A month ago I blogged about how I was desensitising Phoenix to the trimmers in preparation for clipping her. Which you can read here.
Well, here’s a little update.
A couple of Mondays ago, I got out the real thing. Phoenix jumped as I turned them on, but let me put them on her shoulder. “Stuff it” I thought, let’s give it a go.
Let’s just say it didn’t go to plan. I managed to do half a bib clip, only getting halfway up her neck before she got increasingly upset. I admitted defeat. For the moment, anyway, and I went off to come up with Plan B.
I decided to try Sedalin to take the edge off Phoenix, so that Saturday morning I brought her in and gave her the Sedalin. Have you seen the carrot trick to disguise a wormer? Well you need a carrot with a very large diameter … and a horse who is not as clever as Phoenix! I think I got enough down her, as I factored in spittage.
What I didn’t foresee, however, was the yard getting busier and Phoenix furiously fighting the sedative effects. After forty minutes, with a fully awake horse, I decided I might as well use it as a further desensitising exercise.
Once I’d got the clippers against her shoulder again, I realised that Phoenix didn’t actually mind the clippers at all behind her shoulders. With nothing to lose, I started clipping her shoulder and body.
She actually stood very well for me to clip her barrel and hindquarters, and by casually sweeping up her neck with the clippers I managed to remove the bulk of the coat on her neck.
But there was no way I could tidy up her neck without risking hogging her, or take off her beard. I had three choices; style it out as a new clip, get the vet to properly sedate her, or try twitching her.
Once the twitch was on, it was like magic. Well, once I’d turned the clippers on and my friend managed to hold both lead rope and twitch as Phoenix jumped at the noise, that is. She stood calmly while I finished clipping her neck and then, because she was being so good, I took half her face off quickly as well.
It’s not my best clip, but I certainly took more hair off than I expected, and overall I think it was a positive experience for her. Hopefully she’s feeling the benefit when being ridden now. In a month’s time I’ll reclip her, hopefully neaten up my lines and get right inside her armpits, and she’ll accept the process more. I’m not a huge fan of using the twitch for long periods, but if it distracts her enough for ten minutes that I can safely finish her clip, then I’ll use it. Hopefully next time I clip her, she’ll tolerate the clippers going slightly further up her neck.
We can’t all be perfect, so I wasn’t surprised when I found Phoenix’s flaw the other week. I mean, she’s so good, and tries her heart out at everything I ask of her.
She’s getting a very hairy coat so I set a date in my diary to clip her.
I decided to check how Phoenix behaved with the clippers so I’d know how much help or time I’d need to put aside to clipping her. So I took my battery powered trimmers up to gauge her response.
As I introduced her to the silent trimmers she snorted suspiciously, but with some bribery she let me place them on both shoulders and move them over her neck and shoulders whilst still turned off.
I stood back, and turned them on. Then waited while she danced around nervously. I talked to her, and just waited for her to get used to the sound.
She didn’t, and was so suspicious of me while they were running that she wouldn’t even let me touch her with an outstretched left hand while the trimmers were in my outstretched right hand. So I turned them off, reassured her and then showed her them again whilst they were turned off.
I had some work to do!
In the grand scheme of things, having to sedate once or twice a year is no big deal. A slight inconvenience in the sense I have to plan a clip. There are worse traits. Like not loading in the torrential rain at a competition – I felt very smug when Phoenix walked straight on last weekend whilst our neighbours tried all sorts of tactics while it was stair-rodding. However, I want to try to desensitise Phoenix to them a little bit so we don’t require major sedation, just Sedalin or Domosedan, and so that she isn’t troubled when horses nearby are being clipped.
I’ve given her a month. At the beginning of November she needs to be clipped, whether that’s a sedation job and it all comes off, or she lets me do a chaser with no medication.
Every couple of days we’ve been having “trimmer time”, when I run the trimmers around her. Over the last fortnight we’ve progressed to not leaping out of our skin when the trimmers are turned on, and standing still while I run the running trimmers all over her neck, chest, shoulders, barrel, belly and stifle. She still doesn’t like them running to the top of her neck. Trimmer time is then followed by lots of praise, pats and a couple of treats before having her dinner.
