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Why Do Horses Wear Blinders? 4 Primary Reasons

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As I strolled through the picturesque New Orleans French Quarter streets, I spotted a draft horse wearing blinders. While I use them on my own racehorses, seeing this horse prompted me to ponder why it wears blinders. Many believe they’re just decorative, but in reality, they serve a vital practical purpose.

Horses wear blinders to reduce their field of vision and stay focused on their tasks. When pulling loads or racing, horses are easily distracted. Horses that pull wagons in cities need blinders to keep their attention focused straight ahead and block out the distractions around them.

In this post, we’ll explore the reasons behind blinders and how they work to help horses stay focused and perform better. Whether you’re an equestrian enthusiast or simply curious, you won’t want to miss this insightful look into the world of equine gear.

4 reasons horses wear blinders

Blinders, also called blinkers or winkers, are cups made from either leather or plastic. They attach to a horse’s bridle or hood and serve to restrict its field of vision. Blinders are used in multiple horse disciplines.

Blinders shield a horse’s vision.

Horses are prey animals that have survived through the ages relying on their instincts to take flight when they perceive a threat. Horses believe to avoid harm depends on their ability to put distance between themselves and danger.

What do horses perceive as dangerous? Just about everything that moves or is new to them. One of the best tools a horse has to sense danger is its eyes. A horse’s eyes work as a motion detector and are typically the first alert a predator approaches.

Horses’ eyes are positioned on the sides of their heads, giving them a range of vision of about 350 degrees. Their wide viewing range allows them to see predators approaching from all sides. But having great peripheral vision has a trade-off; their visual perception is unclear.

Picture of a mule pulling a wagon in New Orleans wearing blinders.

When an unexpected motion’s detected in their peripheral field, the horses’ first reaction is to run. Running from perceived dangers is a horses’ primary defensive mechanism, and it’s the chief reason they have survived for thousands of years.

But these instinctive traits of always looking and listening to everything around them are why horses are nervous and have difficulty maintaining their focus.

Blinders reduce a horse’s field of vision, help it relax, and pay more attention to its task.

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Picture of a racehorse wearing blinders.

Racehorses run with blinkers to stay focused.

Blinders and blinkers are terms used interchangeably in the horse racing community. Regardless of what they’re called, they are used on racehorses to help them focus their minds on the race.

Some horses get distracted during a race and look around, causing them to lose speed. When this happens, trainers often put blinkers on them. Currently, we have a young horse that has only raced with blinkers.

We put blinkers on her because, during her morning workout, she turns her head to look at us. However, she gets anxious in the paddocks when we put the blinkers on and has run poorly on each outing. For her next race, we are running her without the blinkers.

You try to do the best with what you’ve got and ignore everything else. That’s why horses get blinders in horse racing: You look at the horse next to you, and you lose a step.

Jimmy Iovine

Types of racehorse blinders

The blinders in racing are part of the horse’s headgear. It is made from nylon and fitted over the horse’s head with plastic eyecups attached. The cups come in various shapes and sizes and are often customized for each horse. Some common styles are:

Picture of a set of blinders for a racehorse.
  • Extension Cup or Full Cup Blinder: The full-cup blinkers are the most restricted and typically worn on one side of the mask. It’s used on horses that tend to veer to the outside of a track when running. A full-cup blinker is worn on the mask’s outside eye when trying to prevent a horse from drifting.
  • Standard Blinders: Standard blinkers are a 2/3 cup with a hole. This blinker restricts vision but allows a horse to see horses closing in on him through the hole in the side. It is the most common style of a blinder.
  • Semi-Cup: A semi-cup is slightly less restrictive than the standard blinker but not as open as the French cup.
  • French Cup: The French cup blinder is not a cup but plastic that extends straight out from the mask. The French cup is used to block the horse from seeing the jockey. Some racehorses anticipate the jockey’s whip and lose focus during a race; French cups are used to address this scenario.
  • Cheater Cups: Cheater cups are the slimmest blinkers, with barely any cup at all. Cheaters block only a small amount of vision and may provide more of a psychological function than a physical one. It’s a reminder that it’s race time.
  • Mask with no blinders: A mask without blinkers is used to calm a horse or help dampen noise. A hood with no blinder cups is sometimes called a batman mask.
  • Customized Blinders: Each horse is an individual and may need a specialized cup to perform at its peak. If so, trainers often customize a set of blinkers for specific nuances a horse displays. (Click this link Blinker Hoods, to check prices at Amazon.)

