BLINKERS – WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW THEY WORK
Blinkers are commonplace at the racetrack and are a hood with eye cups that limits the horse’s field of vision.
Horses have two types of vision; monocular and binocular. With their monocular vision, they are able to see almost completely around their body and behind them thanks to their eyes being set on the side of their head. This has been developed because they are prey animals and have to be alert to threats from predators, even with their heads down grazing. There are two blind spots – directly between their eyes, and directly behind them.
Their binocular vision allows them to focus on what is directly ahead of them. The use of blinkers in horse racing limits the horse’s monocular vision and effectively reduces what is available for them to see.
For some horses, this will cause different responses.
The added focus might help a horse break from the starting gate faster because it’s not distracted by the handlers in the gate and other horses.
It might also keep a horse that is very spooky from seeing something that it might want to shy away from.
And some horses may be reactive to seeing a rider on their back, and this then removes the rider from their field of vision.
The drawbacks of blinkers are the same as their benefits sometimes. If you restrict a horse’s field of vision, they might not see their competitor coming up next to them to challenge. Or, they might be so focused on the racetrack ahead of them, that the rider is unable to slow them or “rate” them in a race.
There are multiple types of blinkers to affect a horse’s behavior but they all work off the concept of controlling the horse’s field of vision.
Full/Half cup – most restrictive, limits the horse’s field of vision to directly ahead.
French/Quarter cup – More open so the horse can see more to the sides.
Cheaters – barely limits the horse’s field of vision.
Run-out blinkers – restricts vision on one eye to if the horse has a tendency to duck in towards the rail, or move out wide.
Screens or goggles – Cover the eye entirely but are see through. Used to protect the eye from dirt clods. You typically will see these at tracks where the kickback dirt is a problem. It is rare to see these at Emerald Downs.
The next time you go to the paddock, take a look at the different types of blinkers and see if you can successfully identify the different types. Then take a look at the horse’s running style and see if you can deduce why a trainer has them on the horse. Is it to help a speed horse break from the gate? Could the horse gawk too much at the crowds? It also is a great handicapping question when you see the notation “blinkers on” or “blinkers off” in the racing program. There is a reason for the change, what is it?
A special congratulations to Brian Allen – this week’s exercise rider of the week! In addition to exercising Stryker Phd, he is also the main exercise rider for TW and Charlie.