Although Phoenix is more accepting of the trimmers, she still finds the procedure stressful. You can see her short, shallow breaths and by her body language. I’m hoping that as we do it more frequently she will find it less stressful. I also want to have her standing near a quiet horse when they are being clipped so she can hopefully learn by observation as well as just getting used to the noise. Her stress levels are also why I don’t do trimmer time daily, and why I do it when she’s had a groom, is relaxed and calm, and will have something nice afterwards – such as dinner or being hand grazed.
The one day I did trimmer time with a couple of other horses near her on the yard, who didn’t bat an eye, Phoenix did seem less stressed so I will bear that in mind when it comes to clipping her. Perhaps have her best friend (who likes clippers!) tied near her.
The biggest factor in deciding on whether I’ll sedate her to clip is safety. Do I think she’s accepted the clippers enough to remain level headed, or is the adrenaline going to be pumping and her be in flight mode, which risks me being kicked or hurt. I don’t want her to learn a bad habit or bad associations with clipping, so I’d much rather she is put to sleep, has a positive experience, and then we continue with desensitisation over the winter and through the summer.
We shall see how the next couple of weeks goes. I think given time she’ll learn to accept clipping because it’s her nature to try to please, and so I’ll give her all the time she needs.
I had to clip a horse this week who’s quite tricky to do. I can’t fault her in that she stands still the whole time. Though she does try to eat the clippers when I’m doing her chin and she can fidget for her face.
The problem I have with her is that she’s very sensitive to heat, and as soon as the blades start to get warm she gets heat lines across her body.
So it’s a bit of a race against time for me, to start on her neck and then do the fiddly bits around her ears before progressing to her body and trying to get as much done as possible before the blades heat up.
I’ve got Lister Legend clippers, which are professional grade and, touch wood, they work well for me, but I do find their blades tend to get hot.
With this heat sensitive horse, I use fresh blades and oil them well before I start. Oh, I also make sure the air filter is as clean as possible and brush out the head so that there’s no possible excuse of friction or poor air flow. I probably over oil the clippers, in an attempt to keep the temperature down. When they do get hot, I turn them off and leave them touching to cool concrete for a few minutes. Sometimes I take the blades apart to cool both blades quicker. Then, oiled up, I go again. Usually I manage to finish the full clip with the minimal of heat lines, and they disappear within a couple of hours. It does make it harder to see if I’ve missed any hairs, and can also make my clip look uneven, which is really embarrassing. However, the owner is aware of her mare’s sensitivity and I can always go back if I have missed anything.
It got me thinking though, is this a common problem; what are other people’s techniques to keeping blades cool; and has any research been done on the temperatures of blades whilst clipping?
My first port of call was Google, and it does seem that Lister clippers can let the blades get hotter than other manufacturers. Which is a shame, because otherwise they’re a very good set of clippers.
Suggestions of preventing blades from overheating include:
Others also leave them to cool or take them apart to expose as much metal as possible to the cooler air. I think the only real thing I could improve on is the tension. But then, as the rest of the horses I clip don’t react in the same way as the mare this week I have to presume that she is particularly sensitive to temperature.
I couldn’t find any research about the temperature of blades and different clippers whilst clipping. I guess it will only be independent researchers who do such an experiment, but if anything is done it would be interesting to see the results, and whether different makes of clippers are better and keeping the heat at bay.
Let me know if you come across any research! In the meantime, hopefully these ideas will help you keep your clipper blades cool.
Along with the annual clipping season, I’ve been doing a lot of tidying up of manes and tails. It seems that when owners think about removing their horse’s hairy coat they also decide that the mane is too long, or the tail too thick.
The winter tidy up begins with clipping. How much hair you take off depends on your horses workload, how hot they get during exercise, whether they live in or out, and the rugs you have available.
I clipped a horse the other week, well did a bib clip, because her owner was concerned that the mare will drop weight if too much hair is taken off. The bib clip will help reduce how warm the mare gets when working, but won’t mean that she needs a lot of extra rugging. If her owner feels that the mare needs a bigger clip then next year she can have a low chaser clip. It’s best to take the least hair off that’s necessary because it’s hard to put condition back on a horse during winter, and to warm a cold horse back up.
