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Trainer Q&A - Behavior Problems & Quirks - My horse is balky on the trail and afraid of clippers, what can I do?

My horse is balky on the trail and afraid of clippers, what can I do?

Drissell Asks:

My horse Charlie is a 9 year old quarter horse. He use to lead on the trails all the time. Now in the past year he has started backing up when he doesn't want to go first. He cleverly backs me up in situations that are dangerous, for example over embankments and in overgrown vines and woods. I have tried everything to make him go forward. He bucks, and shoves me into the other trail horses or backs up more. My hands could be way up to his ears, applying the appropriate leg aids, crop and still can not get him to go. How can I correct this awful habit so I can enjoy my ride again.

The other questions is how to get him over his fear of clippers. I have stood with him with the clippers on for hours and nothing. I can move the clippers over his body with them running and he is fine but can't get near his whiskers because he freaks out. HELP!!!

Our Trainer Answers:

It sounds as if trail riding has been become a new game for Charlie. This new habit of refusing to go forward for you on the trail must be worked on in a controlled, safe environment, such as an arena. Tack your horse up and take him to an arena. Now you need to make sure that Charlie will obey all of your cues. Ask him to walk, trot, canter, stop and back-up on command. If he refuses to move up into any gait at any time, I want you to over and under him with the end of your split reins, until he is doing what you ask. Then relax and allow him to proceed at the correct gait for 2 or 3 laps. I prefer using split reins over the crop as they are slightly more assertive in causing your horse to move forward. If at any time Charlie begins to back up in refusal for your request to move forward, I want you to over and under him as firmly as you must to get him to step forward. The moment he steps forward, relax and let him stand and think about this lesson. You will need to work with him in this manner until he is wanting to obey your every request, I suggest riding in the arena 4 to 5 times a week for however long it takes to turn him into a dependable, obedient partner.

Now, I want you to use your imagination and set up some obstacles in the arena. These can be anything you choose, as we need him to learn to trust your judgement at all times. Here are some examples: logs to cross, a tarp to walk over, a log to drag, a backing L pattern, a bridge, cones to serpentine through, a mattress to walk over, a small jump,etc...When Charlie is a willing partner in the arena, he will be safe again out on the trail.

It sounds as if Charlie is not fearful of the clippers. A fearful horse will not tolerate rubbing them all over his body. I believe his muzzle is ticklish. Try the smaller Wahl clippers, for trimming ears, on his muzzle or you may even have to use a disposable razor.

Thank You and Happy Trails!

Christy Mellington