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An Introduction to Blinkers

Some horses are very focused as they run, but others are not.  They are distracted by challengers, or even by random events or features of the scenery around the track.  They run past a bush and a bird rustles the leaves.  Instead of perceiving a bird, they think there is a predator lurking inside and they bolt to the side. 


Horses that are easily distracted are anxious and performance suffers as a result.  That is why blinkers were invented.


Blinkers are cups which fit over one or both of a horse’s eyes, occluding a small or large section of the horse’s vision.  There are many different types of blinkers used in horse racing, all of which have different features and benefits.  A horse wearing blinkers typically finds it easier to stay calm, focus, and run at a steady pace.


You may not be able to imagine running with blinkers over your own eyes, but it is easy to forget how different the experience of a horse is from the experience of a human.  Whereas your field of vision is limited to around 200 degrees, a horse can see within a 275-degree field.  That means that it can take in almost everything around it while barely moving its head.  It can see more than it needs to in order to race.  Its vision was designed to help it flee from predators—not run for a finish line.


But there are no predators on a race track, so all of this acts as one big distraction.  Add to that the fact that horses have an additional ability to take in an independent view from each eye, and you have more of a distraction.  There is just too much information.


When a horse wears the right blinkers, that entire distracting information overload goes away.  The horse can focus only on the useful field of view.  Blinkers that occlude a large section of vision may include small holes which allow a horse to see if competitors are closing in.  This prevents the horse from needing to turn its head to look.  If a challenger starts pressing in, the horse will be able to see it.  Otherwise it can keep its attention entirely on the track ahead.


Blinkers also serve a psychological function.  Horses learn to associate blinkers with the calm, focused state they feel while wearing them.  Just having blinkers on can by itself help to invoke that calm state.  That is why there is even a type of blinkers with almost-nonexistent cups known as “cheaters.”  Horses wearing these blinkers still have a largely clear field of view, but the psychological effect of wearing the blinkers still registers and helps them to focus.


So now you know more about blinkers and how and why they work in different horse racing events.  Wondering what the different types of blinkers are and how they impact the outcomes of horse races?  Read What Impact Do Blinkers Have on Racing to find out!


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