Once the clip style is decided you can also choose the height of the clip: so a chaser clip can be low or high, and a blanket clip can run low near to the stifle, or higher towards the hip bone.
I’ve got three types of clipper blades: fine, which I use for most horses, especially the fine coated ones; normal, which are usually suited best for native or cob coats; the coarse blades are for hogging manes and removing feathers.
Onto the manes. I find that different horses suit different length manes, and sometimes you have to play around with them until you find the length that suits them. There are different techniques to tidying up manes though, so I thought I’d run through the tools I use.
First up, is the classic show jumper straight cut mane. They have a very blunt cut, done with scissors, and the manes look like they’ve been straightened! If I’m honest, I don’t like the blunt cut very much. But then again I don’t know that many horses with straight manes, which would suit this style.
Next up is the traditional pulling comb method. For this you need a metal pulling comb, and you comb through the mane, then back comb the shorter hairs. Wrapping the long hairs around the comb, give a quick, sharp downward tug, pulling them out at the roots. This technique leaves a natural, softer line, and also thins the mane. However, sensitive horses (like Otis!) don’t like their mane being pulled out. It’s best to pull manes after exercise, when the pores are open. Which is why the next couple of tools have been invented.
I can remember using the pulling comb and scissors on some thinner manes when we were younger, but it takes some deftness to get a natural looking finish. Which is why the solo comb is much better!
The solo comb is a tough, plastic comb with a handle. You comb the mane through and back comb it to leave the longest hairs. Then you squeeze the handle and a blade cuts those longest hairs. Which gives you the same effect as the pulling comb but without thinning the mane. The horses are usually happier with this technique and stand quieter. Below is a before and after photo of a horse who’s mane was done with a solo comb.
Another tool I like to use is a rake. It’s like a comb, coming with different widths between the teeth, and the teeth are sharp and hooked. It sounds torturous, but all it means is that as you comb the mane it cuts hairs so thinning it quite dramatically. I like using the rake on very thick manes and tails. Flip the mane onto the wrong side, and brush it through with the rake to take out the thickness. Then when you right the mane the longest hairs are on top so it still lies flat. You can then reduce the length with a solo comb. Below you can see the improvement in this incredibly thick mane, which totally hid his shoulders while he was being worked – testing that you can feel your trot diagonals and canter leads!
Along with shortening the length of the mane, and thinning it out, cutting a bridle path is also really useful for helping the bridle sit comfortably. The forelock also needs trimming into a “V” shape – you’ve all seen Dwayne Dwibley from Red Dwarf. With thick fore locks I lightly rake the sides so that the forelock doesn’t look too bushy and then carefully use the comb to shape it. Thin forelocks are often harder to get right because the wrong angle with the scissors can make it look blunt and choppy.
I like tails to be left quite natural. I thin them by using the rake on the sides of the dock. The centre of the tail needs to be left long to avoid the bog-brush look. With tails that aren’t so thick I use the pulling comb and scissors to tidy up the sides of the dock. The art is in neatening to top of the tail so that it looks natural and grows out subtly. After all, you don’t want to be trimming the tail on a weekly basis! At the bottom, I cut the length of the tail at the mid-cannon bone. Then when the horse is carrying themselves the bottom of the tail is still below the hock. With natives and cob types you want to cut the tail and then use the scissors at ninety degrees so that the bottom of the tail doesn’t look bluntly cut, and more natural.
Finally, it’s the turn of the feathers. Even if a horse is keeping his feathers then the back of the knee and cannon bone can often be neatened up to highlight the contours of the leg. For those horses who don’t have feathers, they usually have tufts around the ergots, so you just use the scissors and pulling comb to tidy up the area giving soft lines, instead of the hacked look – like a child who’s cut their own fringe.
There is nothing better than the satisfaction of a horse who has been freshly clipped and trimmed up.
Time flies, I’ve been here two months already and this week has certainly been a busy one.
It was wet and horrible this morning, but still Young Mum dragged me out of my stable to be lunged. She gets the day off, so why can’t I? We were lucky, we only got drizzled on. The new Pessoa is still annoying Young Mum as its slides loose. She says when it gets dirty from the grease of my coat the sliders won’t slide. I gave her a look: what dirt on my coat?! Afterwards the dreaded hood was brought out. I was to stay clean until tomorrow apparently.
