A plethora of equipment is needed in horse racing, and not just the basics of saddles and bridles.
Items like blinkers, shadow rolls and tongue ties are all vital components in preparing, and racing, a Thoroughbred.
But what are these items for? Why do some horses wear them and not others?
First up, blinkers, which are used to help runners focus. Some horses can be distracted by the many sights on track, including the grandstand, rivals in a race, birds flying in the infield, etc.
The basic set up of blinkers is a nylon hood that fits over the horse’s head with plastic eye cups. The eye cups vary in size and shape depending on how much the trainer wants his horse to see. There are even some called blind cups that completely cover the eye, preventing the horse from seeing anything from that side.
The nylon hood can also come equipped with a hood that fits over the horse’s ears. This helps protect the ears from bugs as well as muffles noise.
This brings up another piece of equipment, though it’s not officially-declared equipment like blinkers and can actually be found in your bathroom cupboard.
Ear plugs, like the hoods, are used to muffle noise that may startle a horse and can be nothing more than strips of cotton. They can also be made of memory foam or fabric, such as sheepskin, and are inserted into a horse’s ears to help drown out sounds that might otherwise cause him to act up.
Two horses who used ear plugs immediately come to mind – Zenyatta, whose white cotton strips stood out in sharp contrast to her dark bay coloring, and American Pharoah, who sported a sheepskin variety during his Triple Crown run that blended in so well many didn’t even know he wore them.
Blinkers aren’t the only devices that can limit a horse’s vision. Shadow rolls, which are usually made of sheepskin in various sizes, are attached to the bridle over the bridge of a horse’s nose. They are used to keep an equine from seeing shadows on the ground, which they will sometimes jump, as well as encourage him to lower his head, which enables horses to run faster.
Horses aren’t dogs, they don’t run with their tongues hanging out, but how many times have you seen a horse racing with his tongue flopping about?
There are too many bits to go into in this short piece, but the main use is to control and steer a runner. This is done by applying pressure to certain parts of a horse’s mouth, including his tongue. If the tongue gets above the bit, the rider loses control.
Therefore, trainers use tongue ties to keep the horse’s tongue from getting over the bit. They can be made of cloth, rubber, nylon and leather.