why-do-race-horses-wear-red-masks

Speed & Style: A Mystery Behind Why Race Horses Wear Red Masks

My two best buddies Frank and Joey and I dressed to the nines in our fancy suits and big ol’ cowboy hats, ready to pretend we were millionaire racehorse owners for the day.

We get there and head down to the paddock to see the horses up close before the big race.

And the first dang thing I notice is every single horse wearing these funky looking red masks over their eyes! I’m thinking, what in the Sam Hill is going on here?

This some kind of kinky secret horse mask fetish I ain’t aware of?

I turn to Frank and Joey with a confused look on my face and ask “Hey fellas, what is UP with these crazy red blinders on the horses?”

Frank and Joey just chuckle and explain that the masks help the horses focus on the track and not get distracted by stuff in the stands.

Well butter my biscuits! Learn something new every day, right? Turns out those goofy masks actually serve a real purpose after all.

The red masks help racehorses maintain pinpoint focus and reduce visual distractions on the busy racetrack.

The color red also limits their wide peripheral vision to straight ahead, allowing them to clearly see the track and other horses.

Red Masks Limit Horses’ Panoramic Vision

Here’s the nitty gritty on why racehorses wear those funny-looking red blinders. See, horses have a nearly 350-degree panoramic field of vision.

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That means they can see almost everything around them except for small blind spots right behind and in front of their bodies.

This extremely wide view of their surroundings helps horses in the wild detect predators trying to sneak up on them.

But on the racetrack, horses don’t need to worry about predators! That super wide field of view actually becomes a disadvantage since it makes it hard for them to focus straight ahead on the track, other horses, and finish line.

All the people, buildings, colors, and movement in the stands can end up catching their eye and distracting them during an important race.

The red masks help block out the periphery so the horses can only see what’s right in front of them. The blinders allow racehorses to zero in on the track and run their best without visual distractions. It’s like blinders help them get into the racing zone!

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Masks Help Tune Out Auditory Distractions Too

In addition to limiting visual distractions, another benefit of the red masks is helping horses tune out excessive auditory stimuli on race day.

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Racetracks are LOUD places! There’s the roar of the riled up crowd, bookies shouting odds, loudspeakers announcing races – not to mention all the other horses whinnying and stomping hooves in the barn.

With their sensitive hearing, all this racetrack commotion can end up diverting a horse’s attention from racing if they aren’t wearing blinders. The cups of the red masks help muffle and block extraneous sounds so racehorses can just focus on the starter pistol going off.

So the masks are kind of like noise-cancelling headphones – they improve concentration by minimizing both visual AND auditory distractions around the track. Pretty nifty trick!

Masks Get Horses in the Racing Zone

Not only does the vibrant red color limit the horses’ field of vision, but it also seems to help amp them up with racing intensity and energy.

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When horses have those red blinders on, they know it’s time to get down to business and run! The masks trigger their instinct to surge forward down the track as fast as possible.

Trainers have noticed racehorses seem extra alert and pumped once they get their red masks on in the paddock.

The masks almost serve as a signal that says “Hey horse, time to focus and run your heart out! Let’s do this thing!” Pretty clever psychology at play.

It’s similar to how athletes will listen to pump up music or use other triggers to get in the competitive zone right before a big game. For racehorses, apparently that red mask is one of their pre-game rituals to switch into race mode!

An Interesting Fact About Horse Vision

Here’s a fascinating tidbit I learned about why limiting racehorses’ vision is so helpful – did you know horses have bigger eyes than any other land mammal?

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Their distinctly rectangular-shaped eyes measure a whopping 1.5 inches across and 2 inches from top to bottom.

With those massive orb-like eyeballs, it’s no wonder horses have almost panoramic 350-degree vision while us humans only have a 180-degree field of view.

So those red blinkers are key to narrowing down all that visual real estate horses have!

Tips for a Successful Track Day

If you’re interested in getting into horse racing, here are my top 5 tips for having an awesome time at the track based on my maiden voyage:

1. Dress to impress – wear your fanciest threads to look the part of a savvy railbird. The best-dressed fans always look like they’re winning even if their horse doesn’t!

