Clipping and Desensitisation

Clipping CPL horses and desensitising them to clippers
and leg handling.

Clipping – why?

Why do we clip feather when horses have CPL?

✅️ Feather mites. Clipping makes the legs less hospitable, helps remove some of the hyperkeratosis that mites feed on and allows topical treatments to be applied more effectively.

✅️ Checking for CPL. It is often not possible to diagnose without seeing the legs clipped.

✅️ CPL scoring. Impossible to establish the score (severity) of CPL with feather on.

✅️ Medically correct compression. The ASBM (Approved Stable Bandage Method) which is multi level lymphoedema bandaging (MLLB) for maintaining CPL legs can not safely be applied over feather. The varying density of hair interferes with the gradient of compression.

✅️ Topical treatments. Less wastage, more effective.

✅️ Diagnosing and monitoring the disease. The Press & Stretch Test needs us to see and feel the skin properly so we can judge pitting oedema refill, fibrosis and skin mobility accurately.

✅️ We recommend the Liveryman Harmony Plus with wide fine 2.4mm or 4.8mm show blades

🚫 Never use skip tooth blades, rakes or shearing blades on horse’s legs. If there are any hidden lumps or bumps, there is too high a risk of cutting the leg and causing an infection. These type of blades/rakes also have a tendency to snag the hair causing discomfort.

How much can feather really hide? See the images below…

Bailey, 2013. Hannah Johnsen

If your horse is likely to react fearfully, consider sedation. Talk to your vet about the options available so you can decide on the best course of action. We need to keep everyone safe and make clipping as trauma-free as possible. Always follow the CPL Clipping Protocol (this should also be used for horses suffering from feather mites and/or hyperkeratosis). Wear appropriate PPE such as a riding hat, boots and gloves.

“Even without CPL many horses will not tolerate legs (or heads) being clipped. This is because there’s no muscle as a cushion in these areas, so they’re feeling the vibration right on their bones and tendons. Put the clippers on yourself, first on the back of your calf muscle then on your shin and tell me what you feel.”

Jillian Scott ‘The Clipper Queen’

The CPL clipping protocol has been designed to make the physical task of clipping easier and as comfortable for the horse as possible. Here are some more tips:-

  • have a spare set of blades
  • make sure your blades are sharp
  • remember to sterilise blades between uses
  • patch test any new clipping oils
  • have the right clippers and blades for the job
  • try not to clip right in between deep folds as the regrowth will be uncomfortable and itchy.
  • wear suitable clothing, footwear and PPE
  • check frequently to see if your clippers are getting too hot
  • have plenty of clean dry towels

What to do if your horse is scared of having their legs touched or clipped.

It’s incredibly common for CPL horses to be fearful of having their legs touched, washed, treated and clipped. In part this links back to the lack of muscle in their legs, which means even non-CPL horses will feel more sensitive there than elsewhere on the body. But it is often also just down to fear of their legs feeling strange, itchy, sometimes painful and of course some horses have been abused or neglected in previous homes. Remember horses are prey animals and have a strong fight or flight response, if they aren’t properly introduced to new stimulus, then you will get one of those two reactions. If they are trapped at the same time, in a stable or cross ties, their behaviour can quickly escalate to dangerous proportions.

Desensitising horses can be tricky if you’ve not been trained in how to do it kindly and effectively, especially if the horse displays dangerous behaviour. Sometimes we end up accidentally rewarding the wrong behaviour as we try to stay out of harms way. The behaviour we would like is for them to be relaxed and still. In order to achieve that, they must be able to move and be safe while doing so, this way they can understand the distinction between the behaviours.

It’s probably safest to never assume that CPL horses will be happy with having their legs handled and introduce every new stimulus – brushing, washing, putting cream on, clipping – carefully so that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved.

You need to keep yourself safe. Remember your horse doesn’t mean any harm, they are just scared. It is a good idea to employ a professional to make at least a few visits to begin the process and teach you how to continue on your own. It sets you up well for working with any horses you get in the future too.

Hose attachment with shampoo reservoir

Helps keep you out of the kick zone while washing legs. Buy online or from car/DIY supply stores. Not for use with super foaming products like dish soap.

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