Super Spooky (old) Horses W/ Blanketing Issues

SM1199

At the stable I work at, we have two oldish ponies named Ben and Jerry (half brothers) - both of which look a lot younger than they are (early 20s). From what I understand, they've had them for a long time, at least 10 years. The trainer/supervisor at the stable always works hard to desensitize her horses, and the rest of the horses (there are only six - it's a very small private stable) are bombproof. These two, however, are some of the spookiest horses I've ever met. They're trained to carriage drive like all the horses there, and they're perfect when they're driven, but if it's absolutely anything else, they just about lose their minds - but they know they're not supposed to, because as soon as they lose it, they try really hard to keep it together.

Anyway, to end my rambling, here's the issue I want to discuss. All the ponies here get their blankets put on/removed over their heads - we keep their chest buckles done up and just put their heads through the holes. Ben and Jerry, however, hate this. They're generally okay with blankets being put on, but taking them off, as soon as we lift them off their backs, they shoot their heads up and fly backwards and puff and blow even after it's off. All of the other horses stand patiently for them to be removed. I've tried a variety of things - going very slow, lifting it up and forward inch by inch and setting it down in between, talking to them and giving them pets, etc. Nothing helps. They've been blanketed and un-blanketed every day, every winter, for years now, and they've never gotten used to it. Does anyone have any helpful tips to try?
 

Smalltownfishfriend

Ohio Mark
 

Ohio Mark

I always open the front of our stable blankets... The only thing that comes to mind is treating them with "calming paste" then while calm giving it a try, but personally I dislike using calming pastes unless it's really necessary. Perhaps if they could "get through" a few blanket removals without fear, they might lose some fear, but after so many years??? May I ask why unbuckling the chest buckles isn't an option?
 

SM1199

I always open the front of our stable blankets... The only thing that comes to mind is treating them with "calming paste" then while calm giving it a try, but personally I dislike using calming pastes unless it's really necessary. Perhaps if they could "get through" a few blanket removals without fear, they might lose some fear, but after so many years??? May I ask why unbuckling the chest buckles isn't an option?
This is also the only stable I've ever ridden/worked at that doesn't undo the front buckles. I myself don't know the reason; it could be to keep them used to things being lifted over/around their head (since they are all driving ponies), it could be to make sure no one changes the buckle setting, it could just be convenience or ease of folding.

That's the conclusion I've come to, that if they didn't get over it 20 years ago and it's been a daily ordeal ever since then, it's not going to change. It's like they're incapable of being desensitized. It doesn't matter how many times my jacket crinkles when I'm riding them, they'll bolt the second they hear it and then abruptly come back to a walk after a couple canter strides. Similarly, it doesn't matter how or how often I remove their blankets, the second they feel it lift they fly backwards. I've tried just lifting it that quarter of an inch and setting it down when they fly back and trying again until they don't fly back, but they always, always, always fly back no matter how many times it's done. I just figured I'd post here to see if anyone had any suggestions, but I expect things will stay the same.
 

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