Horse blinders are some of the most controversial pieces of horse equipment, and there’s a relatively easy explanation for that. Some horse owners consider them unnecessary, while others swear by their effectiveness. But what are horse blinders exactly, and can we replace them with something more comfortable for horses?
We use horse blinders for racehorses or working horses in order to diminish their field of view. This way, the horse will have a lower chance of getting scared or distracted by the world around it. Horse blinders allow the horse to focus on the road ahead and on the task at hand. They don’t hurt the horse in any way, although they are certainly restrictive.
If you’re on the fence on whether you should use horse blinders on your own horse, this article will definitely help you make a decision. We’ll talk about the positive and negative aspects of horse blinders, their usefulness, and whether we can replace them with other equipment pieces.
What do horse blinders look like and how do they work?
Horse blinders are made of leather or plastic, and they’re basically small cups that attach to the horse’s bridle. They work by limiting a horse’s field of view, thus allowing it to focus on whatever it’s doing. Whether we’re talking about racing horses or simple workhorses, blinders have proven their effectiveness time and time again.
Why are they so effective, though, and why do they have such a dramatic impact on a horse’s behavior?
You see, a horse has an incredibly wide field of vision, as well as some of the largest eyes in the animal kingdom. They see everything around them except directly behind them and directly in front. An animal that can absorb so much of the world around it at once can get distracted very easily. Distraction can be followed by fear, and nothing good ever came out of a horse spooking.
What are the main uses of horse blinders?
Also known as horse blinkers in some parts of the world, these items are used in a variety of disciplines and situations:
- In racing events, horse blinders are incredibly popular. They have successfully prevented countless accidents by allowing the horse to focus only on the track ahead. Without blinders, a horse might get distracted by other equines on the track, and it might spook or even try to attack them. A racing horse is trained to run and think about nothing else while doing so. Blinders only help it achieve its task with greater ease.
- For draft horses, blinders prevent distractions and enhance the safety of the horse and its handler. Draft horses are sometimes required to pull carriages in cities or participate in parades. These can be incredibly stressful for an animal that scares easily. While sudden noises can still startle a horse while wearing them, blinkers ensure smoother rides and marches.
- Improving a horse’s focus is one of the main reasons for horse blinders use in training sessions. Or if the handler wants to teach the horse to walk or pull in a straight line. While wearing them, a horse is more likely to pay attention to a trainer’s cues, whether they’re verbal or physical.
- Preventing injuries caused by stress. As I mentioned before, sudden noises or flashes of light can distract and scare a horse. Moreover, emotional stress can take root when a horse moves to a new home. Blinkers prevent this and minimize the risk of injury caused by stressful events.
What are the main types of horse blinders?
Horse blinders come in different shapes and sizes. Some of them are better than others in certain situations, but they all pretty much share a common design.
Standard horse blinders cover both eyes. Their design involves ⅔ of a regular cup with a hole in the middle of each cup. This design allows the horse to see other horses on the racetrack while filtering other potential distractions. As you can probably tell by now, these are incredibly popular in horse racing events.
Then we have French cup blinders that were designed for a sole purpose: to block the rider from the horse’s view. These extend directly outwards from the mask, and they are usually made from plastic. While wearing French cup blinders, the horse will focus on the race ahead without being able to anticipate the rider’s whip. This allows it to live in the moment and focus less on the looming whip.
Full cup blinders cover the entire eye, but they are only worn on one side of the mask. They’re useful for horses that tend to hug the outside of the track. These are corrective blinders that need to be applied to the correct eye at all times. Talk to your trainer or vet before you decide to use this type of blinder.
Cheater cup blinders don’t actually involve cheating in any way. These are the smallest blinders available, as they come with a small, non-intrusive design. They are mainly used as a psychological reminder of race time in order to help the horse prepare for what’s to come.
Are there any alternatives to horse blinkers?
If you don’t want to put them on your horse, you don’t have to, but keep in mind that reducing your horse’s stress levels can make the difference between a good day on the track and a disaster. There are some suitable alternatives to horse blinders, though, some of which can have pretty much the same effect.
You can use something called a shadow roll, which goes on the noseband of the bridle and only limits a specific portion of the equine’s vision. If you want to restrict viewing angles for particular objects, or if you don’t want your horse to be aware of what’s going on on the ground, shadow rolls can represent a viable alternative to blinders. These are available in different materials, including sheepskin and fleece.
If you don’t want to use any form of vision restriction, you’ll need to focus on minimizing the horse’s stress and potential distractions. Keep an eye out on your livestock and take note of what distracts it in particular. This can represent other horses, sounds, riders, cars, children, etc. Then try to eliminate those distractions from its daily routine and see if its behavior improves.
If your horse is already leading a healthy life and is able to accomplish the goals you set before him without stress or distractions, horse blinders are not mandatory. However, as life can become quite hectic sometimes and often without prior notice, it’s not a bad idea to keep these tools handy and use them as the situation dictates.
I’ve used horse blinders with my horses with varying degrees of success. No two horses are the same, and not all of them react to these blinders in the same fashion. Sometimes, a horse might need to try out different types, not to mention a period of adjustment. Be patient with your four-legged companions and try to figure out what works best for them and yourself.