Every horse you will ever see racing will have one thing common (aside from a rider of course). That’s those blinders which cover the racehorses’ eyes. There’s a good reason why riders put blinders to cover horses’ eyes which I’ve explained below.
Why do they cover racehorses’ eyes? Racehorses’ eyes are covered with blinders to help them focus on what’s in front of them, rather than distractions to their sides or behind them. Horses often react to perceived danger by trying to run away, causing a dangerous situation for their riders.
Why racehorses need blinders covering their eyes to focus
In the wild, horses evolved to be fast runners. It’s one of the things that make them so well suited for racing. But the reason they’re so fast is that they’re prey for a variety of natural predators. Bears, cougars, and wolves will all hunt and kill horses if given the chance.
Horses don’t have sharp teeth or claws with which to defend themselves from an attack, so developed their speed instead… making them perfect as racehorses in the modern world. But they also developed another trait which is why a racehorse’s eyes will be covered when running.
It’s all down to their unusually wide field of vision – 350 degrees or so. This has evolved as it helps them to spot danger from almost any angle. When horses see something dangerous, their best defense is to run away from it as fast and as far as their legs will carry them.
It’s a strategy that has kept horses alive and thriving for thousands of years – horses of all different types and uses wear eye masks.
But on a racetrack, they’re surrounded by other horses, crowds, and even shadows that can trigger this natural defense mechanism. When this happens, they can endanger themselves, their jockey, and everyone else around them.
By having their eyes covered with blinders, this prevents a racehorse from misinterpreting the distractions around it and keeps them focused on the track in front of them.
Covering a racehorse’s eyes is beneficial for the horse, other horses, and all the riders.
How long have racehorse eye blinders been in use?
Believe it or not, horse blinders have been in use for thousands of years. Some of the earliest known examples date back to ancient times – almost 3,000 years ago. You can even go see one from that era in person at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
But most historians believe that they go back even further than that. The consensus is that horse blinders or some variation of them being used to cover horses’ eyes, have been around since shortly after the invention of the chariot.
That would make horse blinders closer to 3,800 years old.
The 5 types of blinders that racehorses wear
Although it might appear that all racehorses wear the same blinders to cover their eyes, this isn’t the case. If you look at each racehorse up close, you’d easily notice a few variations of the blinders they’re wearing.
Most of the time, a racehorse’s blinders are attached to their hood, which is made of nylon or a similar material. The blinders themselves are almost always made of plastic. There are five major types of blinders a racehorse might wear.
Standard racehorse blinders feature a cup that extends approximately two-thirds of the way across the horse’s eye. They also have a hole in the center of the cup. This keeps the horse’s attention focused in front of them but also allows them to see if another horse is pulling up parallel with them.
Full-cup blinders, also known as extension cups, extend the coverage all the way across the racehorse’s eye. They’re typically used only on the outside eye, to prevent the racehorse from veering toward the outside of the track.
By forcing them to rely on the vision of their inside eye by covering the rest, they’re more inclined to continue running in the right direction.
Semi-cup blinders extend approximately to cover one-quarter of the way across the racehorse’s eye. This gives them far more peripheral vision but still prevents them from seeing anything to their rear during a race.
French cup blinders don’t actually feature a cup at all. Instead, they feature a curved piece of plastic that extends outward in a half-circle from the rear edge of the hood’s eye openings.
Their purpose is to keep the racehorse from seeing their jockey. They are by far the most common types of blinders used in American horseracing, despite their obviously European origins.
Cheater cups, despite their name, don’t give a racehorse any discernible illegal advantage in a race. They are, however, the least restrictive type of blinders used on racehorses. They’re similar to French cups but are smaller and hardly restrict the racehorse’s vision.
The advantage they provide is psychological, not physical. They let the horse know that it’s race day and that it’s time for them to focus on the task ahead.
Handy Hint: Have you ever wondered why horses love to roll on their backs in dirt and mud, and usually right after a bath?
If you’ve ever seen a horse race in person or on television, you’ve no doubt noticed that all of the racehorses wear an odd piece of equipment that covers their eyes: blinders.
This might appear to be counter intuitive, after all, wouldn’t you want a horse you’re riding at high speed to see what’s going on around it? But there’s a very good reason that racehorses wear blinders to cover their eyes, and now you know what that is.
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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/horse-racing-track-jockey-sport-3957240/