Horses with jobs, such as racing or plowing a field, wear blinders to keep them focused on what they’re doing. The nature of the horse is fight or flight, with flight usually being its first choice.
All horses, even the most bombproof of characters, are capable of startling and doing something you don’t want them to do. Combine this instinct with the need to have them do a job and you get the need to use equipment that minimizes the potential of a spook or bolt.
Blinders and blinkers are used to reduce stress in the horse, allowing them to focus on their performance and what’s being asked of them without worrying about other stimuli. The use of blinders also helps develop a bond of trust between the driver or rider and their horse.
Also at issue is the fact the horse has a wide field of vision that enables it to either see two things at once, or focus on an individual object at will. Its brain can process what it’s seeing on both sides of its body and react accordingly.
Horses developed this wide field of vision due to the fact it’s a prey animal that has a need to watch for predators at all times. This evolutionary advantage sometimes turns into a disadvantage when it comes to using horses for work or pleasure.
Humans learned that blinders made it easier to work with horses in the field during their domestication. Archaeology has found evidence of their use in the Egyptian period, and they may have even been in use long before then.
Blinders may look like they’re cruel, but ultimately, they’re a tool the same as a saddle, bridle, or harness. They aid in the control of a horse, and a horse learns how to relax and do its job with less stress.
Read on to learn more about why do horses wear blinders, what blinders are, how they work, and their different purposes.
Understanding a Horse’s Field of Vision
The vision of a horse is both monocular and binocular with a 210o field of vision on either side. A horse can adjust their vision by lowering or raising their head, or carrying it on a plane that gives them an optimal focus and depth of field.
Horses can also achieve a 360o field of vision by holding their head low and moving it slightly from side to side. A horse has a longer depth of field when its head is held up and eyes focused forward. In contrast, a horse that lowers its head will be more focused on the ground in front of it and less of a view of the horizon in front of it.
Horses are capable of seeing two things at once and in a wide field. The only true blind spots they have are directly behind them and directly in front of them. That’s why you’re always warned to be careful when approaching a horse from behind and make sure to alert it to your presence. A horse that’s prone to spooking may throw out a rear kick in reaction to an unexpected stimulus. It’s far less dangerous to stand directly in front of a horse as they can adjust their vision to see you by lifting or turning their head.
Blinders work by restricting the field of vision to what’s in front of, below, and above the horse. However, a horse can still react poorly to stimuli when wearing blinders because the sound or vibration of an unseen object can upset them. The blinder or blinker hood reduces the potential for an incident, but can’t eliminate it entirely.
Ultimately, blinders help the driver or rider minimize the risk of a bad reaction, keep the horse focused, and make it easier to keep a horse in control.
Taking a Look at the Different Types of Blinders
Blinders come in different designs and are used for different reasons. Here’s a look at their differences.
These are either square or rectangular shaped and cover an area that’s wider than the horse’s eyes. They restrict a horse’s field of vision to a forward, top, and bottom view. This is the kind of blinder you’re probably most familiar with.
Pigeon wing blinders
This type of blinder resembles a pigeon’s wing and is wide at the cheekpiece, then narrows towards its top. They’re primarily used for driving mules due to the fact that mules have a wider range of rear vision and are quick to kick. Horses can also wear this style of blinder without issues.
Some horses don’t drive or race well in a blinder bridle or blinker hood, but need to have their rear vision restricted. Shadow rolls go onto the cheekpieces of the bridle and look like large fuzzy bumpers. It’s sometimes accompanied by a nose shadow roll to prevent the horse from looking down on the ground. This type of blinker is also used for jumping horses that are prone to shying.
Blinker hoods feature cups riveted into a mask that is placed onto the horse’s head first, then the bridle is put on over it for security. The cups are pre-cut to a specific degree that blocks vision, and are known as semi-cups, standard, French, and cheaters. They also come in a full cup that is then cut back to user preference. These types of hoods are used for thoroughbred and standardbred race horses, and saddle seat horses during training and showing in riding and driving classes.
Why Driving Horses Wear Blinders
Driving horses wear blinders for a number of reasons. One reason is to prevent them from seeing the vehicle behind them, a flash of light reflecting off metal or a wheel spoke, to prevent them from seeing the whip coming to touch another horse or itself, and to not be invested in what its partner is doing in a team.
Blinders make it easy for people to drive teams and hitches of all sizes as it makes the horses focus on the one in front of them. The horse also trusts that its partner is listening to the driver, and that the driver is guiding them safely.
