For as long as humans have owned horses, they’ve struggled for ways to protect equines’ eyes -- on the battlefield, the racetrack and in the paddock. A few of the many options available today look like glasses. None of the equipment is designed to correct or improve vision, though -- except to the extent that it can keep debris and dirt out of the horse’s eyes.
In horse racing you commonly see blinkers -- also called blinders -- or cheekpieces that obstruct a horse’s peripheral vision. This prevents the horse from being distracted, and is particularly helpful for green or inexperienced racehorses. As a racehorse becomes more experienced though, this gear can actually hinder his ability to remain competitive since he can’t see horses coming up beside him.
Mesh cups attached to a mask or headpiece over each eye -- called pacifiers -- offer protection from dust and debris; but, if the track is muddy, the sticking mud can actually hinder a horse’s vision. Certain goggle and visor models attach around a horse’s head like a halter to offer protection from dirt without vision restrictions.
Horses who compete in competitive driving -- racing while pulling humans in a chariot or buggy -- also wear visors, goggles or blinders. Polo horses are at risk of getting hit in the eyes with flying sticks or the polo ball, so their owners and riders often outfit them as well with goggles or visors.
You may simply need to protect your horse's eyes from insects, excessive sunlight, dust and pollen, while he's home in the pasture. For this purpose, a flymask is the most common solution -- a simple mask that slips over your horse’s ears and attaches with hook-and-loop fasteners under his throat. You can also get masks designed to offer the eyes and nose extra protection from ultraviolet rays.
Illness and Injury
Horse eye injuries and illnesses range from simple conjunctivitis, to abrasions and punctures. Injuries or serious illnesses such as cancer may require more eye protection than a flymask offers. Firm, molded cups attached to a mask similar to a flymask protect your horse’s eyes from additional injury or contusions that he may get from simply rubbing against a tree. You can also order models that offer additional protection from sunlight if your horse has a medical condition that warrants that additional measure.
- America’s Bridle & Bit: Eye Protection Available for Horses
- American Association of Equine Practitioners: Ask the Vet: Equine Ophthalmology
- FoxPro: English Products
- FoxPro: How to Apply
- Horse Report: Eye Saver – Help for Equine Eye Injuries
- Themiddleages.net: Armor
- Provizor International: Eye Protection During Horse Racing and Training
- European Trainer Online: Equine Vision – How Does a Racehorse See the World?
- Emirates Racing Authority: What Does That Mean?
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.