Skip to Content

Why Do Horses Wear Blinders: Just The Facts

Last updated: March 22, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Have you ever noticed horses sporting those unique eye coverings and wondered about their purpose? I’m Miles Henry, and through my experience with my racehorses, I’ve come to appreciate the crucial role that blinders, or blinkers, play in boosting concentration and performance.

This is especially true for two of my current horses, whom I train and race with the aid of these tools. Let’s dive into the intriguing world of horse blinders together, uncovering their uses, origins, and the impact they have on our equine companions.

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

The Role of Blinders

The use of blinders dates back centuries. Originally conceived to keep workhorses calm in bustling streets or fields, they have evolved closely to the development of horse-drawn carriages and, later, horse racing.

Blinders, or blinkers, are used to prevent horses from seeing to the rear and, in some cases, to the side. This is crucial in various roles, from carriage pulling to racing, where focus and forward vision are paramount.

Blinders help reduce distractions by limiting a horse’s field of vision. This allows horses to concentrate on the path ahead and respond more effectively to their handler’s commands.

Picture of a racehorse wearing a mask with blinders.
Racehorse wearing a mask with blinders.

Blinders: A Versatile Tool Across Equestrian Disciplines

Blinders, or blinkers as they’re sometimes called, play a crucial role in various equestrian activities. Whether it’s the high-stakes atmosphere of the racetrack or the peaceful journey of a carriage ride through the park, blinders help maintain a horse’s focus by limiting their peripheral vision. This is especially important in environments with potential distractions that could startle a horse, leading to unsafe situations.

Why Do Horses Wear Blinders When Racing?

In racing, blinders are indispensable. They help racehorses concentrate on the path ahead, preventing them from being spooked by the crowd’s noise or the close proximity of other competitors. This focus is essential for both the safety of the horse and rider and for achieving peak performance.

Why Do Horses Wear Blinders When Pulling Carriages?

Carriage horses, often found in bustling urban environments or at special events, also benefit from wearing blinders. The devices help these horses navigate through noisy streets and crowded areas without becoming overwhelmed by the sensory overload. This ensures a smooth and safe experience for horses and their passengers.

By reducing visual distractions, blinders support horses in performing their best across these disciplines, showcasing their adaptability as a tool for equine welfare and safety.

Picture of a carriage horse wearing blinders. Why do horses wear blinders? To prevent spooking is one reason.
Carriage horse wearing blinders.

Types of Blinders

  • Full Cup Blinders: These offer the most restriction, limiting the horse’s vision to what’s directly in front. It is commonly used in horse racing to keep the horse focused on the track.
  • Standard Blinders: Cover about 2/3 of the horse’s vision, providing some restriction without complete isolation.
  • French Cup Blinders: Extend from the mask to hide the jockey, often used in racing circles.
  • Cheater Cup Blinders: Also called quarter cups, they are less restrictive and provide a partial field of vision.
  • Semi-Cup Blinders: A hybrid between standard blinkers and French cups, offering moderate restriction.

Here is an insightful YouTube video explaining why racehorses wear blinders.

This video explains the use of blinders in horse racing.

Caring for Horses with Blinders

When we incorporate blinders into a horse’s gear, it’s only after careful consideration and training. I also ensure they are comfortable and effective. To prevent discomfort, you must regularly check blinders for proper fit and signs of wear.

Training horses to accept and wear blinders smoothly is also a critical part of their care, ensuring they feel secure and confident in their tasks.

Materials and Design:

  • Materials: Made from lightweight plastic or leather for durability and comfort.
  • Cup Shape: Varieties include full cups, standard, French cups, cheater cups, and semi-cups, each offering different vision restriction levels.
  • Attachment: Securely fixed to the bridle near the horse’s eyes.
  • Comfort and Safety: Designed with rounded edges and smooth surfaces to prevent irritation.
Picture of a set of blinders for a racehorse.
This is a set of blinkers customized by punching a hole in the side.

Customization Options:

  • Fit and Size: Available in various sizes for different horse breeds, proper sizing is crucial for comfort.
  • Adjustable Straps: Some models have straps for a snug fit and adjustable vision restriction.
  • Padding and Lining: Options for enhanced comfort and reduced friction.
  • Decorative Elements: Used for aesthetic purposes, especially in racing.
Picture of paint horse with blue eyes.
Paint horse with blue eyes.