Then in all that pouring rain, Young Mum decided to rearrange Otis’s fencing. She’s worried he’ll be silly and lose his shoes. I wasn’t impressed that he got to graze the nice grass outside our fields while she worked. Anyway, Otis and I had a nice day grazing in our fields. I told Otis not to mess around and lose a shoe, after all I need him to come into work so I can go back to my semi-retirement in Wales.
The Chauffeur, fresh from his visit to Wales, was on duty this morning. He told me Old Mum sends her love. Thankfully not a sloppy kiss ‘cos they’re just embarrassing. He did tell me off when I nudged him. Young Mum’s orders apparently. She says it’s a horrid habit and I need to quit by the time I go home. We’ll see … I just like to affectionately put people in their place.
Young Mum came up in the afternoon and removed the hideous hood, grooming me to within an inch of my life, ready for… oops I nearly said. It’s a secret. I won’t say anymore, but I was really good.
The usual dressage workout at dawn this morning; I showed off my medium trot to a passing lady, and Young Mum made me do all these complicated spirals and circles. She wanted to practice before teaching someone. I feel like a guinea pig!
We were turned out bright and early this morning. I do like being first out of the stables. It’s horrid watching everyone else leave me behind.
To our surprise, The Chauffeur turned up in the afternoon. Apparently Young Mum was practicing her teaching at a swanky yard with automatic field gates! How the other half live…
Another dawn dressage session learning the movements for the next competitions. Due to my outstanding performance last time, I’ve been put on the champion team – all past winners. I think Young Mum is feeling the pressure, but I told her it was easy for her, she just sits there!
Afterwards, she brought Otis out his stable and got back on me. I thought we were going to the field. But apparently we were going along the road.
You see, every day Young Mum takes Otis away from me, for a few minutes. I don’t know where they go. Otis smugly says it’s a secret. So I think he’s been having extra food or cuddles. I resent this, so I make sure I whinny as loudly as possible while they’re away so they don’t forget about me.
To my disgust, we walked along the road, not even as far as the postbox, before turning around.
“Is this it?” I ask Otis incredulously. The highlight of his day is going for a walk. Like a silly dog!
Otis told me that this might become a regular occurrence. As his walks get longer, I might be needed as a pack donkey to carry Young Mum. It’s okay, I suppose, but it is annoying how Otis rests his head on my bum.
More lunging for me this morning. It was hard work, mainly because I’d forgotten how to stretch my neck, but I did try hard. I wanted to go straight into the field after. It was too nice a day to waste any more time indoors.
However, to save the hearing of the other liveries, Young Mum took me with her and Otis on foot. I wasn’t impressed. I wanted the field. And I’d already done my workout! So I made sure we marched as quickly as possible so that we got to our fields as soon as we could.
That evening, I didn’t neigh to Otis when he left for his walk. I didn’t want to do that silly route again!
As in keeping with previous days, today was my day off. It was freezing cold, so I was glad I wear two rugs.
We waited impatiently to come in at 4pm, and Otis did his walking while I made a start on dinner.
But when they got back, Young Mum brought me out the stable and started brushing me. “Oh no, I thought. I’m not being ridden. It’s dark and cold!”
She had other ideas though, and soon started clipping me. I admit, I did need a haircut. But I didn’t need scalping.
Which is what she had in mind.
She clipped all of my face off! Thankfully she left the forelock for me to hide behind. Then she took off my body. And then she started doing something with my legs. Apparently the normal style makes me look like I have leg warmers on.
So she tried this new technique she’d seen; blending. Now, I’m not sure I’m happy being the guinea pig for this. In fact, I hope my hair grows back very quickly!
The first leg makes me look ridiculous. The second not so bad… the third one she was getting the hang of it… but I don’t know what happened to the fourth.
I think Young Mum has some practising to do, preferably on Otis, before she offers this in a clipping package. She got the right idea, and I think it would look good… but hopefully she can tidy it up with her trimmers next week so I don’t look too ridiculous.
