Owning shares in a racehorse is an easy decision. You get to share the thrill and excitement of racehorse ownership. However, when you own a share in a racehorse syndicate, you also want to make sure the health and wellbeing of a racehorse is always top of mind.
As a racehorse syndicator, the health and well-being of the horses in our syndicates are of primary importance. There’s more horseracing than you think.
The focus of this blog is:
Have you ever wondered why racehorses sometimes wear special equipment for racing?
Racehorses Wearing Blinkers
Sometimes you see a horse ready to race with blinkers on.
Blinders or Blinkers are those semi-circular cups that you see sitting around the eyes of the horse. They are attached to a hood that is placed over the horse’s head prior to fitting the bridle. The aim of putting blinkers on a racehorse is to keep the horse focused and looking forward.
Horses have a wide peripheral vision due to their eyes being located on the side of their heads. For most racehorses, this has no impact on the way they run a race. However, some racehorses can be ‘spooked’ by the racecourse environment. This is especially true for young racehorses that aren’t used to a racecourse environment of a racecourse.
Imagine if you were a young racehorse and found yourself at the track where thousands of people are mingling about, shouting and screaming.
Trainers put blinkers on racehorses to shut off the peripheral vision of the horse so that they can only look forward. This allows them to concentrate on the ground that’s in front of them. If a horse is easily distracted by its surroundings then fitting them with blinkers acts as a vital piece of safety equipment both for the jockey and the horse.
There are two types of blinkers used by trainers in preparing a horse for the racetrack: A full cup where the cups don’t cover more than 50% of the eye space and a half-cup.
Wearing a Visor
A visor is very similar to blinkers with one key difference. Visors have a slight slit cut on the side of them. This prevents racehorses from panicking if it can’t see the other runners. The slit provides the horse and rider with the reassurance that there are other runners in the race, but this piece of equipment helps to keep the horse’s focus on going forward.
Pacifiers are a hood with dome-shaped mesh “goggles” and are used on excitable or anxious horses to help them relax. Animal behaviour studies have shown that most animals are calmer and composed in the dark. The mesh goggle filters the light, just like sunglasses, and acts as a calming influence on the horse. As you can imagine, racing in front of large crowds can sppok some racehorses. These pacifiers give racehorses a sense of security.
Wearing Side Winkers/Cheekpieces
You sometimes see soft lengths of sheepskin attached to the cheek straps of the bridle. They partially obscure the vision of the horse, so that it cannot see what is directly behind them in its peripheral vision. They are usually worn by horses that find it difficult to maintain a straight line and tend to wander across the track while racing.
The big difference between side winkers or cheekpieces is that they’re less restrictive than blinkers. They give a racehorse a wider degree of side vision. They can also be used to help a horse settle before a race and are significantly faster to put on and off than blinkers.
Wearing Ear Muffs
The cheering of crowds on raceday can cause some racehorses to get a little spooked. In this case, trainers will often put a hood on the racehorse to muffle some of the noise.
A hood used for this purpose covers the horse’s ears and head leaving eye holes for them to see. They are not used for concentration while racing but rather on horses that may be nervous of crowds and noise.
The hoods are padded around the ears and so this restricts the horse from hearing crowd noise. The hood acts as a muffler which helps a nervous horse to calm down.
Earmuffs that are used on horses for the sole purpose of keeping them calm until they get to the starting gates would then be removed behind the barriers. These earmuffs are required to be red colour.
Wearing Shadow Rolls
Racehorses sometimes wear what is known as a shadow roll. This is a piece of sheepskin that is attached to the noseband on the horse’s bridle. The name comes from the fact that some horses will spook at a shadow on the ground or mistake a shadow for a jump causing them to lose their footing on flat ground.
The point of a shadow roll is twofold: Firstly it’s to partially block the horse’s vision, so it can’t see objects on the ground. Secondly, it is also used by trainers on a horse who has a particularly high head carriage. The rationale being that a shadow roll will encourage the horse to lower its head.
All Racehorses Wear Shoes
Horseshoes are a vital piece of equipment when preparing a horse for a race. Racehorses hooves take a real hammering, particularly when the track is firm.
The main purpose of fitting horses with horseshoes is to protect the hoof wall from cracking or splitting when they run. Their hooves are made from keratin which is the same substance found in human toes and fingernails. The horseshoe helps strengthen the landing surface of the hoof thus providing more stability as the horse gallops.
Shoeing must be done correctly to avoid causing further damage to a hoof. Trainers use a qualified farrier to perform the task. When the horse is taking a spell and not racing, a farrier will attach a normal steel shoe that is stronger and more durable for everyday use. However, this type of horseshoe is quite heavy which can impede speed while racing. Therefore racehorses are fitted with lighter aluminum shoes (racing plates) on race day.
Sometimes you will see a farrier is required to attend to a horse at the starting gates. This is because sometimes racehorses damage or lose a shoe on the way to the start.
A good trainer and his team get to understand a horse’s temperament, strengths, and weaknesses on and off the racetrack. When using specialized equipment as described above on race day, they always have the horse’s wellbeing in mind.
There is nothing like the highs and lows of racehorse ownership in New Zealand.
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