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2. Bring binoculars – don’t forget your field glasses to get closeup views of the horses in the paddock and at the finish line. They really let you see their power and athleticism.

3. Splurge on a race program – treat yourself to an official race day program so you can handicap the horses and feel like you’re in the know.

4. Mind your manners – be polite to other fans and don’t forget to cheer both the winner and loser. Horse racing etiquette is important!

5. Enjoy the people watching – grab a mint julep and have fun taking in the unique racetrack culture and characters. Soak it all in!

Different Types of Horse Blinders

While those iconic red masks might be the most well-known, there are actually a few different types of blinders used in horse racing. The most common styles are:

– Cup blinders – the curved ‘cups’ around the eyes like the red masks we’ve been discussing. These are the most popular.

– Blinker hoods – these fit over the horse’s head like a hood and restrict rear vision. They offer a more enclosed feel.

– Winkers – these have individual eye cups that sit closer to the eyes. Winkers provide a more open and wider field of view compared to cup blinders.

– Visor – this is a single curved piece that fits over both eyes like a rounded visor, limiting vision more extremely than winkers.

So in addition to traditional cup blinders, trainers have a few different vision-limiting options to experiment with. The goal is always the same – reduce distractions and keep the horse focused straight ahead. But some horses may work better with, say, winkers versus a visor based on their individual personality and needs.

Are Blinders Uncomfortable for Horses?

Since racehorse blinders restrict their natural field of vision, you might be wondering: Are the masks uncomfortable or distressing for horses to wear?

Luckily, blinders are designed to be as minimally intrusive as possible.

The individual leather or nylon cups are shaped ergonomically to fit comfortably around the horse’s eyes without irritating the skin or applying pressure. Often the cups are padded with fleece or foam for an ultra-gentle feel.

The mask straps are also specially designed to avoid the most sensitive areas on the horse’s head and sit smoothly in place once fitted by the trainer. So while blinders are certainly an artificial aid, racehorses seem to readily accept wearing them and don’t appear bothered.

Blinders don’t impede breathing or really impact motion either. Horses can still fully see several feet in front of them and continue their natural head carriage and gaits. With proper fitting, blinders should be no more bothersome than a human wearing a soft hat or helmet!

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Are Masks Cruel or Dangerous?

Some people argue that blinders are cruel because they take away a horse’s natural panoramic vision. Critics say permanently limiting sight must be distressing and disorienting.

Others counter that blinders pose safety risks if horses can’t fully see the track or other horses near them. Restricted vision could lead to accidents if something suddenly entered their limited field of view.

However, no research evidence indicates that blinders are inherently inhumane or unsafe when used appropriately. Horses don’t seem distressed by them and major injuries related to blinders appear very rare. Like any training tool, the key is proper fit and use under a trainer’s supervision.

Blinders have a long history in racing, and horses exhibit no signs of impaired welfare when wearing snug, comfortable masks. As long as they are introduced gradually and not overused, blinders remain an acceptable and low-risk tool.

Are Masks Necessary with Modern Racetracks?

A fair question is whether blinders are still necessary on today’s more modern tracks. As grandstands and environs become more refined, perhaps vision limiting is less important?

Most insiders assert that blinders still serve a vital purpose, even on well-designed tracks. There are inevitably still sights, sounds, and distractions that could divert a horse’s attention. So while masks may be less critical, they continue providing meaningful focus benefits.

And since horses are so used to wearing blinders during training and racing, taking the masks away could actually do more harm than good at this point by messing up their routine. Like any longstanding tradition, the blinders seem here to stay!

Famous Racehorses Who Wore Masks

Many of the greatest thoroughbred champions through history wore blinders just like today’s stars. A few legendary masked horses who dominated the track include:

– Secretariat – Known for his oversized blinders, he won the 1973 Triple Crown and set records.

– Seattle Slew – This 1977 Triple Crown winner wore blinkers for improved concentration.

– Zenyatta – This immensely popular mare won 19 straight races in the 2000s donning blinders.

– American Pharoah – He sported custom red, white and blue blinders for his epic 2015 Triple Crown run.

So the next time you see a racehorse in a red mask, remember all the greats who’ve worn them too on the way to racing glory!


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