Why Do Horses Wear Blinders? Everything You Need To Know

Have you ever wondered what racehorses wear over their eyes, or seen a horse pulling a carriage with its eyes covered? Known as blinders or blinkers, these strange coverings do actually serve a purpose and can play an important role in keeping the horse (as well as you) safe.

Why do horses wear blinders? Typically worn by racehorses or carriage horses, blinders help to keep the horse focused on what’s in front of them and prevent them from being distracted or spooked by other horses, their surroundings, or other stimuli. 

What are blinders?

Typically made of leather or plastic cups, blinders (or blinkers as they’re called in the UK), are placed on either side of a horse’s head to cover their eyes. They can either be attached to the horse’s bridle or harness or can be built into a mask or hood that fits over the horse’s head. 

The idea of blinders is to reduce the horse’s vision in a way that keeps them relaxed and paying attention to what they need to pay attention to. But why do you need to reduce a horse’s vision I hear you ask. In order to answer this properly you need to understand that horses are prey animals and that having a good field of view helps them to stay alive. 

Want to know more about how horses see? How the world looks from a horse’s point of view.

I know that most horses these days live very safe lives where there’s no chance of them being attacked by a predator but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost that instinct which is where blinders come in. Horses have a 350° field of view and are hardwired to look for threats. This means that they’re often distracted or spooked by things going on around them. Most of the time this doesn’t matter, but if you’re driving a horse in traffic it can be very dangerous if they spook at a vehicle coming up behind them. Wearing blinders will prevent the horse from being distracted by its surroundings and therefore help to keep them calm, relaxed, and focused on the driver (or jockey).

What is the purpose of putting blinders on a horse?

Every horse is different and there can be a multitude of reasons why a particular horse is wearing blinders but there are generally only four reasons why a horse may wear blinders.

To keep them focused

Horses are curious animals that like to know what’s going on around them. While this isn’t a bad thing, in some circumstances, it can be dangerous if the horse isn’t paying attention to what’s going on around it. Wearing blinders will help to keep the horse focused by reducing their ability to see these distractions.

To prevent them from being spooked

Being prey animals horses are always on the lookout for potential threats and this is no different when they’re pulling a carriage in public or in a race with other horses. If a horse thinks there may be a predator after them then it stands to reason that they’ll get frightened and try to ‘escape’. Blinders will reduce their peripheral vision and therefore prevent them from reacting to these perceived threats.

To reduce stress

Again being prey animals horses often live in a state of alertness (if that is actually a word) which can be extremely stressful and tiring for the horse. Using blinders will prevent the horse from being overstimulated and therefore reduce their stress and anxiety

To protect their eyes

Blinders can also be used to protect a horse’s eye (or eyes) if they’re injured or are sensitive to the light. They stop the horse rubbing its eyes and help to speed up the time it takes for them to heal.

When do horses wear blinders?

While there are obviously several different reasons why horses wear blinders there are only a handful occasions when blinders are actually used.

Pulling carriages

Let’s be honest horses are big, strong animals that, if determined enough, will do exactly what they want to do, and if what they want to do is run away from something scary then it can lead to a very dangerous situation, especially if a horse is being driven in a busy area that’s filled with people or traffic. 

This is why horses pulling carriages often wear blinders (or carriage harness blinders as they’re something called). They block out a lot of the surroundings and only really allow the horse to see what’s in front of them. This helps them to focus but also reduces the chances of them getting scared. 

One theory that I did read about why carriage horses wear blinders was to stop them from thinking the carriage was a predator that was following them. At first, I thought that this made sense but after researching it further I realised that this wasn’t the case. After all, if you look back at ancient paintings and carvings you’ll notice that the horses never wore blinders. It was only when horses started to share the streets with mechanized vehicles that blinders began to be used.

Draft work

Similar to carriage driving, draft horses often wear blinders to keep them focused on the task at hand and stop them from becoming distracted by their surroundings. Of course, there are generally no vehicles to spook the horse but there can still be a lot of other distractions, such as other animals, farm equipment, and even shadows. Where blinders can also help them to plough straight lines as they won’t veer off to one side.


Without a doubt, horse racing is when you’re more likely to see a horse wearing blinders and they’re used to help the horse focus on the race rather than be distracted by the other horses, the jockey, or other things going around the racetrack such as spectators.

Unlike the blinders used by carriage or draft horses, those worn by racehorses are hoods that have plastic cups attached to them. The amount the horse can see is dependent on the type of cup used but can range from nothing at all with full cups (although these are normally used on one side for horses that veer off to one side) to having an almost full field of view with cheater cups. Standard and French cups are the most common cups used for racing and can cut out 66% to 33% of the horse’s field of vision respectively.