The best part of tonight though? I got to put on my snazzy purple rug. It shows up the mud beautifully, so I shall enjoy wearing it in tomorrow. It’s a shame she made me wear that stupid hood though!
Last year I attempted to clip Llani but soon realised that pigs may fly before I managed to succeed. I turned on the clippers and he ran a mile!
So over last winter and this autumn I`ve tried to expose him to the clippers. Tying him next to a horse who is being clipped, and showing him the silent clippers.
We reached a point were we didn`t mind the silent clippers touching him, or standing and watching a horse being clipped. But last week when I asked a friend to approach him with the running clippers, he still wasn`t having any of it.
But I was getting closer, and a cancellation yesterday left me with a big hole in the day, so I decided to continue desensitising Llani to the clippers.
It was raining so he was a bit damp, but after I`d brushed him off his neck was dry enough that should I amazingly get close enough to actually clip him, I could take some off his neck.
I`d brought Otis in too, for moral support, and had Llani tied outside the stable.
Armed with pieces of apple in my pocket, I showed him the clippers, letting him sniff them deeply – he is very aware of new or strange smells (as seen when he sniffs deeply at the kitten on my shoulder!) He was perfectly happy to have the clippers run all over his body whilst silent, so I rewarded him with a piece of apple.
And then I turned them on. He stepped back and snorted instantly. So I waited patiently for his curiosity to get the better of him. I kept talking to him and within a couple of minutes he was eating apple out of my hand, with the clippers right next to the apple.
Thankfully, Llani likes his food!
Then came the task of touching him with them! I untied him and approached his neck with the clippers, talking all the time to him. He reversed rapidly, but I followed him, armed with the apple.
Until I ran out of cable! So I made him stand whilst I went back to unravel it. I didn`t want him to come forwards, as he was almost cornered at the back of the barn.
Frustratingly, when I turned back to reapproach him, he acted more scared than before! But I persevered, ignoring the swishing tail and waving of his hind legs.
Once he was still and stopped reversing, I managed to place them on his neck. Success!
This was as far as I wanted to get that day, but as he hadn`t flinched with the clippers on him, I decided to risk taking some hair off.
Talking to him all the time, I slowly clipped his gullet. He stood still, unflinching, so I ventured don and clipped his sternum area, and between his forelegs.
Then of course, Llani decided that the clipper monsters were back when I swapped sides. But after a moment I managed to get going.
I didn`t attempt to clip his face, as I felt that he had had a positive experience with the clippers; it wasn`t too tedious and the blades weren`t hot. He had a good supply of apples and a little hard feed as soon as I turned the clippers off, to provide some positive reinforcement for the experience.
I would have liked to have clipped a bigger bib clip, but the higher part of his neck was too damp. Next week I want to try once more perhaps venturing to a chaser clip, but I`ll need to enlist the help of a friend to hold his legs up and hold him still whilst I try to clip his belly.
This really proved to me how much Llani has come on in the last year; he`s no longer scared of his own shadow and is learning to investigate new things before running away. I think he`s really put his trust in me too.
I was talking to a client earlier this week and we were discussing clipping, and the joys of getting the lines even and symmetrical. I spend ages trying to get the lines level, and ensuring that when you look from the front and behind the horse looks symmetrical. Once I feel happy with the lines I have to remind myself not to look too closely as I will over analyse every single curve or angle.
The clip I dread doing is the chaser clip. You can look from one side and it looks brilliant; smooth and flattering to the horse`s conformation. The other side looks just as good. And then you climb aboard. And shock horror! The right side is significantly higher than the left!
It happened once to me after I`d clipped and hogged a riding school horse. The next time I rode him I nearly died in horror when I saw the difference in the curves of each line of his side, accentuated by the hogged mane.
Either I refused to ride him until the clip had grown out, or I insisted on clipping him again sharpish.
Now I try to check any horses I clip by standing above them to check the view from the rider`s perspective.
The client I was talking to about this clipping then went on to say how she could just about pull manes. Another topic that I have several stories about!
