All The Gear No Idea
The whole idea of headgear and what gear is used when and why is an extremely daunting proposition for those new to the racing game. Our job is to simplify which horses suit which gear, and what the benefit is for that horse. All gear used by a horse in a race will be notified in the form guide so you will have an understanding of who is using what.
Training and racing thoroughbreds is not as simple as getting them fit and seeing who’s the fastest. Trainers use a variety of different techniques both in training and races to get the best out of their horses. The use of different gear on the horse can have a major impact on the horses performance. The gear a horse wears is dependent on their action and their attitude. Trainers will closely analyse an individual horse before deciding what gear is best for that individual. From blinkers to tongue ties, discover how each accessory influences a horse’s performance.
Blinkers are used to focus a horse. The blinkers limit a horses vision and therefore limit potential distractions that might spook or disorientate a horse’s focus. Many horses are ‘switched on’ by blinkers as raised awareness and limited vision engages an element of the fight or flight response which enhances adrenaline for the horse. Gai Waterhouse accredits the success of her greatest racehorse Pierro to the use of blinkers. “They just switch him on, it’s as simple as that,” the Golden Slipper winning trainer told TVN after his win in the 2012 edition.
Winkers were the key to Militarize’s success in the Group 1 Golden Rose under Joao Moreira in October. The three-year-old son of Dundeel getting the gear change to help him switch on over the shorter than suitable trip. Trainers recently have been more inclined to use winkers over blinkers as they don’t distort the horses vision enough, but do help enough to raise a horses awareness. Whilst very similar, the subtle difference allows for a balance between the horse being switched on and making the horse too excited.
The Nose Roll is now commonly seen on Peter Moody gallopers but was famously used by Chris Waller with Champion mare Verry Ellegant, whose high head carriage made her a perfect candidate for the Nose Roll. The roll covers a horse’s vision if they hold their head too high and encourages the horse to lower the head, assisting breathing, control for the jockey and the ability to lengthen their stride distance. All essential qualities for a successful racehorse.
Cheek pieces or french blinkers as they are sometimes referred to are two pieces of sheepskin of equal length that are attached to the horse’s bridle and down the side of the horses head from ear to mouth.
Cheek pieces, similar to blinkers and visors reduce a horse’s range of vision and make the horse focus on what’s happening in front rather than by the horse’s side or rear. Magic Wand used these to great effect when defeating Hartnell at his final start in the 2019 Mackinnon Stakes.
One of the most important pieces of gear, tongue ties assist horses that get their tongue in the way of their throat or those horses that have breathing issues. The thick rubber band that covers the tongue and attaches to the jaw allows the horse to breathe normally when training or running. Many trainers use this.
Pre-Race Ear Muffs
Until Valhalla’s recent race win would have shown the effect of pre-race ear muffs. Many fillies and colts who are excitable or get stressed or anxious by race day crowds wear pre-race ear muffs to soften the sound around them to calm the horse down. This allows them to store energy, stay relaxed and become easier for the jockey to manage.
Cross Over Noseband
The cross over noseband again helps with breathing and control. This is the opposite of blinkers and is used for horses who need to relax to restore energy or stronger horses that the jockeys need extra assistance controlling. These are more common for middle-distance horses who need to pace themselves more than sprinters.