Why Horses Wear Blinders

Written by Randy Martin

Horse and carriage with blinders

While watching a movie I saw a scene with a horse and carriage and all the horses had blinders on, or blinkers as they are also called. I figured I knew why they use blinders, but I never looked it up before. So out of curiosity I did some research to figure out exactly why they are used.

What are horse blinders used for? Blinders are used to enhance concentration keeping the horse focused on the task ahead.  Blinders reduce visual distractions from behind the horse and sometimes the sides too. Many believe they can make a big difference in the performance of a horse when typically used in racing or driving horses.

Okay so I pretty much assumed that was the primary reason for the blinders. But I know blinders are used in lots of different situations. For horse carriages in a city for example, I can see how important that is to not let your horse get spooked in such a busy environment.

But horses on the race track would have to be a different implication—You aren’t getting spooked when bolting towards the finish line. 

So I wanted to look a little deeper into all the different points of using blinders.

Understanding why blinders are effective

Horses can see all around them just about. They can basically watch what is happening behind them. They are designed this way much like many other animals that are prey animals. They have their eyes placed on the side of the head.

This is why they are always looking and listening to the world around them. Making sure there is no danger coming at them. That peripheral awareness is part of their defense mechanism

In a horses point of view, anything could be potentially dangerous. If you been around horses at all you know how easy they can be startled.

Just snapping a twig in two can sometimes be enough to make a horse’s heart skip a beat. 

And as you ride your horse through a forest trail, they could often be skeptical of a dark bush around the bend—that to us is just a bush; to the horse it could be some predator laying in wait.

I haven’t used blinders on the trail, nor do I know anyone that does, because a lot of it comes down to the situation, the horse; their individual personality. But there are situations when it would be more critical to cut down that visual awareness a horse has, so they will relax and accomplish the task that lies directly ahead of them.

It helps the horse remain calm and focused when you remove a part of their awareness of the surroundings.

Some of the most critical times when this is needed is when the horse has a job to do and they have to do that job around a lot of distraction.

So I will get a little more in depth with the two main use cases.

Horse carriages

As I first mentioned this is what got me thinking about this topic. In big cities like New York City, it’s common to see a horse and carriage available for a ride. Actually I vaguely remember seeing driving horses that aren’t wearing blinders.

As busy as a city like New York is, with the millions of people and cars constantly rushing by, you need a very well trained and calm horse. But no matter how calm a horse is, the city is asking a lot from the animal.

Using blinders is more or less essential, it would be dangerous without them. A business owner who offers a carriage service can’t take the risk.

Something interesting that has been proposed is that when a horse is attached to the carriage, the horse can potentially view the carriage as a predator moving behind them and stalking them. So if this was the case, removing the visual of the cart would help dramatically.

Another factor is most carriages have 2 or more driving horses together; keeping the focus of the horses off each other is useful as well. 

What happens if you stick two horses next to each other that don’t like each other? Or maybe one horse wants to establish itself as the alpha horse. Things could get tricky. 

Covering the vision from one horse to another could stop them from fretting over each other.

Race horses

It is so common to see race horses with visors around their eyes that you don’t even think about it. 

Once you understand the job of the blinders, you can see why a race horse owner would want to try and get the most focus he can out of his horse.

The race track is a crazy environment. I said before I wouldn’t think that a horse could get spooked while bolting down the track, but jockeys would have a different opinion.  

You have a stadium filled with cheering people and on top of that you got a bunch of strange horses all running together. 

Horses can spook one another, or as I discussed with driving horses—they simply might not like each other.

The simple tendency of the horses looking to their left and right, trying to gauge the other horses, could be costly on their track times. 

In any case, some owners choose to eliminate those issues by cutting off the peripheral vision and pointing them straight down the track.

How blinders/blinkers work

Blinders are typically made of leather flaps or plastic that cups over the back of the eye.  They can be attached to the bridle, which is usually the case with the leather blinders.

Or it can be an entire separate hood that you place under the bridle. This is what race horses typically deploy. And the hood will match the teams color and branding. 

Related Questions

Why do horses wear blinders in a pasture? Blinders or Blinkers are commonly used with racing horses and driving horses on a carriage to focus the horse on the road ahead. If you see a horse in the pasture with their eyes and face covered, this is likely a fly mask. A fly mask simply protects the horse from pesky flys and other insects.

Do most race horses use blinkers? It is commonly used in the United States and growing in popularity in Europe. However, the 2018 Kentucky Derby for example, had few horses that raced with blinkers. With that said some of the greatest horses of all time regularly used blinkers, and that includes Secretariat.