In 1992, I designed a piece of equipment to help the horse by protecting his vulnerable areas. It is a double-carpeted blanket that fits behind the saddle and drapes over the hips down to the hocks. The primary objective was to cushion the effect of rails that run along the inside walls of the starting gates. These are protrusions found in all gates designed to protect the feet and the legs of the jockeys. The blanket protects the sensitive sides of the horse from the annoying stimulation of the rails. A ring is attached to the rear of the blanket into which a rope is snapped. This allows an attendant to pull the blanket off as the horse leaves the gates.
I was educated to the need for and efficiency of the blanket by Prince of Darkness, a very large and athletic Thoroughbred colt. Trained by Sir Mark Prescott of Newmarket, England, Prince of Darkness could be a perfect gentleman, or a killer on a moment’s notice. He considered the starting stalls to be small and frightening, inducing claustrophobia. He would fight like a tiger to protect himself from the invasive walls. When I was observant enough to protect him with the blanket, he became a winning racehorse. There was never any need for force.
I always complete Join-Up with the horse first, and once trust has been established, I school with the blanket, taking the horse through the stalls with the gates open. Depending on the severity of the problem, this can take from one day to several months. I make every effort to end each session on a positive note, leaving the horse time to consider the advantage of this added protection the next time he enters the gate. Horses of this type should wear the blanket through each schooling and on race days. It is counterproductive to allow the phobic horse to rediscover the rails he considers abusive. I do not advise that the blanket is discarded once the horse is working well and leaving the gates normally. Remove the protection, and the horse might return to the previous condition and refuse to enter. Once properly schooled, minimal effort is required to continue this process, and I feel that it is well worth it.
Below: A young horse wearing the blanket.