why do horses wear blinders

Why Do Horses Wear Blinders?

Have you ever driven past a pasture and seen horses wearing something on their face? Or have you watched a horse race and noticed a lot of the horses are wearing masks with little cups behind their eyes, blocking their peripheral vision?

Chances are, what you’re seeing is something called blinders (or blinkers). There are a number of good reasons why these horses are wearing blinders – from safety reasons to improved performance on the racetrack.

We’re going to take you through all the reasons why horses wear blinders and what all the different types of blinders are used for.

What Horse Blinders Are For?

There isn’t just one purpose for horse blinders, and there are a few types of blinders that you can get too. Each horse has a different personality and purpose, and that means that each time you see one with blinders on, it’s usually for one of three reasons:

  1. To keep the horse focused.
  2. To prevent the horse from spooking.
  3. To protect the horse’s eyes.

Situations When Horses Wear Blinders

Now that you know the basics of why horses wear blinders, we can go over the different situations when blinders are used and why they’re effective in each situation.

Pulling carriages

When a horse pulls a carriage, it needs to be focused. If something spooks it, it can be extremely dangerous for the horse, the people in the carriage, and any bystanders. This isn’t something that would be uncommon either – especially since horse carriages are often used in areas with lots of people and traffic.

The blinders block the surrounding views for the horse, preventing it from seeing too many chaotic things happening and thereby protecting both the horse and anyone/anything around it. The horse can stay focused on the task at hand and will avoid getting any frights.

In addition to blocking out chaotic views, blinders for carriage-pulling horses can also prevent them from getting distracted by their partner. Horses often pull carriages in pairs and, being as inquisitive as they are, they can become easily distracted by their partner if their blinders aren’t blocking that partner out.

Horse wearing blinders pulling a carriage

Doing draught work

Draught horses are extremely strong, which is why they’re frequently used on farms. Blinders are used in a similar way here to what we discussed above. You may be thinking: “But there’s nothing around on farms. So why do horses wear blinders when doing draught work?”

While farms certainly don’t have the extremely busy environments that cities might have, there are still things that could spook a horse. Farm machinery, other animals, and even a shadow might be enough to send a horse into a panic. And with the heavy equipment that horses pull on a farm, that can quickly become an extremely dangerous situation.

Just like the horses that pull carriages, draught horses also frequently work in pairs. So the blinders are also used to prevent them from getting distracted by one another.

During races

A horse racing track has a lot going on. There are other horses, jockeys, the audience, flags, and just a whole bunch of distractions. And it all adds to the busy environment. It also means that there is a lot of potential for something to go wrong. Racehorses wear blinders to block out a big portion of their vision in order to keep their eyes on the prize (pun not intended).

There are instances when blinders aren’t used in races. Even though this is a common time to see them being used, some horses don’t benefit from blinders in these situations and might even feel claustrophobic. Trainers and jockeys who know their horses well will make the decision to put blinders on for a race or leave them off.

After eye injuries

Due to the fact that blinders block a horse’s view, they can also be useful when it comes to eye injuries. More restrictive blinders can block out light, which can be damaging to a horse’s eyes if there is a problem with them. By blocking this light out, blinders can help the eyes recover faster from the injury.

Blinders can also be used to prevent horses from scratching their eyes on objects such as trees. Since the more restrictive blinders cover the eyes more, the horse can’t damage them if it rubs its face on a tree, log, or fence.

The Different Types Of Blinders For Horses

Since there are different reasons why horses may need to wear blinders, there are different types of blinders that have been designed for each purpose.

Blinker hood

Blinker hoods are masks that go over a horse’s head and use cups to limit the horse’s vision. There are a few types of cups that can be used. These include:

  • Standard cups: These limit two-thirds of a horse’s vision and are frequently used on racehorses. In some cases, holes are cut into the side of the cups to give the horse a better idea of where the other horses are and whether or not they’re gaining any ground.
  • French cups: These are quite similar to standard cups in that they’re also commonly used for racehorses. However, they allow the horse to see a lot more of their surroundings and mainly block out the jockey.
  • Full cups: Also known as extension cups, these are one of the most restrictive options available. Usually, they’re used on horses that tend to drift to one side while racing and, in these cases, are only placed over one eye. Some people will buy full cups to cut them back to a more customised point that their horse prefers.
  • Semi cups: These cups are about halfway between full cups and French cups.
  • Cheaters: These barely have any cup at all and therefore don’t really affect the horse’s field of vision. Instead, they’re used as a way to teach the horse when it’s time to race, thereby helping it to prepare itself.

Shadow rolls

Shadow rolls are types of blinders that are mainly used to stop horses from seeing the floor in front of them. They are usually made from sheepskin or synthetic material such as fleece and fit over the horse’s nose by attaching to the noseband of the bridle.

Shadow rolls can be useful in a few situations. Some racehorses wear these blinders to prevent them from seeing shadows that might spook them. It’s also quite common to see them on jumping horses to prevent them from shying away from their jumps. 


Similar to shadow rolls, winkers are made out of sheepskin or synthetic material and also attach to the bridle. However, winkers attach to the cheekpieces of the bridle instead of attaching to the noseband. Just like the plastic cups you find on a blinker hood, winkers are used to limit a horse’s peripheral vision.

Carriage harness blinders

Carriage harness blinders are usually square-shaped plastic cups that attach to the headstall of a bridle. They work in the same way as the cups you find on blinker hoods to restrict a horse’s field of vision but they don’t involve a hood that needs to be fitted over the horse’s head. Take a look at the video below to see Poppy, a seven year old Clydesale mare we broke to drive at Strathorn.


Why do horses wear blinders in pastures?

Blinders help to keep horses focused in different situations. When horses wear blinders in pastures, it’s usually to prevent the horse from getting spooked by something. This prevents them from getting hurt, injuring someone else, or running away. It can also help some horses to feel more comfortable in general.

Can a horse see with blinders on?

When racehorses wear blinders, it’s usually used to help the horses focus only on certain areas of their view. Most often, the horse’s peripheral vision is what’s blocked. Some blinders block a lot more of a horse’s field of view but even then, there is usually some room for the horse to see what it’s doing.

What is the history of horse blinders?

It is believed that horse blinders were used all the way back in ancient Greece for chariot racing. Just like they’re used today, they were used to keep the horses from being distracted. Despite this long history, blinders weren’t documented in more modern forms of horse racing until the late 1800s.

Why do horses wear eye covers?

Different types of horse tack may cover a horse’s eyes. If you see a horse with eye covers on, it could be blinders. These are used to prevent the horse from spooking, to keep it focused, or to keep its eyes protected from the light. The covers you’re seeing could also be fly masks. As the name suggests, these masks protect a horse’s face and eyes from flies.

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