Blinkers

Because a horse’s eyes are on opposite sides of its head, each eye sees objects and events on that side only, to the front, side and rear. Working together, a horse’s eyes allow it almost panoramic vision, a facility vital to the prey animal in the wild.

Blinkers are worn to prevent a horse from being distracted during a race. They help a horse to focus on racing by ensuring that it is looking forward rather than at what’s going on around it. They may prevent a horse from veering away when other horses throw down a challenge.

Half cup blinkers; this horse is relaxed and taking an interest.

Blinkers consist of a head cloth with cowls, or cups over the eyes which restrict the horse’s peripheral vision. The blinkers used by most racehorse trainers have either half or full cups, depending upon how much of the horse’s vision the trainer wishes to restrict. The head cloth goes on over the browband of the bridle, but under the cheekpieces.

There is a theory that a horse that has not been concentrating in its races, and underperforming as a result, will be woken up by the application of first-time blinkers and will focus on the task in hand. Statistics show that horses wearing first time blinkers win approximately 9% of the races they contest. It has also been claimed that blinkers are likely to be less effective on subsequent starts as the horse gets used to wearing them. However the available evidence would appear to contradict this view, and suggests that a horse’s performance actually improves as it adjusts to wearing blinkers.

Half cup blinkers; this horse is alert, with ears pricked and neck arched.

Not all horses react to wearing blinkers in the same way. When its vision is restricted a racehorse may be stimulated by fear to take flight and bolt, or at least run with the choke out in the early stages of a race, leaving it with insufficient energy to finish the race strongly.

A sensible approach with regard to first time blinkers is to note how the horse reacts to them in the paddock. Is the horse showing that it resents the blinkers by kicking out or otherwise misbehaving? Or does it seem eager to race, on its toes but not agitated, and stepping out keenly? On the way to the start, is the horse well under the jockey’s control, or is it ‘lit up’ by the blinkers and pulling too hard?

Full cup blinkers

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