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Why Do Horses Wear Blinders? 4 Primary Reasons

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While recently strolling through the New Orleans French Quarter, we walked by a mule wearing blinders. Seeing the blinders made me wonder why some horses wear blinders?

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.

Most people think blinders are decorations worn by horses when they perform a particular task. But in reality, horses wear blinders to help them perform their task better.

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.

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

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 their head’s sides, 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.

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.

Picture of a Friesian horse with blinders.

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

We’ve researched the best blinders I could find. These blinders are rated 4.9 stars by Amazon customers. Here is the link to the Amazon customer review page so that you read for yourself what other customers have to say:

Race horses wear blinders to run faster.

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 lose speed when running from looking around. In a race, a horse gets distracted by other horses, people, and even birds. Blinkers help a horse to stay focused on his jockey and what’s ahead.

Types of race horse 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 a variety of 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. When trying to prevent a horse from drifting, a full cup blinker is worn on the mask’s outside eye.
  • Standard Blinders: Standard blinkers are a 2/3 cup with a hole. This type of blinker restricts vision but still 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 a little 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 jockeys 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 nuance 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 cheek-piece has gained in popularity. Trainers attach a sheepskin to the bridle to prevent horses from seeing its 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 as high as ninety percent of quarter horses race with 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.

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

It’s not only their cargo that frightens them but also unsuspected movements that cause fear and flight. 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 saves the horse from overcoming their 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 attach to the halter. (Click this link to check out the prices for harness blinders on Amazon.)

Horse wear blinder 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.

blinders,

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 their vision.

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

FAQ

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.