The Role of Horse Vision in Using Blinders

Understanding horse vision is fundamental to appreciating the need for blinders. Thanks to their eyes’ side placement, horses have a nearly 360-degree field of vision. This panoramic view is crucial for spotting predators, but it also means they have blind spots directly in front and behind them.

Their vision allows both binocular (overlapping) and monocular (independent) sight, aiding in-depth perception and broad awareness. However, this extensive field of vision also makes horses highly sensitive to peripheral movements, potentially leading to distractions or stress, especially in competitive or work environments.

Blinders help by narrowing their field of view, focusing their attention forward, and reducing overstimulation from their surroundings. By limiting what horses can see to only what’s in front of them, blinders reduce the chances of sudden frights from peripheral movements, enhancing safety and performance during races or carriage pulling.

This selective visibility helps maintain a horse’s concentration on their task, whether racing on a track or navigating crowded streets. For a deeper dive into how horses see the world and the impact of their vision on behavior, visit Are Horses Color Blind & Good Night Vision?

Picture of a mule pulling a wagon in New Orleans wearing blinders.
Carriage horse with blinders in the French Quarter.

FAQs: Why Do Horses Wear Blinders?

Why are blinders used on horses?

Horse blinders, also known as blinkers, help horses focus on what is in front of them, reduce distractions, and prevent stress in environments like racetracks or busy streets.

Can horse blinders improve a horse’s performance in races?

Yes, horse blinders can improve race performance by helping the horse maintain focus on the track and preventing distractions that could cause it to veer off course or lose speed.

Are there different types of horse blinders?

Yes, there are several types of horse blinders, including full cup, standard, French cup, cheater cup, and semi-cup blinders. Each type offers varying levels of vision restriction and is chosen based on the horse’s needs and the specific situation.

Are horse blinders cruel?

When used correctly, horse blinders are not cruel. However, if they’re left on for too long during hot days, you could put 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.

Close up picture of blinders on a horse.
Close-up view of a horse wearing blinders.

Research and Expert Opinions on Horse Blinders:

  • Scientific Study: A study by Joan Dziezyc et al. in “Veterinary Ophthalmology” found that blinkers increase heart rates in horses exposed to unfamiliar sounds, indicating a significant sensory impact.
  • Research: Horses’ vision, while excellent for detecting motion, limits depth perception and can make horses reactive to sudden peripheral movements. In racing, this can lead to heightened sensitivity and instinctual flight responses, emphasizing the need for focused and calm environments in training and handling.” Citation: Vision in the Equine. Retrieved from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
  • Trainer Insights: It’s important to ensure proper fit and gradual acclimation when using blinders.
  • Ethical Considerations: Advocacy for responsible use, ensuring blinders are not masking training or health issues.
Picture of a race horse wearing blinders
Racehorse going to the starting gates wearing blinders.

Conclusion: Why Do Horses Wear Blinders

Blinders play a pivotal role in the equine world, offering benefits that extend beyond the racetrack or carriage path. They symbolize our ongoing quest to understand and cater to the needs of our equine partners.

As a horse owner, witnessing the positive impact of blinders on my racehorses has been a rewarding experience, underscoring the importance of tailored, compassionate animal care. Whether you’re a fellow equestrian or simply curious about horse behavior, the story of blinders is a testament to the deep bond between horses and humans.

Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences in the comments section of my articles. Your feedback and input are invaluable and often inspire future content.

Thank you for being a part of our equestrian community. We look forward to continuing this journey with you and providing you with the most current and insightful content on all things related to horses.

  • Stay Informed:
    • To ensure you never miss an update, consider subscribing to our newsletter. You’ll receive notifications of new articles, research findings, and other relevant information directly in your inbox.

Reflective Questions

  1. The Evolution of Blinders: How has the use of blinders evolved from their initial conception for workhorses in bustling streets to their current use in racing and carriage driving?
  2. Impact on Horse Behavior: Given their nearly 360-degree field of vision, how do blinders influence a horse’s natural behavior and reactions?
  3. Ethical Considerations: Given the benefits and potential drawbacks of using blinders, what ethical considerations should horse owners and trainers consider to ensure the welfare of their equine companions?