The first, which I told her at the time, was when my teenage friend began pulling her pony`s mane yet only got the first couple of inches done before she went on holiday. She left her friend with instructions to continue pulling the mane until it was four inches long – about half it`s initial length. This friend continued from the bottom of the neck up, towards the poll. Unfortunately, by the time she got to the poll the mane was only one and a half inches long! So this friend called in the help of another friend, who did an emergency repair job.
I don`t think the owner of the pony was very impressed when she returned from her holidays to find her pony sporting a Mohican!
The other story that is usually brushed under the mat involves me.
My Mum always used to trim the wispy pieces at the base of my pony`s mane with scissors. Which one day, I decided to do too. However, I always wanted to be a hairdresser and had previous convictions of cutting my brother`s fringe and my own hair, so I got carried away and cut my pony`s mane into a beautifully ruler-straight line.
With great panic, I and my little friend called one of the older girls on the yard and begged her for help. With great skill, she managed to soften the edge, but it still didn`t look like it had been pulled properly.
A week or so later I was leading my pony in from the field and my instructor said to me “Partner`s mane looks very straight.”
“I used a solo comb.” I parroted, the line fed to me by my saviour mane-tidying-upper friend!
Recently there’s been a few articles circulating which explain the importance of whiskers on horses.
A lot of showing people trim their horses whiskers, as well as every other part of the body, and I remember at the yard at home the trimmers used to do the rounds before a local show, as all the girls’ ponies were smartened up. It was the done thing, and nobody questioned it.
Now I admit, I do think the clean cut shape a trimmed face makes looks very smart, and I can see the advantages in the show ring for showing the judge good facial conformation. But then I don’t like my men with facial hair….
However, horses evolved with whiskers so they must have a purpose. They do. Whiskers have individual nerves with direct links to the brain, and are used by horses explore their environment and investigate objects whilst protecting the sensitive muzzle and lips from damage. Whiskers will detect hazards before he comes into contact with it, thus avoiding injury. Muzzle whiskers also help a horse separate food, guiding the horse away from undesirable food and working with the lips to move it away from edible food. Additionally, horses will compensate for poor vision by using their whiskers to map out their environment.
Perhaps if your horse is purely a show animal, living in, with 20/20 vision, and wrapped in cotton wool then there is a justifiable reason for trimming whiskers, however for most animals they need their whiskers to keep them safe.
I know some people who shave their horses on an almost daily basis, and others who only trim them when they are clipped. Others trim the eye whiskers, which I think is ridiculous as the eye is so important and delicate. Ears can be trimmed too, which sharpens their outline immensely, and removing the inside hair can also make the horse look smarter, but it’s easy to make one ear look different to the other.
Where do I stand on all this trimming malarkey? I trim the beards, giving the horses a clean jaw line which really smartens them up, even when they only have few straggly hairs which just look a bit unkempt. I don’t trim muzzle whiskers without good reason. If the whiskers are really long then trimming the end can actually make them more useful to the horse as they don’t get trapped or bent over, and the same goes for eye whiskers. I have once chopped the last inch of Otis’s eye whiskers as it was so long it got tangled in the bridle and was getting damaged under his fly mask: I decided I’d rather it fully functional but slightly shorter – I think I measured it to be at least six inches long before I took off the bent end! I used to trim the outside edge of ears, making the definite shape, but Otis is so sensitive about his ears that I’d rather just touch them confortably, and I know he doesn’t like the sound of the scissors. I don’t think I’ve ever taken all of the inside ear hair out; after all it’s use is to filter out dust to keep the ears fully functional. I know if a horse has excessive ear hair I would trim it flush with the outer ear – avoiding any confusions with Granddad, and again helping improve the outline of the horses head.
There is a growing trend towards leaving horses au natural, Switzerland and Germany have banned the practice altogether, and I can see why. We don’t trim the whiskers on a dog or cat, but I think until the majority of people leave the whiskers alone there will always be a bit of a trend in the show ring.
I was reminded of this issue at Pony Club as one of the ponies had whiskers about an inch long. Either they were growing out or it was the showing Mum’s compromise between sense and fashion. I do think though, that a horse can be tidied up, presented well, look smart, but maintaining all their vissebrae – or whiskers to you and me. Educating owners and riders in the function of whiskers is really the only way to reduce this practice.