Horses may never forget a bad experience but careful training can help them control their fear, as Kate Guest discovered with her 11-year-old 17.2hh Shire, Blake.
Whenever Kate tried to clip Blake, he changed from a calm, kind, generous horse to a terrified, aggressive animal.
“Blake would lash out when I tried to clip him,” says Kate, from Wolverhampton. “He’s a huge horse and this was very frightening.”
Kate assumed Blake had never been clipped, but someone on her yard remembered him having a bad experience when he was three. While someone was clipping his feathers, the clippers had overheated and burnt the gelding’s skin.
Kate then decided to seek professional help from Adam Goodfellow, a behavioural expert who uses Intelligent Horsemanship methods.
“Instead of restraining Blake we gave him an escape route so he could back away,” says Kate. “We didn’t tie him up, just held him loosely on a rope. When he backed away, so did I and then I waited for him to come back to me – he always did, although itcould take up to half-an-hour.”
Part of the training was to desensitise Blake to the sound of the clippers. Kate would feed or groom Blake while the clippers were switched on, and eventually she progressed to using them on his body. Now, two years later, Blake allows her to clip him, but she always stops if he becomes anxious.
“The experience has benefited us both,” says Kate. “We understand each other better and Blake has more confidence in me.”
See the February issue of HORSE magazine for more expert advice on retraining a horse which is frightened of being clipped, plus advice on coping with a horse than has been mistreated or has lost confidence when competing.
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