Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minn logo

What The @#$% Is On That Horse’s Head?

Picture this: You’re at the track, two for two in your pick three, and you’re singled to a mortal lock on paper. Then that mortal lock comes out and he’s wearing more headgear than its jockey. Blinkers, Shadow Rolls, Nosebands, Earplugs – all terms we hear a lot at the track. Sometimes, it gets a little complicated matching the name to whatever the @#$% it is…..

• Blinkers – Blinkers can be used for a variety of reasons, but more often than not a trainer uses these to get a horse’s attention and/or get it to show more early speed. Depending on the size of the cup, they can also be used with horses that bear out/drift to their left or right to deter such behavior. In some instances, horses wear blinkers throughout the saddling process and during their warm-up and have them removed on the gate to prevent the horse from getting nervous or distracted. Blinkers come in a variety of colors & patterns, but many cups on blinkers are white or black.

• Shadow Roll – This is the fleece pad that rests over a horse’s nose on its bridle. Some animals are skittish of the Grandstand’s shadow on the racetrack, and this piece of equipment is used to prevent a horse from jumping while running. Shadow Rolls can be very minimal or quite large depending on the need, as some horses are more fractious of shadows than others. Dayjur is a great example of a horse who could have used a shadow roll with a $1,000,000 purse on the line…..(link to video is if you can get it in there)

• Figure-Eight Noseband – Another item that can be used for a variety of reasons, the Figure-Eight is a commonly seen bridle on racehorses. This type of noseband can give jockeys more control on horses that fight and open their mouths to escape restraint, or can be used on horses who have trouble breathing. If not properly applied it can cause more harm than good, though this is rare. A shadow roll can sometimes been seen attached to a figure eight.

• Australian “Cheeker” Bridle – This type of equipment is actually an attachment to a normal bridle’s headpiece, but isn’t exactly a noseband. A cheeker is a face-piece that attaches to the bridle at a horse’s forehead, and splits just above the nose to go around each side of the horse’s mouth/bit. Typically these are used as an aid for controlling strong horses and preventing a horse from getting their tongue over the bit while racing. In essence, the jockey keeps control over the horse by keeping the bit in its appropriate position. The most famous example in America of a horse that commonly wore a cheeker is Seattle Slew.

• Tongue Tie – Pretty self-explanatory. A small piece of cloth or bandage is used to physically tie a horse’s tongue to its bottom jaw. This too prevents a horse from sliding his tongue over the bit and helps a rider in controlling his mount. Tongue ties do not serve any other purpose but can interfere with a horse’s performance if tied too tight.

• Earplugs – Less commonly used, earplugs are more common in California/New York/Anywhere where crowd noise is likely to distract a horse. Some horses wear earplugs only during pre-race happenings such as saddling and the post parade. “Earmuffs” have also been used to block out crowd noise, such as those worn by Gate Dancer in the Inaugural Breeders Cup Classic.