European horse racing has historically shied away from using blinkers. However, in the last decade, a specialized blinker called a cheekpiece has gained in popularity. Trainers attach a sheepskin to the bridle to prevent horses from seeing their jockey and rear distractions.

In the United States, horses race with blinkers more frequently than horses in Europe, and quarter horses use blinders more often than thoroughbred racehorses. Some estimates are that ninety percent of quarter horses race with blinders.

Picture of a pair of draft horses pulling a wagon while wearing blinders.

Draft Horses wear blinders to pull straight.

Before the advent of the combustible engine, draft horses were prevalent. They were used to pull carriages, plow fields, and transport goods, among other duties.

It’s common for working horses to be on edge when pulling a carriage or other apparatus. They can’t see clearly what’s behind them but knows that something is following. And horses instinctively know predators attack from the rear.

It’s not only their cargo that frightens them but also unsuspected movements that cause fear and flight. Large draft horses bolting down busy streets with a carriage in tow would be a disaster.

With this in mind, is it surprising that most draft horses are more comfortable in a bridle with blinders? Blinders confirm the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” and save the horse from overcoming its evolutionary instincts.

To reduce distractions and help horses focus on what’s ahead, blinders were attached to the horses’ bridles. Not only do the blinkers lower the risk of a horse taking flight, but it also helps a horse pull straight.

Horses without blinders typically turn their heads to look around when movement is sensed. The constant peering leads to swerving from side to side.

Blinders help draft horses pull straight by blocking out a portion of their peripheral vision. Draft horses develop a keener relationship with the driver when wearing blinders. Because of their restricted field of vision, horses respond better to both verbal and physical cues.

The eye covers used for draft horses are typically made of leather and attached to the halter. (Click this link to check out the prices for harness blinders on Amazon.)

Picture of a dapple gray horse

Horse wear blinders to reduce stress.

Today, many big cities offer horse carriage rides, like the one in the picture from New Orleans. And like New Orleans, many cities’ distractions could cause a horse to take flight or lose focus. Blinders are critical to the safety of the horse, its riders, and anyone in the path of the carriage.

Horses pulling without blinders stress themselves out, trying to ignore the signals from their nervous system that an object is in their predator threat zone. Blinders allow horses to ignore those instincts and relax.

Cheekpieces serve as blinders for showjumping horses.

Typical blinders are prohibited in competitive showjumping, but sheepskin cheekpieces are permitted. The FEI governs international showjumping, and their rules state sheepskin covers may be used in show jumping if the covers do not exceed 3cm when measured from the horses’ faces. These rules are followed by US Equestrian, the body which governs showjumping in the United States.

Sheepskin cheekpieces are sections of sheepskin attached to the side of a horse’s halter near its eyes. They perform a similar function as the French cup blinder in horse racing by helping a horse focus on what is ahead without restricting its vision.

Here is a link to the customer reviews for a set of sheepskin cheekpieces listed on Amazon. They are rated 5 stars!

Picture of a race horse wearing blinders

Below is a YouTube video explaining why racehorses wear blinders.


Are horse blinders cruel?

When used by correctly, horse blinders are not cruel. However, if they’re left on for too long during hot days, you could be putting your equine friend at serious risk of overheating.

Are blinders good for horses?

Horse blinders can be good for some horses. They are designed to protect a horse’s eyes from wind and distracting objects.