“Focus” on Blinkers
by Laura Grubb
Does your horse have a hard time focusing on business? Does it get out down the lane, lose its heart in the middle of the pack, or is easily distracted? A simple piece of equipment might be all that is needed to keep its mind on-track – blinkers!
Blinkers work, in various degrees, to limit a horse’s field of vision and focus it on the task at hand. In racing, this would be getting to the finish line as fast as possible.
Although they come in a variety of types, the most commonly used blinkers are full cup, semi-cup, and French cup. A French cup uses a small piece of plastic, or “cup,” to limit sight, while a full cup uses a much larger cup and is quite restrictive of a horse’s vision. The semi-cup falls between the two. Extension blinkers have one side (usually the right) almost completely covered to block a horse’s vision and are used on individuals that “get out”, or start to severely drift to the outside while running down the lane. Some blinkers use screens to protect a horse’s eyes from dirt kicked in its face during a race. Others have a small hole drilled into the cup to allow the horse to see behind him.
How do blinkers work?
By restricting a horse’s field of vision, which is quite different than ours. Historically, horses are “prey” animals. They have wide peripheral vision in order to see a hungry predator that may be approaching. As the diagram shows, a horse has a 275 degree vision field, enabling it to enjoy a wide panoramic view. With such a large vision field, a horse is able to see everything around itself with only a slight movement of the head. By comparison, humans’ field of vision is limited to 200 degrees. Unlike humans, horses are capable of having an independent view from each eye. Using his monocular field vision (see diagram), a horse circling the field in a race can see the fans in the stands on one side, and his fellow competitors on the other. This ability can be distracting, and impair a horse’s performance.
Blinkers aid those horses that are reluctant to use their binocular field vision by restricting their monocular field vision and focusing their attention on what is in front of them. Horses that don’t seem to pay attention, are intimidated, get out, or look around in a race may be prime candidates for their use.
Like an errant pupil who has difficulty paying attention in class, a distracted horse may need blinkers to focus it on its assignment of reaching the finish line first.
Laura Grubb served as TOC’s Deputy Director for Southern California until April, 2000.
Special thanks to trainer Craig Lewis for his help with this piece.