It’s the early 1900’s in New York or Boston. The city streets are packed with carriages hauling goods and people. A team of horses travels past with their blinkers flapping slightly as they pull their heavy load. You think to yourself.. Doesn’t that bother the eye?
Blinders themselves are not cruel to the animals. However, there have been several campaigns in the past to have them removed from working horses due to their weight and added insulating properties that are believed to play a part in overheating issues.
This issue seems to be quite debated among animal-rights activists, veterinarians, and even concerned horse owners across the world.
Why are blinders used?
Blinders, also referred to as blinkers are used to prevent horses from being spooked while they are pulling a carriage or wagon. As we know, horses are prey animals, in order to detect preditors they had to evolve to survive. One of the many way’s they did this is to develop eyesight that lets them see nearly in a full circle around them. 350 degrees to be exact.
In the unnatural city environment where many of these blinders are often used while pulling carriages. The blinders help prevent horses from being spooked by cars, sirens, street musicians, or even other horse-drawn carriages.
How do we find the truth?
Without much hard evidence in either direction, we can only come to our own opinions on the matter…. Or we can try to come up with hard to find, hard evidence!
I reached out to a few experts in the field. Each of them had a different, yet interesting, answer to give me on the subject “Are horse blinders cruel?”
As an American, the first group that I thought of to reach out to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Unfortunately, they did not have very many resources available online regarding the subject. So I reached out to them via email and got yet another non-answer.
Hi, Jeremy – Thank you for reaching out to the ASPCA. Unfortunately, we do not have a subject matter expert available to respond at this time.Manager, Media & Communications
I’ll admit I was really hoping for the ASPCA to just hand me the answer so that I can put my curiosity to rest. No matter we should keep digging and find the truth!
Blinders the truth behind Tradition
While looking for answers in the ASPCA I ran across a rather interesting documentary that, first, I had to watch. Second, it seemed a very promising start, to just answer my question.
Blinders the truth behind tradition is a documentary that unfortunately is not about blinders but about cruelty to horses in New York’s horse carriage rides. It is actually very interesting and worth watching.
Having watched the movie, and read some of their blog posts without finding an answer, I reached out to the creators of the movie. I was thinking perhaps they can provide more direct information on the subject. They are obviously very involved in animal rights maybe they had a lead I was after.
I ended up speaking with the director of the film Donny Moss. He agreed to provide me with a quote on the subject.
Curbing an animal’s vision is cruel.
In urban areas, where horses don’t belong in the first place, carriage operators put blinders on them to prevent them from spooking. It doesn’t always work because many horses have spooked and bolted down the street in NYC. “
So there you have it, blinder are cruel, end of story let’s go to bed…. Or maybe not just yet.
While Donny Moss is certainly an expert in the field, I felt that his answer was only his opinion and I wanted some hard evidence
I decided that I should reach out to some local experts such as The Iowa State University Equine Science Department and see what they have to say. While the representative from Iowa State University did not directly give me a yes or no answer, she did find several journal articles to read that were close, but not exactly on topic. I thanked her and got to reading.
The effect of ocular blinkers on the horses’ reactions to four different visual and audible stimuli: results of a crossover trial.
Yeah…. It’s about as thrilling as the name suggests, but it does provide some clues.
The reserchers performed a study to determine if blinders help or hinder a horse’s reaction to sounds and other stimuli. What they found is that blinders decrease the horse’s reaction to known sounds such as car horns or other carriages behind them. Unexpectidly, if the sound was something that they had not heard before or something they were not used to they actually had a greater reaction as they were unable to see exactly where the new threat was located.
What this proves is that under normal circumstances Blinders are effective at keeping a horse focused on the job at hand. It does however not cover in any way if blinders are cruel or harmful to the animals aside from perhaps a slightly more increased heart rate to scary things.
Large Animal Veterinarians.
In a final attempt, I reached out to a local large animal veterinarian that specializes in horses. After talking with one of the doctors who they politely asked to remain anonymous I was provided with this explanation.
They certainly are not cruel, they are an aid to prevent spooking or fear reactions from the horse. They were probably disputed in carriage competition teams for fairness reasons. It is more a safety issue so the horse wouldn’t unnecessarily spooking while the carriage is attached. Horses can still see forward with blinders on, just not to the side.Veterinary Clinic
Still, I feel like this response was more opinion than hard evidence; however, if this veterinarian, who is well known in the area as an expert on horses, says they’re not cruel that does carry quite a bit of weight.
I would like to think that his opinion would be different if he had seen at any point during his career a horse with an injured or likewise harmed by simply wearing a blinder.
So I seem to have gotten some relatively mixed answers to my question “Are the blinders cruel to horses?” So how did I come up with the answer that I provided towards the beginning of this article? I came up with this answer by connecting the dots across all of the research that I did. I came to the simple conclusion that blinders themselves are not actually cruel to the horse. This conclusion is largely because I cannot find any evidence that any horse has ever been specifically harmed by a blinder. I can however say that there are many people who believe that horse-drawn carriages in an urban environment are a rather cruel thing. And perhaps, due to the mental connection between a blinder and carrige rides, these thoughts have been… confused.
Thinking about picking up a set of blinders for your horse? I recommend this blinker hood on amazon.
If you have any evidence to change my conclusion, I want to know about it! Please send me an email at [email protected]