Eye injuries

If a horse has hurt its eye or is recovering from eye surgery or treatment you can’t tell them not to scratch their eye which is where blinders come in. Like a cat or dog wearing a collar (or cone of shame as I like to call it) around their neck to protect an injury, blinders will stop the horse from rubbing their eye against a post to a tree (or whatever they find to rub against).

Blinders can also cut out some or all of the light that hits the horse’s eye which can also help injuries to heal much quicker.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Sign up for your FREE 12 Page Horse Record Kit!

Stay up to date with everything from horsefactbook.com

In war

While horses aren’t used so much in war these days, in the past (and in particular during the First World War) they were used to transport weapons and food (as well as other equipment) to the front line. Wearing blinders would help to keep them from being spooked by artillery and approaching armies.

The same can also be said for Medieval knights although these blinders were more to protect the horse’s eyes from arrows than anything else. Some knights also used blinders when they were jousting too, and can be seen in many reenactments.

Are blinders always a good idea?

There’s no doubt that blinders can be a good idea but they won’t work for every horse every time. After all, all horses are different and will react differently to wearing them. While most horses are perfectly happy to wear blinders some horses will feel claustrophobic or trapped if they can’t see their surroundings.

If you’re not sure if your horse is okay wearing blinders then try them in a safe place, such as the stall or in an enclosed field, to start with. If your horse is showing any signs of distress then stop using them immediately.

Why do horses wear blinders in pasture?

While horses with eye injuries can wear blinders when at pasture the chances are it’s a fly mask the horse is wearing instead. They look similar and work in a similar way but they are in fact totally different and have very different roles. While blinders can help to focus a horse or keep it calm, fly masks help to keep flies out of the horse’s face, and in particular their eyes. It’s also worth pointing out that while blinders can reduce a horse’s vision, fly masks have a very thin mesh that doesn’t inhibit their vision at all.

Want to know more about fly masks? Why horses wear masks.

How much can a horse see with blinders?

While blinders do limit the horse’s vision, the amount this happens is dependent on the type of blinder as its purpose. For example, carriage harness blinders will limit their vision so that they can only see what’s happening in front of them while racing blinders allow the horse to see anything from almost everything to nothing. 

Additionally, some horses use shadow rolls or winkers which, although often called blinders, technically aren’t. Shadow rolls are fleece tubes that are attached to the noseband to prevent the horse from being distracted by the ground beneath them and are often used by racehorses to stop the shadows of other horses from spooking them. Winkers, on the other hand, are similar to shadow rolls but are attached to the cheekpieces instead and can often be seen on Australian racehorses and are used to limit peripheral vision.

Shadow rolls and winkers are often called blinders
Shadow rolls and winkers are sometimes called blinders

The table below shows the purpose of each type of blinder (including shadow rolls and winkers) as well as how restrictive they are. 

Blinder typeHow much vision is restrictedUsed for
Carriage harness66%
(restricting behind and the side)
Horses pulling carriages or farm equipment
Standard cup66%
(restricting behind and the side) 
Racehorses to help them focus and stop them being distracted by the crowd, other horses, vehicles, etc
French cup33% 
(only restricting the jockey)
Racehorses to help them focus on the race and not on the jockey
Full (extension) cup100% of one eyeEye injuries
Racehorses that drift to one side
Semi cup40%
(restricting behind them only)
Racehorses to prevent them from being distracted by the horses behind them
Cheater (also called quarter) cupHardly affects the horse’s visionTeaching the horse when it’s time to race
Custom (full cups that have been cut)Depends on the cutHorse’s specific needs
Shadow rollsOnly the groundRacehorses so that they’re not distracted shadows of other horses
WinkersLimits peripheral visionRacehorses (typically Australian) to keep them focused on what’s in front of them
A table showing how much of a horse’s vision blinders block out

Related questions

Can you use blinders when riding?

While there’s no reason why your horse can’t wear blinders when being ridden it’s not common to see riding horses wearing them. When it comes to competition, blinders generally aren’t allowed, unless it’s for racing or driving. Many events will even eliminate a horse and rider if the horse is wearing blinders.

Do blinders frighten the horse?

Some people argue that wearing blinders can frighten the horse even more because they can hear potential threats but can’t see them. While I can certainly see the logic behind this argument it’s not true. Yes, the horse can still hear the sounds (although you can use earplugs to reduce this too) but it’s seeing them that spooks the horse more. Unless it’s a particularly loud and sudden sound, horses aren’t as phased by sounds as they are by what they see.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

Recent Posts