Just like human, horses have unique personalities, abilities and quirks. It is up to trainers to outfit each individual horse with the equipment needed to maximize the horse’s performance. While trainers can guess at how new equipment will affect a horse in a race, it takes the horse being in a real race to determine if the addition or subtraction of a piece of equipment was beneficial.
The colorful hoods that cover the upper portion of the horse’s face are not decorative but actually serve a useful purpose. Blinkers are plastic cups that come in various shapes that are placed on the outer portion of the horses face behind the eye. They limit the field of vision depending on the configuration of the cup and are held in place by the hood. The cup style is usually specific for each horse and determined by the trainer. A blinker keeps some horse from being distracted so they can focus on running; not all horses need or use blinkers.
Colorful rolls of sheepskin seen on the upper portion of the horse’s nose have a dual purpose: 1)- to prevent the horse from seeing shadows on the ground and proceeding to try to jump over them, therefore losing momentum; 2)- to encourage the horse to lower its head since horses run faster and gain more speed with their heads lower.
A bit is the piece of metal or plastic-coated metal that passes through the horse’s mouth in an area where there are no teeth. The bit is held in place by the bridle, and then the reins pass to a rider’s hands. A variety of bits exist, all of which serve different purposes. Some designs are useful for steering power, while others add leverage for more control.
Tongue ties are used to secure a horse’s tongue in his mouth. They are usually strips of cloth or a special rubber band that is secured under the chin. Tongue ties are useful for horses that get their tongues over their bits which renders the bit ineffective. When a bit is rendered ineffective, it can make for a dangerous situation because the horse can no longer be controlled.
Tongue ties are also used to secure the tongue forward in the mouth which holds the soft palette forward and enables the horse to breathe easier while training or racing.
Due to the horse’s anatomy and musculature, many horse’s ankles ( fetlocks) dig into the surface, causing superficial friction burns. For this reason, many horses wear rundown patches, which are thick cotton pads that are secured to the leg with special elastic wrap. Rundown patches help prevent friction burns on the ankles when running. They can also be applied to anywhere else on the leg if a horse interferes (strikes) himself. Depending on how the horse moves or owner/ trainer preference, a horse can wear the bandages on the front, back, or all four legs. The bandages come in variety of colors and can be matched to the owner’s silks or to the trainer’s racing stable colors.
Nosebands (cavessons) are part of the bridle and can be a vital piece of equipment for controlling or managing certain breathing conditions.
Plain– a simple noseband that comes down one to two inches below the cheekbone. This is the noseband that is most commonly used.
Figure Eight– this is a unique noseband that is more common than the flash noseband. The figure eight works on a larger part of the face and allows more room for the nostrils to expand, making this a practical noseband for horses with narrow airways or for horses that cross their jaws (move the lower jaw laterally or side-to-side) to avoid the bit.
Flash– this is similar to the plain noseband, but has a second strap that reaches below the bit; it does not cover as large a space as the figure eight. This is a useful noseband since its design allows the bit to remain secure in the mouth while preventing a strong horse from opening its mouth, an action that would render the bit ineffective.
Nose strips are a relatively new piece of equipment in racing and their effectiveness is still being researched. The strips are usually rigid but flexible black or white adhesive strips that are placed over the airways on some horses who will be performing high intensity exercise such as racing or galloping cross-country. The theory behind their use is that they support the nasal tissues and hold them open, rather than allowing them to narrow when the horse inhales. If airways were to narrow upon inhalation, the horse would be unable to receive maximal oxygen needed for performance. If this idea sounds funny, inhale sharply through your nose and you will feel and/or see your own nostrils cave inward as the air is forcefully pulled toward your lungs. Nose strips work to help stabilize the tissues so that they are unable to or less able to cave inward.
Ear plugs range from cotton strips to specially made plugs that are inserted into the horse’s ear to muffle sounds. Horses that are easily distracted or that are sensitive to sound benefit from the use of these plugs. Perhaps the most famous horse in recent memories to sport ear plugs is fan-favorite Zenyatta, who would often be seen wearing the while cotton plugs in her ears.