If you’ve ever watched a horse race and wondered why some of the horses are wearing blinkers, then wonder no more. The primary reason is to keep the horse focused on the path ahead of him and limit his peripheral vision to avoid distractions. Most of us can appreciate that horses without blinkers are more likely to be easily distracted and this is particularly dangerous in very fast and difficult races.
Blinkers date back a lot further than most people realise. Apparently the were invented by a preacher who had made a wager with a friend that he could get his horse to go up the stairs of his house and although the horse did this no problem the problems started when he tried to get to come back down! The preacher realised that if he covered the horses eyes he would be less afraid and would be able to be led back down – and it worked!
The reduction in the vision for horses wearing blinkers is enormous and can drop from as much as 180 degrees to as little as 30 degrees. The blinkers themselves can either be worn as part of the bridle, specifically on the cheek pieces or indeed be integrated into a bigger framework, such as a facemask which is then put on over the horses head somewhat like a balaclava.
But if blinkers were so successful then wouldn’t we all be placing bets on horses that wore them? Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy on the farm and time has determined that, with some horses, if you place cups as opposed to flaps around its eyes it will have the opposite outcome. Instead of calming the horse down and steadying it to the path in front of it, it will only make it fearful of what it can’t see and claustrophobic, which makes it run faster in the early part of a race. This is used by racehorse trainers on horses who aren’t running as fast as they think they could do
And while this in itself serves a valuable purpose for the trainer who needs to know his horses boundaries and limitations, a horse who starts quickly can seriously lack energy later on in the race which is where it really counts.
Significant analysis has been carried out in the horseracing world regarding the effects of blinkers. In particular, Nick Mordin of the Racing Post has discovered that while blinkers have more impact the first time they are applied to a horse, there is in fact a residual effect, which persists as long as a horse continues to wear the blinkers.
Seeing a horse with blinkers does not mean that it is unreliable, they are in fact a lot more complicated than we first think and do seem to make a huge transformation for some horses. Only the trainer and jockey can determine if a blinker is needed and what type to use because knowledge and experience of the horse is obligatory before racing with them.