The Thing I Love Best About Having Horses Is...

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...the fact that there is ALWAYS something new to learn.

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For instance: I just figured out, in working with my new weanling, Smitty, that a way to get head/face clipping done without a battle is to first teach and get reliable response to a head-down cue.

I didn't have clipping in mind when I started with the head-down cue--I just thought of it as a way to help him chill out and relax when he got tense or worried about something. (You know how a horse lifts his head up when alarmed? The opposite is when he has his head down, and is relaxed and unstartled enough to be eating, like when he's grazing.)

To teach the cue, I put my hand on the horse's poll, applying the same level of pressure or resistance as the horse offers. If he responds by lessening his pressure, I release MY pressure. If he resists by offering more upward pressure, I increase my own pressure until he delivers even the weakest "give." With a lot of repetition, the horse eventually figures out that the way to escape the pressure I'm putting on his poll is to lower his head.

You can teach this cue to any horse, but it's easiest to teach when a horse is little, like Smitty is (he is 13 hands tall at this point), because he can't get his head up so high you can't reach it. Smitty has been here now for a tad less than 3 weeks, and I've repeated the head-down cue many times, with every handling episode.

In fact, largely because Smitty's current size makes it so easy to do, I've probably asked for "head down" as many times as I've repeated "whoa." And that's a lot. It's been the first thing I do when I walk up to catch him and the last thing I've done before turning him loose. I've done it if he starts to get a little excited while out on a walk, and done it, just for practice, when I'm brushing him. I know it takes a lot of practice to turn something into a good habit for a horse.

Last night, I happened to be grooming Smitty in an aisleway area where I keep my clippers. He was standing quietly, hind foot cocked and resting, and put his head down farther when I asked him to. I turned on the clippers--his head shot up at the sound--but he put it right back down when I gave him the hand-on-poll cue. Brought the clippers in closer--had to repeat the head-down cue--but he gave to it just like before. The next thing we both knew, I was clipping his bridlepath with his head down and neck relaxed, and he didn't think anything of it.


You'd think I might have connected the dots on this, re: how to achieve no-fight clipping, one heck of a long time ago. But nope, it was a late-coming Lightbulb Moment.

Got one of your own you'd care to share?