A driver has less control over their horse than a rider does, which makes the use of blinders or blinker hoods an important one. In driving, the whip takes over the job of the heel and leg, and is used for correction or direction. A driving horse may “goose” if they see the whip coming, and cause a bigger problem as a result. Blinders minimize the potential for a goose, and enable the driver to anticipate the horse’s reaction when they’re touched with the whip.
Why Do Racehorses Wear Blinders?
Racehorses wear blinders to keep them focused on what’s ahead of them and prevent them from getting distracted by other horses and their jockeys. It also keeps the horse from seeing the jockey’s whip when the jockey is holding it in their hand.
The overall purpose of putting blinders onto a racehorse is to ensure that its focus on the race and respond to the jockey when they ask the horse to move over or when it’s time to put on the gas for the home stretch.
Not all racehorses need to wear blinders, but some are more easily distracted than others. Racehorses love to race, which means they sometimes are too focused on running and are more highly reactive as a result. The jockey’s job is to keep the horse running at a steady pace until it’s time to make a move.
A reactive horse can blow those plans by reacting to a stimulus not meant for it and push harder at the wrong time. This can result in the horse placing poorly because it ran through its energy reserves too soon.
Using a blinker hood on a racehorse helps the jockey manage the horse’s speed and effort by reducing the risk of it becoming overstimulated at the wrong time. It also makes tapping the whip on the shoulder or hindquarters more effective, as the horse can’t anticipate the use of the whip and put on more speed before it’s needed.
Eye protection is another reason why a horse wears a blinker or blinder hood. They can be made with clear cups that fully cover the eye and prevent debris from getting kicked in. It’s normal for horses to have dirt kicked in their eyes in the pasture or when they’re racing, but some horses object more than others. Racehorses that react badly to dirt in their eyes are a risk to others on the track. Using a full cup blinker hood allows the horse to race to the best of its ability without the risk of reacting.
Why do Horses Wear Blinders in Pasture?
There are a few reasons why horses wear a blinder, or face/fly mask, while in the pasture. The most common reason comes down to bugs.
Bugs love nothing more than biting horses on their faces as they graze in a pasture. The skin on a horse’s face is thin and vascular, making it easy for bugs to get a meal. Biting bugs are not a one-and-done issue as bugs are relentless in their need to feed. The bites irritate the horse and cause welts that turn into open sores. The open sores make it easy for more bugs to land and feast, eventually causing an infected wound that’s difficult to heal.
Biting insects will land on all parts of a horse’s face, but they especially like to cluster around the tear ducts of the horse’s eyes. They get water from the horse’s eyes, and don’t have to go far for a meal. Not all insects that land on a horse’s face are biters, but biting and non-biting insects carry bacteria and other unwanted guests and contaminants. They carry these infective materials on their feet, then leave them behind when they depart. A horse with a compromised immune system or open sores on its face can get a nasty infection as a result.
The use of a fly mask prevents insects from landing and biting or drinking from your horse’s tear ducts. It also gives your horse peace from the incessant irritation, allowing them to graze comfortably.
Last but not least, the mask does not blind your horse or prevent them from seeing. Face masks are made from mesh that lets light through and causes minimal disruption to your horse’s vision. Masks are available with funny prints and designs to make them look less like a blindfold and more like a piece of protective equipment that’s put on the horse for a reason.
Are Blinders Cruel?
No, blinders are not cruel. They exist to keep the horse from becoming distracted by a stimulus and going out of control. Horses get used to blinders very quickly and aren’t bothered by the reduction in their field of vision. Blinders also signal to the horse that it’s time to work or perform, and tell them it’s time to shift their attitude towards the job much in the same way as people get ready for work.
In a sense, blinders are a safety device for both horses and humans. Both need to work together in order to achieve a goal, and blinders are a positive aid for some of the things we ask horses to do and perform. By and large, horses accept blinders without fuss or drama. They adapt quickly to the vision restriction and will move according to the request of the driver or rider without stress.
Blinders are a tool that helps horses do their job, and do it well. It makes it easier for the rider or driver to predict the actions of the horse, reduces stress for the horse, and helps the horse focus.
Horses have been wearing blinders for thousands of years without problems, showing the effectiveness of their use. Rather than being cruel or blinding the horse, they restrict the horse’s wide field of vision to reduce distractions, enabling the horse to become a working partner in a variety of disciplines.