It is a phrase in the English language that someone has ‘got blinkers on’, suggesting that they only have eyes for the prize and won’t be distracted. It actually comes from the world of horse racing, given that horses can have blinkers put on them to keep them focussed on the race that they’re taking part in. The question is, what does it entail when a horse wears blinkers and why might some trainers choose to employ them when others don’t? Are there any specific rules around horses wearing them that have to be taken into account?
A horse’s eyes are on the side of its head, meaning that they have a much wider peripheral vision than humans. As a result, it is much easier for some horses to become distracted, meaning that some trainers and jockeys choose to employ blinkers in order to keep them from being side-tracked when racing. There are different types of blinkers that can be used, but the overall experience is the same regardless. In many ways, when used on a horse that can be easily distracted, blinkers can be classed as safety equipment as opposed to something used to aid performance.
What Are Blinkers
Often made of leather, though sometimes entailing plastic cups, blinkers are attached to the bridle or to an independent hood and are placed in such a way that they stop a horse seeing something that they shouldn’t. Some blinkers have holes cut in the back of the cup, which are known as visors. The interesting thing about blinkers is that they are most commonly used in horse racing, with most other equestrian disciplines banning their use. Indeed, anyone that uses blinkers in competitions will often be eliminated for doing so.
Only driving horses tend to match some race horses in wearing blinkers because it can stop them from being distracted or spooked. This is especially the case when a driving horse is used in a busy area or on crowded streets. When used on driving horses, blinkers are usually attached to the cheekpieces of the bridle. Inline with racing is harness competition, which will also allow the use of blinkers on horses. If you’ve ever heard someone refer to ‘winkers’ or ‘blinders’, these limit a horse’s rear vision but aren’t as restrictive as blinkers.
When Are They Used
Blinkers are used in horse racing when a horse is liable to be distracted for one reason or another. If you’ve watched much horse racing then you’ll be aware of the fact that the majority of horses do not wear blinkers, so it would be untrue to describe their use as common practice. Even so, it is not unusual to see a few horses using blinkers in a race, especially if they’re young. A younger horse is obviously not as used to the comings and goings of a racecourse as its older competitors. As a result there is a desire to stop them from being ‘spooked’ too easily.
It is not exactly uncommon for people on racecourses to be screaming, shouting and waving their arms around the place. Given the fact that there are often tens of thousands of people on a racecourse, this need to ensure that a horse doesn’t get scared or distracted too easily is paramount. All the blinkers do is limit a horse’s peripheral vision, meaning that they can only look forward. This, in turn, means that they’ll be more focussed on the ground and any hurdles or fences that they need to jump over as the race is ongoing.
Spotting A Horse Wearing Blinkers
If you’re physically at a racecourse looking at the horses as they get ready to race, it’s easy enough to figure out which ones are wearing blinkers. They are obvious things, covering at least part of a horse’s head and definitely being around the area of their eyes. If, however, you’re not at a course or watching on TV and are just placing a bet using your chosen online bookmaker, it is clearly slightly trickier to know which horses have blinkers on. Thankfully, race cards tend to make it easy for you to figure out the horses with blinkers on.
Just as race cards will outline when a horse is carrying extra weight, has a cheekpiece or tongue tie, so too will they indicate a horse with blinkers on. This is often in the description of the horse on the race card and you would be mistaken to dismiss a horse because of this. There are some that think that a horse wearing blinkers is doing so because they’re wild or untamed, but this is often incorrect. Indeed, the chances of a horse winning are increased by them wearing blinkers, given the fact that it will help the horse avoid distractions.
How Blinkers Affect Horse Performance
In terms of how a horse’s performance is affected when it is wearing blinkers, the truth is that it’s complicated. Secretariat wore blinkers whilst winning the US Triple Crown Championship as well as the Belmont Stakes, which he won by an impressive 31 lengths, for example. Yet when it comes to a major British race such as the Grand National, only a couple of horses have won it whilst wearing blinkers in the modern era. It’s also interesting to note that blinkers are often helpful initially but lose their lustre after a given amount of time.
Blinkers are rarely considered to be a long-term solution to a horse’s ability, with thoroughbreds often maturing into not needing to wear them. Trainers will usually look to remove the item once they believe that the horse in their care has become used to the hustle and bustle of the racecourse. Obviously this is largely dependent on the personality of the individual horse, with some wearing them for the entirety of their career if their trainer feels that they will get good use out of them. It is worth looking out for a horse wearing blinkers to see if their effectiveness start to drop off over time.