us grooming him. He barges around and won't stand still, and generally looks very nervous. I'm upset about this as we've always made sure we are quiet and gentle around him and this behaviour is unlike him.

Please is there anything I can do to help him trust me again?
Thank you very much, Jo

Hi Jo,

Your horses nervous behavior can be helped a lot by you developing more of an appropriate role with him in your relationship. Consider more activity on the ground with him. Doing games and activity on the ground helps develop your leadership role within the relationship. Once you are truely established as the great leader (the real leader within the herd), your horse's behavior will change dramatically. Like a child who may act out when Mom is not around or Mom doesn't take a leadership position within the relationship strongly enough, your horse is fending for himself through his nervousness. He is trying to watch out for himself as he feels the herd leader is not present. When you have action and activity (ground games, dances and movement) that is appropriate, with you leading the action, your leadership position with him will dramatically improve.

Grooming should be pleasant for the horse as well as gets him clean. As he is now upset in nervous anticipation about being groomed, after some 20-30 minutes in ground movement, do not tie him, but rather keep him loose and begin to gently groom him. Do this not so much to clean him but to have it be a pleasant, relaxing experience for him. When is stands quietly for a brief time while being groomed, put him away as a reward. Gradually extend the time you groom him. Only begin to tie him when he is much less nervous. Tieing him for now will increase his anxiety.

As for the clippers, have a pair running when you feed him and he will gradually get used to the noise. When he is used to the noise, merely hold the clipper in a closed hand and touch his neck and hold the clipper, reassuring him all the while. When he is good with that move your hand up his neck and around. This is a gradual process and needs to be done thoughtfully and with consistency. Remember, if your horse gets nervous, stop what you are doing and immediately have some movement where you lead the action. Hind end yields are good for this. Get something going by way of activity on the ground as quickly as possible so he does not feel rewarded for being nervous. Then ask him to stand patiently and quietly. When he does, put him away. Then begin the lesson again the next day. There is no quick fix or magic bullet. Time, patience, consistency, skill, intention and appropriate communiation, leadership and rightly timed rewards (putting him away) will get the job done as efficiently as can be. Trust is established over time through consistent handling on the ground with lots of wonderful actions and activity. There is lots more, but that is about all I can give you in a simple email. Let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

Thank you so much for your advice, which is very appreciated. I have been trying some of your methods and I can really see a gradual, better reaction to grooming. He seems more himself lately and I will continue to build up the relationship.

Thanks for your help,

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